Halloween marks the most important date on the calendar for London’s pagan community WORDS Trevor Paddenburg

Forget the tomato-sauce stained bandages for the Halloween party at your local pub. And don’t bother buying a broomstick and trying your luck at trick or treating. For London’s pagan community, Halloween – on October 31 – is serious business. After all, it’s the most important of eight festivals on the pagan calendar, dedicated to honouring the dead and celebrating the afterlife.

So, don’t be surprised if you stumble on a coven of witches, or a ritual with drumming and dancing Druids during your jog across Hampstead Heath this weekend.

So what’s paganism all about?
Pagan is actually a broad term given to anyone who follows nature-based religions or spiritual paths. Wicca and witchcraft, shamanism, Druids, voodoo and Odinism all form part of the pagan community.

It sounds sinister, right? Apparently not. “A common misconception is that paganism is all about worshipping the devil. It’s not,” a spokeswoman for the Pagan Federation of Great Britain tells TNT.

“While paganism covers a wide range of groups, at its core is the respect and worship of nature, the worship of a variety of deities, including female goddesses, and sometimes the use of spells and rituals,” she says.

The Pagan Federation of Great Britain estimates the number of pagans in the UK to be between 50,000 and 200,000. There’s even a pagan association within the Metropolitan Police.

Will I need a broomstick?
It’s not all dancing around bubbling cauldrons and moon-lit rituals. The South East London Folklore Society meets regularly to chat about fairies and folklore over a pint.

The Atlantis Bookshop (theatlantisbookshop.com), which claims to be London’s oldest occult book store serving pagans’ literary needs since 1922, is a fascinating place for browsing.

And earlier this month, the Pagan Federation of London held a conference with talks on ‘Spells And How They Work’, a ‘Shamanic Journey Workshop’ and ‘Who On Earth Is That Imaginary Friend Your Child Talks About?’ The federation holds debates, talks and courses at its headquarters, as well as festivals and rituals at woods and forest reserves around London to celebrate significant dates – such as Halloween – on the pagan calendar. The rituals are “friendly and informal, catering for both beginners and experienced pagans”.

What’s it like at a pagan event?
Aussie Michael Shorthill, who lives in Fulham, says he and a mate went to a seminar at the London Dark Arts Society, a group part of the pagan federation. “It was a pretty diverse crowd with a few strange characters, but overall it was an interesting night,” the 26-year-old says.

“I was half expecting people to be casting crazy spells or running around naked, but it was actually a big discussion about pagan art, with a guest speaker, and then a Q&A with the audience afterwards.

“I’m really into art and sketching so I liked hearing about it all. Then we went for a pint.”

How can I get involved?
There are loads of groups listed under the Pagan Federation of London. Hern’s Tribe members camp out in forests and perform outdoor tribal rituals, while the Tribe of Avalon is dedicated to “celebrating the energies of the ancient goddesses of the British Isles”.

Pagan Pathfinders meets weekly for spiritual development and to “participate more fully in the ecstasy of the cosmic dance”, while Avalonia runs workshops and courses on Wicca and magic. And the Children of Artemis caters to the needs of London’s witches and run the annual Witchfest festival.

TNT Halloween Party

Where: The Grand Union Kennington, Kennington Rd, SE11 6SF. Waterloo/ Lambeth North.
When: Sat, Oct 31, 7pm-1am.
Why: Cos the best-dressed reveller wins a nine-day tour of Egypt for two from On The Go.
How much: Entry is £6 – less than a set of fangs from a fancy dress store.
What’s included: A free drink, DJs, drink specials and great entertainment.
To book: See tntmagazine.com/halloween

Fright night in London 

It’s your last night alive before zombies take over the world! Er, that’s the story at Village Underground’s The End Of The World – Zombie Attack party.
» Hollywell Ln, EC2A3PQ Tube: Old Street (theendoftheworld.co.uk). Oct 31, 8pm. £15.

Overdose on the occult at the London Ghost Festival, with guided walks and haunted venue tours.
 Quaff your quota of cocktails at Notting Hill Arts Club’s Halloween Scream V.
» Oct 31, from 6pm. Tube: Notting Hill Gate, W11 3JQ Notting Hill Gate. £10.

Face your phobias at the Grant Museum of Zoology’s Witches and Lizards night, exploring superstitions about the animal kingdom.
» University College London, Gower St, WC1E 6BT Tube: Euston Square. Oct 31, from 5.30pm. £3.