A U.K. school system has included the study of witchcraft and druidry on its official religious education syllabus for the first time, meaning pagan practices will be taught alongside contemporary religions, such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
While Christianity will remain the dominant focus at Cornwall Council schools, students will now also learn about the ancient druid beliefs of the British Isles that thrived before Christianity, aspects of witchcraft, and the worship of gods from various regions, the Daily Mail reported.
The syllabus, put forth by Cornwall's advisory group, makes it clear that students ages 5 and above will learn mostly about Christianity, but 40 percent of the other religious material will be devoted to non-Christian and pagan beliefs.
"It is clear that Christianity should predominate at each key stage and should feature in no less than 60% of the religious education taught. The other religious traditions should occupy no more than 40% of RE time over the key stage," the syllabus reads.
The study materials will also help children "understand the basic beliefs" of paganism and recognize children of pagan parents who are also following the religion.
Still, the decision to provide students with more exposure to pagan beliefs is seen as controversial by some, with critics claiming that modern-day pagans and Wicca followers, a minority group, are pushing for such beliefs to be made more prominent in British society.
"Religious education is squeezed already – there's barely enough time to cover Christianity and the other major religions," said Mike Judge, a spokesman for Christian Institute, an organization working for the advancement of Christian education in the U.K.
"Introducing paganism is just faddish and has more to do with the political correctness of teachers than the educational needs of children," he added.
The Daily Mail article points out that in Cornwall, the council estimates that there are between 600 and 750 pagans out of a total population of 537,400.
Neil Burden, the council's cabinet member for children's services, pointed out, however, that Christianity still accounts for the majority of religious education on the syllabus, and that the inclusion of pagan studies simply allows students "access to the broad spectrum of religious beliefs."
The last U.K.-wide census on religious beliefs in 2001 identified 42,000 pagans in the territory, making it the seventh largest religious affiliation – although that number is likely to be bigger today.