When Wiccan priestess Phyllis Curott appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s television show in 1999, the conservative host called her an “F” word.
Curott said O’Reilly “introduced me by saying, ‘My Wiccan friends think they’re getting a raw deal. I agree, so I have my friend Phyllis Curott here to talk to us about what’s happening’ blah blah blah.”
An Ivy League graduate and attorney practicing in New York City, Curott had embraced Witchcraft, or Wicca — a nature-oriented spirituality that reveres both a Goddess and God — in 1979. She chronicled her life as a Wiccan priestess in her 1998 memoir, “Book of Shadows: A Modern Woman’s Journey Into the Wisdom of Witchcraft and the Magic of the Goddess.”
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“We had assimilated into the mainstream,” Curott said at the New Smyrna Beach home of some fellow Wiccans. “If you said the word ‘Wicca,’ it was amazing. So many people would say, ‘Yes, yes.’ They wouldn’t know exactly what it was, but they knew it wasn’t Satanism. They knew it involved the Goddess, nature, it was benign. They would smile and nod.”
But Curott isn’t sure O’Reilly would be so accommodating these days.
“That was 1999 — I don’t think I could do that now,” said Curott, an activist who has worked on religious liberties cases since the 1980s. “Things have changed.”
What changed, she said, is that the “theocratic right felt empowered” by the election of President George W. Bush.
Along with talking on Wiccan spirituality in her current lecture tour, Curott is often addressing what she calls the “growing danger of American theocracy.” Curott will speak at 7 p.m. today at the Community Unitarian Universalist Church in Daytona Beach, at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Universal Centre in Cassadaga, and at 7:15 p.m. Saturday at Avalon bookstore in Orlando.
Along with being a member of the Assembly of World Religious Leaders, Curott also has addressed the Parliament of the World’s Religions as a keynote speaker along with the Dalai Lama. And she consults with Wiccan and interfaith groups across the nation.
In recent years, incidents of discrimination against Wiccans and their spiritual cousins, Pagans, have increased in workplaces, schools and child custody cases, Curott said.
Also, she said, the theocratic right — “I prefer this term to the often-used ‘Christian Right’ as the latter is unfair to true Christianity” — is pressuring bookstores and publishers.
“They’re not burning books,” Curott said. “Instead they’re using the reality of capitalist pressure. They say, ‘We are a huge market, we are a family market. We don’t want these books on sex and witchcraft in stores where we bring our families.’ “
Such pressure, she believes, led to bookstores shunning her most recent book, “The Love Spell: An Erotic Memoir of Spiritual Awakening,” even though her two previous works had sold remarkably.
Though galvanized to action via her lecture tour, Curott remains optimistic: “For me, the Constitution is almost a mystical document, with its commitment to the freedom of the individual and their essential integrity and decency. I believe so deeply in the goodness of the American character. I don’t think we’ll allow this democracy to be destroyed.”
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