Pagans count selves among the faithful

A profusion of steeples, spires and crosses reach for the sky in McMinnville, but these symbols of our nation’s dominant Christian faith do not reflect the full range of spirituality among the county’s population.

That range includes Earth-centered faiths that first began to reach the public eye in the 1960s under labels like New Age, Pagan and Neo-Pagan.

What adherents have in common are a rejection of traditional worship practices and a desire to get closer to the environment and the Earth. Some refer to themselves as witches, pagans or shamans, while others reject such loaded terms.

“Pagan” comes from the Latin term for “country dweller” or “villager.” It has traditionally been used to describe people, often indigenous tribal people, not embracing Christianity, Islam, Judaism or one of the world’s other major religions.

It has sometimes been applied even more narrowly, as has “heathen,” to anyone outside the Christian faith. Because it carries connotations of being primitive and uneducated, it has long been considered derogatory.

However, it has been embraced by many practitioners nonetheless.

The Witches’ Voice newsletter, which can be found on the web at, estimates that there are a million practicing pagans in the United States, out of a population of 300 million, and 3 million worldwide, out of a population of 6.5 billion.

Religious sociologist Helen Berger, author of “Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-pagans in the United States” (University of South Carolina Press, 2003), considers those figures high. She estimates there are between 200,000 and 400,000 U.S. practitioners meeting her definition.

Either way, the count includes Silverstar Red Crow of McMinnville. She terms herself a practitioner of “shamanism in the Red Witch tradition,” which she said embraces a “socio/magickal family belief structure.”

Born in Southern California in the 1950s, Red Crow began her spiritual education early. She said she learned to meditate before she was out of diapers.

She traces her pagan roots through her parents. Her Native American mother, Sarah Noble Goodspeed Sortomme, and Norwegian father, Richard F. Sortomme Jr., were both dedicated to the concept of Earth-centered worship, she said.

“Understanding who we are genetically enables us to understand what we can become,” Red Crow said.

She said the spiritual journey she has embarked on is aimed at finding her personal place in the universe. “It’s all about belonging in one form or the other,” she said, and her spiritual beliefs and practices have grown out of that.

A self-described artist, writer and teacher of metaphysics, she attended Thomas Jefferson College, now known as Grand Valley State College, majoring in anthropology and modern literature. In her metaphysical pursuits, she has studied with Master Hamid Bey, Baba Ram Das, Alan Ginsberg and others.

Red Crow made her home in Santa Fe for 16 years.

In 1994, she moved to Carlton with her husband, Mark Dragonfly Freeman. They operated Silverstar Gallery and the World Tree Prayer Network, originally called the Pagan Prayer Network.

“WTPN’s participants are from many traditions and faiths,” Red Crow said. “Many of them are Earth-based spiritual practitioners, which include indigenous shamanic practitioners, Reiki masters, Pranic healers, faith healers and magic practitioners from traditions representing five continents. Some people have estimated that the network reaches up to 90,000 people with its daily requests.”

Red Crow and Freeman continued their spiritual outreach by founding a church in 1996.

“Church of the World Tree was founded to protect and preserve shamanism practiced in the Red Witch tradition,” she said. It became affiliated with the International Assembly of Spiritual Healers and Earth Stewards Congregations on April 26, 1998.

Six years ago, they moved to McMinnville and opened “Toad House and the Peace Garden,” billed as a “teaching center and gathering place.” The cooperative is the focal point for Rainbow Charities, which is dedicated to serving Earth-based and indigenous communities.

The charitable organization arm Children’s Angels extends its reach far enough to support orphans on the Standing Rock Reservation in Cannon Ball, N.D., for example. However, its main emphasis is local.

Through its Soldier’s Angels program the organization also sends gift packages to troops serving abroad

Red Crow said she and her husband offer hands-on-healing and counseling services. She said they also conduct birthing, naming, marriage, same-sex commitment, fasting and funeral ceremonies, the latter known as walking-on ceremonies.

While the number of pagans continues to grow, ignorance and prejudice continue to plague its practitioners, Red Crow said.

She said she has received many death threats over her open espousal of her beliefs, but does not hold the threat-makers in contempt. “I am a peace ambassador,” she said.

“We honor the Earth as the mother of all life,” Red Crow said. “We invite people of many faiths to come together and share positive feelings, all revolving around reverence for our Great Mother.

“We do not discriminate against any particular belief structure or faith. We maintain an abiding respect for the Earth, our elders, tribalism, diversity, devotion and in-depth personal inventory.”

Red Crow describes pursuit of peace as an integral element of her beliefs. “It’s all about taking responsibility for thoughts, actions and deeds,” she said.

“Thoughts are things,” she said. “You put a thought with power and intention into the universe. Once it is given, it can never be taken back.

“If it is negative, it comes back on you with all the force you sent it with. If it is positive, it floods your life with harmony and peace.

“Each person must take complete responsibility for everything thought, said and done, without exception. If you spew hate, hate will be the nest you settle into every night. We have a responsibility to be positive, to make a positive mark.”

Red Crow, Freeman and their circle planted a peace pole on Feb. 7, 2002, emblazoned with the word “peace” in 13 languages. The 20 foot pole is topped with copper and painted green, considered the color of healing.

The pole is the focus of a weekly Peace Circle, where she and fellow adherents gather weekly to pray to the Earth Goddess for peace.

“Toad House/Peace Garden events are Earth-Centered, celebrating the Creatrix Goddess in all of Her forms, as our Mother,” according to its website, found at

Red Crow termed her faith “matrifocal.” She said it stresses power-sharing across gender lines, but “honors the woman first in all things,” because the woman is the “giver of life.”

Natural rhythms of the seasons and lunar calendar play a big role in her practice of her faith. She said that is true for pagans generally, as these natural cycles reflect the human cycles of birth, life, decline and death.

“A true pagan lifestyle is very arduous,” Red Crow said. “It isn’t all fun and games.”

Each year, she said, “There are eight sabbats, 13 full moons and 12 new moons a year,” each to be marked and celebrated. And doing so can lead to ostracism by others, she said.

But she is undeterred by lack of support and understanding, or even tolerance, from the population at large.

“I love this life, all the drama, angst, pain and the ultimate states of joy,” she writes on her website. “This work is my passion and feeds my core-spirit.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday January 17, 2007.
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