Spring-loving Wiccans: We’re not wicked

The season brings out happy witches, like a Volvo-driving teacher who assures, “We don’t eat your babies.”
St. Petersburg Times, May 7, 2003
By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – On the heels of the major spring observations of Christians and Jews, interfaith calendars carry a listing for a relatively unknown holiday called Beltane.

It’s the May Day festival of Wiccans, or practitioners of witchcraft.

In St. Petersburg, some Wiccans celebrated the holiday several days before the traditional May 1 date by dancing around the maypole in the courtyard of the Unitarian Universalist Church near Mirror Lake. Thursday through Sunday, many more are expected to converge on Boyd Hill Nature Park at the behest of a cyberspace invitation issued on www.witchvox.com Wiccans take great pains to explain that theirs is a religious tradition. It’s based on nature, they say; hence the springtime holiday focusing on fertility. Other major sabbats, or rituals, include: Midsummer, which is celebrated June 21; Halloween or Samhain, Oct. 31; Autumn Equinox, Sept. 21; and Yule, Dec. 21. Wiccans prefer to worship outdoors, where they cast sacred circles and invoke the presence and protection of a pantheon of gods and goddesses.

The April 26 Beltane ritual at Unitarian Universalist Church, 719 Arlington Ave. N, was organized by Lisa Grondin, a 31-year-old preschool teacher and chairwoman of the congregation’s Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans.

“The purpose of my group is to teach and enlighten pagans and nonpagans alike in the Wiccan tradition,” she said during a recent interview.

“The Unitarian Universalist Church is a big supporter of the pagan community; and so far I’ve met up with three or four chapters in Florida. We are the most colorful part of the Unitarian Universalist Church,” she said of the religious group that accepts all faiths and beliefs and ascribes to no creed.

Most members in the church’s chapter of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans are fairly new. About two years ago, the group disintegrated after the controversial departure of the church’s well-known minister, the Rev. Dee Graham.

“I had to start over from scratch. It was a time of change. Me and another woman were the only ones left,” said Mrs. Grondin, whose group now has about 20 people – some of them friends who used to meet for circles, or gatherings, at her home.

Last month’s Beltane celebration included dances around a maypole decorated with colorful ribbons and flowers. Dancing, said Mrs. Grondin, “is a big part of raising energy.” Traditionally, she added, the maypole is made of wood and the flowers are real. But because her chapter keeps the pole up until the next year’s Beltane gathering, the maypole is made of PVC pipe and festooned with plastic flowers.

This year’s celebration was officiated by a high priest and high priestess. Before joining the circle for the evening’s ritual, participants had to be cleansed with smoke from burning sage and blessed with oil. They later shared wine or grape juice, during which the words “May you never thirst and may you never hunger” were said. The group also invoked gods and goddesses.

“Our goddess has different stages, maiden, mother and crone,” Mrs. Grondin said.

At this time of year, she said, the goddess is at the maiden stage and becomes the partner of the sky or horn god. The maypole, with its ribbons and dances, is a metaphor for their mating, she said.

The north St. Petersburg resident, who occasionally hosts circles in her back yard, concedes that some people might find Wiccan traditions strange, or worse, evil.

“You respond to it with logic,” she said of denunciations.

“One thing we always say is, “How can it be evil, because we don’t believe in Satan, anyway?’ “

And she is fed up with stereotypes.

“I don’t have a green nose, and I drive a Volvo. We are here to say, “We are not evil. We don’t eat your babies. We are your neighbors.’ I have been fired for my religion. I’ve been stalked. My own mother got kicked out of her own church because of me,” said Mrs. Grondin.

“Wicca is big right now with Harry Potter, with Charmed,” she said in reference to the main character of the popular children’s books and the television show starring Alyssa Milano as one of three sisters who are witches.

“There is a lot of fantasy involved with those particular stories, but it’s like that light of the ancient world that is coming out. It’s like what is old is now new again,” Mrs. Grondin said.

She thinks there are more than 1-million followers of Wicca in the United States, “not counting the ones that are still in the broom closet” and those practicing on their own. The tradition, she said, celebrates the whole person.

“When we die, we don’t have to be, like, totally perfect. I was raised Catholic. We had to go to confession, and we had to do this or that to be accepted in heaven. With the goddess, you are human. Our only motto is, “Do what you must, but harm none.’ And that’s what I teach my youth group, that there are people out there who don’t like you. They say you’re Satan worshipers. Satan is a Christian concept. Actually, they took our horned god and made him into the devil,” she said.

Mrs. Grondin is raising her children – a son, 4, and daughter, 7 – as Wiccans and has self-published several children’s books on witchcraft. One, My Mommy Is a Witch, is a coloring book. She also has started a youth group, called the Silver Dragons, at the church. The children, about eight so far and ranging in age from 4 to 13, are learning the traditions and history of the craft. Lessons will cover herbs, soapmaking, drumming and other subjects.

Mrs. Grondin’s husband, Kevin, the manager of a smoke shop, also is pagan.

“Which is rare to find a pagan man,” she said. “I met him through a mutual friend almost eight years back in the Gulfport area.”

In her coven, her husband is known as a guardian, sort of a “pagan bouncer,” Mrs. Grondin explained.

“He’s been at circles where he has had to throw people out for being too drunk. His job is to protect the people in the circle,” she said.

Mrs. Grondin, who discovered witchcraft at the age of 16, now is a third-degree high priestess, which means she can officiate at weddings and funerals. She said her Wiccan beliefs help her through times of trouble.

“For me, Wicca is confidence. You can do and be what you want. When I was Christian, I was always afraid of going beyond the boundaries,” she said.

“It’s a religion of freedom. I have a lot of gay witches, and they feel comfortable because we don’t care what you are. I know a lot of people who are Jewish who are coming to Wicca. I’ve got a lot of black people who are coming to Wicca. We believe that you should be who you are, be what you are.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday May 9, 2003.
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