Pre-Christian religion is out of the shadows

The Juneau Empire, Sep. 6, 2002

Forget Blair Witch and broomsticks. Juneau pagans take the elevator to their regular meetings in a brightly lighted library conference room.

“We’re not like Jeanie or Bewitched or anything like that,” said Katrina Lee, an organizer for the 15-member Alaska United Pagan Alliance that meets monthly in the downtown library.

Haunted by the history of the Salem witch hunts, Wicca, Druids and other self-defined pagans have mostly continued their practices in private.

“It’s so ingrained in our society now, that if you’re pagan or wiccan you’re evil,” Lee said.

Now the Juneau pagans are slowly becoming more public. They’ve been meeting openly for about six months and are planning a Pagan Pride Day for next year, as well as a Fourth of July float.

“I’m not too fearful because we’re living in America now and if someone starts to mess with me or her, whoever, the majority would say leave them alone,” said Phyllis Smith, another Juneau pagan.

Pagan is a broad term, encompassing anyone who does not adhere to one of the five major religions. Within that group there are as many varieties of belief as there are branches of Christianity, Lee said. There are pantheists, polytheists, druids and wiccans. Some are influenced by Egyptian, Celtic, Taoist, Buddhist or Hindu beliefs. The common ground for most pagans is a belief in the five elements – earth, air, fire, water and spirit, represented by a five-pointed star.

“Some pagans do believe in Christ, inasmuch as that he was a wonderful teacher of how to be a better human being,” Lee said. “We just don’t believe that he was the savior.”

As much as it is not Christian, the group is also definitively not satanic.

“We don’t believe in hell and we don’t believe in the devil,” Lee said. “We believe in positive and negative.”

They also believe the more positive they put into the world, the more they will get back. “Do what you will, save harm none,” is one of the most important rules they follow.

“They have the Ten Commandments and we have ours,” Lee said. “Quite a few of them derived from rules that developed since the burning times, such as anything that happens within the circle stays within the circle.”

They also are not supposed to do anything directly for their own benefit, but instead use any magic to benefit others. So they can’t cast love spells, but they can cast spells for other things.

Spells involve putting your thoughts and energy into something you’d like to have happen in your life, and calling upon the spiritual elements to assist you, Lee said. They usually take months to accomplish, and are more like prayer than the eye-of-newt stereotype.

That’s not to say there aren’t sometimes steaming cauldrons. They’re planning one now for their next event – a large pot of soup to be cooked over a fire at Auke Rec and then shared.

“It will be like a Thanksgiving thing,” said Smith, who is organizing the Sept. 22 celebration of Mabon, a fall harvest festival.

Generally the monthly gatherings involve a potluck, talk and rituals that match the season. They invoke gods and goddesses to join them.

“It’s pretty much just energy,” Lee said. “It’s the energy in the people around us and in the elements.”

There are no sacrifices. The rituals usually involve a little bit of bread and fake wine. Their requests of the spirit are familiar.

“We would like unity, we would like a little less violence,” Lee said. “We think about the health of our friends and families.”

So where’s the magic? Everywhere, said Smith.

“All aspects of life are magic. You wake up, you drink a cup of coffee with your husband, that’s magic,” Smith said. “You make dinner for your family, that’s magic.”

Lee and Smith are both raising their children as pagans, though Smith and her 11-year-old daughter have been studying the Bible together. The pagans welcome children at their events, so long as they bring a parent. They don’t want anyone under 18 coming alone though, another lesson from the Salem witch trials, where young girls were condemning their elders.

“Children don’t necessarily lie, but they do get their stories crossed,” Lee said.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday September 11, 2002.
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