Interview With a Wiccan
OPINION 10/06/2039 12:40 AM ET
Interview With a Wiccan

Clara Boxer
Religion Reporter, Huntington Courier

CC BY-SA 4.0 - image changes released under same license Pagan handfasting ceremony at Avebury (Beltane 2005) by Solar/ShahMai Network, XcepticZP | Writer image: CC BY 4.0 Freedom Smile by Oscar Rethwill | Images were cropped. Images used for illustration purposes only.
A handfasting ceremony, just one of many pagan traditional ceremonies.
Paganism is on the rise in the United States.

Gallup's December 2032 survey showed that it is indeed, the fastest-growing religion in our nation, with 8.4% of the population identifying as Wiccan, Druid, Heathen, Shaman, polytheist, etc. A Pew Research Center study on the American Religious Landscape is due next year and a further rise is expected.

Though not yet ready to challenge Christianity as the dominant religion, Pagan traditions (as a conglomerate) surpassed Judaism almost 15 years ago as the second-most practiced faith. Growth has consistently been between 100% - 200% annually for the last couple of decades, or more.

What's more, Pagan cultural influence is quickly outstripping even that of Christianity. Neo-Pagan thoughts and beliefs are pentrating where even the bulwark of monotheistic religions cannot reach.

And it's not just fringe elements who are turning to a Pagan lifestyle. Neo-Paganism is becoming a legitimate religious option for people who swim in more mainstream circles, as they search for meaning to connect with the sense of wonder, something to help ameliorate the longing that is going unfulfilled in that area of their lives.

Gallup's poll showed firefighters, businesswomen and men, stay at home moms and dads, lawyers, plumbers and many other types investing themselves in Pagan spirituality.

I spoke to Mary Halmater of National Coven, one of America's largest Wiccan organizations. I asked her about her beliefs and why big-tent Paganism seems to be trending so strongly with Americans.

CB: What is your belief system?

MH: We as Wiccans are about a fundamental community. With each other, with the earth, with some or no deities. Wiccans strongly believe in the concept of harmony. Our beliefs come from a basic tenet of faith: "if it harms no one, do what you will". From this everything else flows.

CB: You said 'some or no deities'.

MH: One thing that most people don't normally understand about Wiccans or Pagans is the enormous and wonderful diversity which lives among us. We are not institutional, in fact we tend to struggle against that because it is seen to enslave rather than liberate. So some of us believe in gods, old or new, or both. Some do not. We each find our own path.

CB: Does the path of Wicca include spells? Does black magic play a part?

MH: Most Wiccans do not practice black magic. It is generally frowned upon, under the Rule of Three, which states that any good performed by someone who is Wiccan will return thrice. Any evil also is subject to return on its practitioner thrice. My organization takes a hard line against those who admit to casting spells meant to harm others. They are subject to immediate membership removal.

CB: Where are Wiccans on the subject of Christians? They are still by number the most dominant faith. Particularly with a history of oppression and antagonism against Wiccans.

MH: Firstly, we seek no vengeance against anyone of any faith. Most Wiccans believe in the Rule of Three, and so will seek instead to avoid confrontation with Christians or anyone else. Christians are free to believe and frankly, we feel that our best defense against them is simply living out our faith in awe and wonder. We have attracted a lot of members who simply were tired, and looking for a new sense of wonder.

CB: You mentioned the eclectic nature that seems to be inherent in Paganism generally. Why is that so?

MH: It's not for me to speak for others, but it seems to be a pushback against a social model of religiosity which has been very constraining, for so long. People are coming to realize that mankind has many traditions and they are free to choose them, and we acknowledge their differences in love. We want to give the world back a sense of divine enchantment that has been lost a bit.

CB: Your organization has seen a huge growth spurt in the last decade. Has this sense of "divine enchantment", maybe been a part of the rise of big-tent Paganism in the past twenty or so years?

MH: I think so. That divinity is in all of us. A lot of our members who are former monotheists say that gets radically redirected in monotheistic religion, in ways that are often very unhealthy. We embrace human sexuality as a gift, we don't hate ourselves for it. We practice healthy relationships. We seek harmony with ourselves, with others, with animals, with plants, with whatever god or gods we believe in. Being enchanted is throwing off the shackles and allowing a breath of fresh air to inspire you.

CB: How much does pop culture play a part of Paganism's growth, do you think?

MH: I don't really know. Maybe there is some initial interest based on certain concepts, but pop culture has really warped people's idea of what Witchcraft is supposed to be all about. I've never met anyone who could make lightning come out of their hands like the Emperor in Star Wars. The oldest, most powerful Wiccan practitioners can perform acts that are paranormal, but that's because of a lifetime spent in devotion to their ritual. Pop culture may feed people into the faith, but I think they stick with it because it's real and actually, in spite of Hollywood.

CB: StickBones was lauded as one of the only TV shows to accurately portray modern Pagan practice. Did your members appreciate the factuality of that production?

MH: One of our senior council members actually consulted on that. Steven Portran. He went in with a real passion for seeing someone finally get it right. StickBones was a real ground-breaker. One of the few Western productions that I think really might have helped to educate people about what Paganism is really about. It was spoken of a lot during the time it was on.

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