Wicca in Bible-belt America.

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In a fascinating and instructive article, The Shelbyville News presents an account of the practice of wicca in the heart of Indiana…

Click here for the full article…——Wiccans worry the neighborsFear stems from misunderstood tenets, practitioners say

By KELLEY WALKER PERRY

She never promised her neighbors a rose garden.

But when they saw Tammy Coers kneeling on the ground in her front yard in the 1500 block of West McKay Road, “We thought she was putting in a flower bed,” one woman said.

Coers was digging a rather large circle — but other homes in the area have circular flower beds, so nothing seemed out of the ordinary until the circle was filled in, not with flowers, but with a star. What neighbors originally believed was a common flower bed ended up being a pentacle — a five-pointed star surrounded by a circle, which is an ancient religious symbol used by Wiccans, pagans, Israelites, Christians, magicians and others.

“All of us that live out here are just beside ourselves. None of us like having this stuff in the yard,” the neighbor said. “When I see her outside, I come in and lock my doors and shut the TV off and shut my living room windows. She gives me the creeps.”

Many people have found the neighborhood an enjoyable place to live for several years, the woman added. True: Coers herself has lived in the same house for almost 13 years, although she is moving soon.

While the pentacle is a traditionally-recognized symbol, if it’s turned upside down, it can take on negative associations and is often connected with Satanism, and since its appearance, people in the neighborhood have been worried about the safety of everyone in their families, down to their pet cats. But Coers, a single, 37-year-old mother who has three pet cats of her own (none black) uses the symbol for protection from harm for herself and her two teenage daughters, 15 and 16.

“It’s just like a cross; not everybody has positive connotations to it…some have negative connotations, some are indifferent,” she said.

The pentacle, or pentagram, had and has had many meanings. Various groups use and define the significance of these symbols quite differently — as a talisman for health, knowledge, truth, good fortune, and a guard against evil.

It was originally the symbol of the goddess Kore, who was worshipped thousands of years ago under many different names.

During Old Testament times, the pentacle was the first and most important of the Seven Seals, representing the seven secret names of God. The Celts used it as a symbol of the goddess of the Underground, Morrigan.

Certain Christian groups use a pentagram during rituals. Traditionally, the pentagram was interpreted as the five crucifixion wounds of Christ, as well as the star that led the three wise men to Baby Jesus in Bethlehem.

Inverted pentagrams, like inverted crosses, are used by Satanists. The symbol also is used by the Order of the Eastern Star, an organization made up of Christian women who are the wives of Masons.

The religion of Wicca — a neo-pagan, earth-centered belief system loosely based on that of the Celts which is gaining in popularity — uses the pentagram and the pentacle as its main symbols to represent the elements of earth, air, fire, water and spirit.

Later, the symbol became associated with evil, with some saying it represented a goat’s head or Satan. But in Wicca, it is impossible for the symbol to be a Satanic one. There is no version of the Christian God or Satan in the Wiccan religion, but rather a Goddess and God, with the focus on nature and its cycles. Eight holidays are celebrated: Ostara, Beltaine, Midsummer Solstice, Lammas, Mabon, Samhain, Yule and Imbolc.

Visitors to Coers’ home won’t find Satanic rituals going on. No brooms or bubbling cauldrons, either.

What they will find is a comfortable chair, soothing Celtic music, soft lighting and welcoming hospitality. She and a friend, 29-year-old Ayla MacFaye, settled down in the aromatic living room Friday over mugs of coffee and herbal tea to discuss what they believe, what they don’t believe, and why.

The women met about three years ago and became fast friends. Now, they often meditate together, watch over each other’s children, and talk shop — herbal healing, floral decorating, crocheting and the like.

“We clicked pretty much right away,” Coers said.

They have similar pagan beliefs, although MacFaye is the more religious of the two women and has been through an initiation process which involved study, meditation and the gift of a new pagan name.

Wiccans are big believers in respect for family and the earth.

“But you don’t have to be a witch to give back to the earth,” Coers said.

While Hollywood makes strong connections between witchcraft and the desire for power, that is a common misconception about Wicca, MacFaye said.

“We don’t want to exert power over anything. We don’t believe in dominion over animals and plants,” she explained.

Wiccans feel a responsibility toward nature, and both women are involved in organic gardening and recycling. To kill, cause chaos and destruction or take without need is just asking for bad karma, Coers said.

But she makes no excuses for doing what needs to be done.

“I utilize what works,” she said. “If I have a poisonous plant or two, it’s for protection.”

Rumors of animal sacrifice are completely fictitious. The only “sacrificing” Wiccans participate in is leaving the first portion of holiday meals to their gods, goddesses and family ancestors.

MacFaye’s father, who has his doctorate in social work, has set up a spiritual healing community center in Ohio. He also is a Lakota sun dancer, although he is not Native American.

In a lot of ways, earth-based paganism closely resembles the natural Native American way of life, MacFaye — a certified herbalist — said. It’s also similar to Christianity, since Wiccans believe a person is responsible for every word, thought and deed.

“But there is not such a heavy negative connotation,” Coers said.

The healing magic of positivity is embraced in Wicca. What many people call “spells” are basically focused prayers, Coers said.

“There is no greater magic in all the world than love,” MacFaye added.

And instead of threats of hell and eternal damnation, there are simply natural consequences for actions.

Both women’s’ upbringing played a part in their current beliefs. Likewise, they know what they believe will be reflected in their own children. It already is — Coers’ daughters have non-denominational leanings, similar to hers, while MacFaye is raising her seven-year-old boy and three-year-old girl in a more religious-based environment.

It has been difficult, MacFaye admitted, explaining her paganism to her husband’s side of the family and close friends. It’s caused a few problems at school — and with well-meaning people who don’t understand why she won’t be sending her children to vacation Bible school.

“I don’t want to offend anybody,” she said.

“We had statues of saints everywhere in our house,” she said.

One of her favorite childhood memories, in fact, is of a May Crowning ceremony when she was about three years old and was allowed to carry a crown of roses to place on the statue of Mary. But she eventually left the Catholic Church because she found it sexist and impossible to follow all the rules. So she traded saints for gods and goddesses about 18 years ago — and Mary became the first “goddess” she turned to when her grandmother died. Much of what once was pagan — certain saints like St. Brigid (Bhrighid), Christmas trees, and Easter egg traditions — became integrated into the Christian religion, according to MacFaye.

Coers was raised a Mormon. Now, she is non-denominational and embraces any positive teaching. She is interested in aromatherapy, natural herbal healing, astrology, numerology and massage.

“When you heal the body, you heal the soul,” she said.

While Coers does not necessarily have a connection to God in the traditional sense, “There is something larger than us out there,” she said.

Both women believe in reincarnation, saying that people choose their parents and struggles as part of their own soul’s evolution. All humans are looking for guidance and enlightenment, they agreed.

“We’re all on this journey of life from point A to point B, but on individual pathways,” Coers said, likening faith to a bowl of fruit on the United Nations table — everyone has different names for “apple,” but they are all talking about the same piece of fruit.

Both women practice random acts of kindness — not what most folks would believe to be a witch’s priority. Their philosophy is simple: the energy you put into the world comes back. Positivity breeds positivity. You reap what you sow. They try to sow seeds of respect, tolerance, charity and understanding.

“We as a society have lost the ability to love, touch and support each other,” Coers said. “There is a lot of hypocrisy and unwillingness to open their minds and broaden their perspective. Most of those who call themselves Christians are hypocrites. They say they believe in something, but they absolutely do not live it.”

There is no way of knowing how large the local Wiccan population is — especially because many hide their beliefs out of fear of persecution.

“There is a lot of discrimination here,” MacFaye said, citing the opinion that the area is mostly comprised of white, middle-class Christians with little tolerance for those who aren’t the same.

It’s a bit different from where MacFaye grew up in Ohio, where there were Christians, Catholic Italians, Jews, and pagans all in one area. She’s a staunch supporter of freedom of speech, but says she hadn’t heard many racial or religious slurs until she moved to the Shelbyville area about four and a half years ago.

A 2001 American Religious Identification study estimated there were 408,000 adults and 750,000 total Wiccans in the United states, about 100,000 in the United Kingdom and 70,000 in Canada. The United States population grew steadily from 2,000 in 1982 — now representing the seventh largest organized religion in America.

MacFaye guesses about 200 Wiccans are in Shelby County, with at least two different local covens, and a larger group is in the Columbus area.

“There’s a difference between people’s attitudes of us and our attitude of them. We aren’t the negative of their religion. It’s not the other side of the coin; it’s a whole different coin,” she said.

MacFaye and Coers believe those coins spend the same.

“There are awesome lessons to be learned from other cultures and people,” Coers said. “As long as they are positive lessons, I don’t care where they come from.”

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