Saturday, August 8, 2015

Wiccan Killers?

Paganism: An Overview Of One Of Least Understood Modern Religions
"A triple homicide in Florida is suspected to be a Wiccan ritual killing related to the full blue moon, police said Tuesday."
To the members of the media and the Pensacola Police Department,
I don't know how else to say this.  Wiccans don't practice ritual murders.  Wiccans don't practice ritual murders.  Wiccans don't practice ritual murders, okay?  Even if someone is Asatru worshipping Thor, no claw hammer is involved.  How are we in 2015 and still trying to make this clear?  I'm scratching my head over here.  Okay, I lied.  I'm banging it against my desk.  Or at least, I was until I stopped to type this.
55156_1464337987_n.jpgWith evil witches and flying wizards dominating entertainment media, it's no wonder there is such confusion about Paganism and Wicca.  These real, live Religions are practiced by people like anyone else.  And their community-focused, eco-centric faith is worth knowing a thing or two about.
These are a few of the many practices that could be classified as Pagan, traditions that spans many centuries and countries around the world.  The term “Pagan” comes originally from the Latin “paganus,” which appears to have originally had such meanings as “villager” or “country dweller.”  The Roman army used it to refer to civilians.  The early Roman Christians used Pagan in a belittling manner to refer to everyone who preferred to worship pre-Christian divinities.  Over the centuries, it became a term for a person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main World Religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism).  Today, Paganism is a general term for Polytheistic Religions old and new, with Pagan used as the adjective as well as the membership term.
Pagan is an umbrella term which refers to a variety of different practices ranging from Rodnovery, Wiccans, Pagan Reconstructionist, Witchcraft, Hellenes, Devotional Polytheists, African Diasporas, Heathens, Native Tribes, Occultists, Ancient Egyptians and Hinduism, among many others.  This piece focuses on western Neo-Pagan traditions, including Wicca and Neo-Druidism.
Like many religions, Pagans employs certain symbols both as representations of their faith and as images and objects that contain power in and of themselves.  The pentacle is probably the most common in Paganism, often depicted in art and jewelry.  Some say its five points represent the four directions plus the sacred spirit.  The directions also connect to the elements.  Connected to the North, Earth is considered the ultimate feminine element. Air, east, is one of the four classical elements in ancient philosophy and science.  Towards the south is fire, in many ancient cultures and myths has been known to purify the land with the flames of destruction, however, it is also capable of the renewal of life through the warmth and comfort of those very same flames.  Used for healing, cleansing, and purification, water is related to the West, the color blue, and associated with passion and emotion.
As Harvard's Pluralism Project notes, it is difficult to determine the number of Pagan adherents around the world as estimates vary widely.  The number may be anywhere between 200,000 and 1 million, or possibly more.  Most Pagans don't exhibit their religious identity outside of the ritual space (unless they wear clothing or jewelry depicting Pagan symbols such as the pentacle.)  According to The Pagan Census, modern Pagans are distributed fairly even throughout the U.S., with a slight majority on either coast.  Men and women of all ages, races and backgrounds practice Paganism, though the census said the community tends to skew toward white, middle class women.
Contemporary Paganism is widespread and somewhat scattered, hence the difficulty counting adherents.  Modern Paganism does not descend from a singular ancient religion but rather many ancient indigenous and folkloric traditions, and there is no central text to refer to that can shed light on doctrine.  There are, however, subtle distinctions that delineate Celtic and Northern European sects, Baltic and Slavic sects, Greek and Southern European sects, American Neopaganism, and other groupings around the world.  Some covens (organized groups of Pagans) worship specific deities, such as Diana or Odin.  Others practice ancient Druidism, such John Rothwell ("Arthur Pendragon") pictured, while some focus on activism, such as the Reclaiming tradition.
In general, Pagan worship centers around Earth and Spirit, as opposed to specific structures imbued with sacredness (ie. a church, Mecca, the Vatican, etc.)  Forests, hilltops, urban warehouses and individual's homes can operate as ritual sites, especially because many Pagans take measures to "create sacred space" for rituals regardless of where they are.  That said, some natural or ancient sites, such as Stonehenge or Machu Picchu, may hold particular importance for some Pagans.
Triple Goddess
The Triple Goddess in Modern Paganism embodies the maiden, the mother and the crone.  These three aspects are meant to encompass the full power of the Goddess, reflected in the moon's cycles.  The waxing moon represents the maiden; the full moon represents the mother; and the waning moon represents the crone.  Pagans will often hold gatherings or do personal meditation to observe these moon phases.  In addition to the Goddess, some Pagans worship a masculine divinity, occasionally in the form of the Horned God or the Green Man.  He can also be seen as a Triple God - Warrior, Father and Sage.  Many also revere the natural world as Divine and hold Ancestor altars, as well.
Sabbats - Quarter Days 
There are eight Sabbats that make up the Pagan "wheel of the year," though not all Pagans observe all eight.  Each Sabbat corresponds with different seasonal events of the year.  Pagans celebrate the winter solstice, spring equinox, summer solstice and autumn equinox (or "quarter days") to mark the deepest part of the season and the lengthening or shortening of daylight.  These four are the most sacred days of the year.  Midwinter (winter solstice or yule) has been recognized as a significant turning point in the yearly cycle since the late Stone Age.  The spring equinox, days become longer than the nights.  Midsummer (summer solstice) is considered the turning point at which summer reaches its height and the Sun shines longest.  The holiday of the autumnal equinox is a Pagan ritual of thanksgiving for the fruits of the Earth and a recognition of the need to share them to secure the blessings of the Goddess and the God during the coming winter months.
Sabbats - Cross Quarter Days 
The other four Sabbats, or "cross quarter days," are Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain.  Imbolc falls in early February and celebrates the onset of springtime, encouraging the sprouting of seeds and new life.  Beltane is an early summer celebration in May, often seen as a fertility festival.  Lughnasadh or Lammas falls in August and is the first of several harvest festivals.  Samhain coincides with the western Halloween and is a holiday for paying tribute to the deceased.  
Alters hold a central place in history of many cultures.  When it is used, it is regarded as a place of contact with the deity, set apart as sacred.  Some are small and simple, a shelf with a bowl and a stone.  Some are large and elaborate, a whole room decorated in sacred images and a clay table etched with symbols and bronze or copper.  Pagans often construct altars for rituals and to keep in their homes, and these may act as offerings to specific deities.  Each object holds certain meaning, such as rocks to symbolize Earth, seeds to symbolize intentions and new life, bread to symbolize bounty, and so on.
Pagans occasionally employ tools in rituals and personal practice that may either function in ritual procedures (such as an athame, pictured), aid in divination (such as a pendulum), assist in cleansing (such as water or incense) or pay respects to a specific deity (such as a statuette).  The athame has many uses for drawing a boundary, invoking the elemental guardians or as a symbol of universal creativity - but is not used for actual physical cutting.  Other tools may include drums, candles, ribbons, cauldrons and more, depending on the specific ritual or practice for which they will be used.
It is fire that our Ancestors used to warm our homes, used it to cook food, sit around it to ward of the darkness of night and it fuels our passions.  Fire plays a prominent role in many Pagan rituals and in personal practice (through candles and incense.)  During some rituals Pagans circle around a large fire, which is seen to hold transformative power.  Fire may also be used in cleansing, divination, trance and ecstatic dancing.
The anatomy of any Pagan ritual will vary from group to group, but Reclaiming - one of the best-known American Pagan groups - identifies several key components.  Typically rituals begin with grounding and cleansing, then move to the casting of a circle.  Leaders and/or participants will often invoke deities, then guide one another into trance or magic work.  At the end, participants often share food and drink before closing the ritual.
Magic in Paganism and witchcraft is primarily about change and transformation.  By some accounts, magic allows practitioners to remove the barriers of what they think is possible so that they can manipulate the physical or spiritual world.  Most groups shun what is sometimes referred to as "black magic" and instead employ magic crafts that encourages practitioners to draw health and fortune into their lives and the lives of others.  Some magical activities include chanting, trance, craft work and more elaborate manipulations of objects.
Invoking Deities 
One of the key elements of Pagan rituals and personal practice is the invocation of specific deities.  The chosen deity may correspond to a certain Sabbats (such as Goddess Brigid for Sabbat Imbolc).  The invocation is intended to invite the God or Goddess to assist the ritual or so the participant may come to know the Divine through embodiment.
Personal Practice 
The Pagan Census found in 2003 that just over 50% of respondents said they were solitary practitioners.  This means they do not belong to a coven and may not have been trained by a larger spiritual organization.  Solitary practitioners observe rituals and practice magic on their own, or perhaps occasionally in small groups.  Even for those involved in covens, personal practice is seen as key for developing magic skills and deepening spiritual connection.
Pagan Leaders 
Modern Pagan leaders are often hard to identify due to the dispersed nature of the faith.  Individuals may be trained and ordained by specific seminaries or by independent groups.  In general, Pagan sects are non- or semi-hierarchical, but certain individuals may hold sway in the community due to their large followings (such as Starhawk pictured) or their influence through authorship.
You’ve probably heard someone refer to marriage as “tying the knot” or “giving one’s hand.”  Originally the word handfast came into English from Old Norse languages and meant the act of sealing any bargain by taking hands.  Along with legal marriage and domestic partnership, some Pagans practice handfasting.  According to BBC, handfasting rituals are believed to predate Christianity and was certainly present by medieval times.  During the ceremony, the couple will tie their wrists together with ribbons or twine to represent their union.
Paganism is by no means an adults-only tradition.  The 1999 Pagan Census found that just over 40% of participants reported that they had children.  The growing number of children in the Pagan community has lead some groups to open their rituals to families and youth, adjusting some practices that may not have been appropriate or accessible for young people.  In some traditions, Pagans pass on traditions and lore to children through trainings and camps, a form of spiritual education common in many religions.  
Though not a rule for Pagan communities, some groups make activism and community work central to their practice.  Some of the causes promoted by Pagan groups include environmental protection, gender and racial equality, LGBT rights and the preservation of sacred indigenous sites.
Many Americans generally believe that their Constitution guarantees their freedom to worship as they please.  It is sadly not always the case.  Ancient Americans came to this country seeking many things including religious freedom.  It is a battle that continues today for Wicca, Islam, Amish, Native Americanism and more.  Neopagans are a religious minority in every country where they exist and have been subject to religious discrimination.  The largest Neopagan communities are in North America and the United Kingdom, along with other countries.
Wiccan is a nature based religion and it has been recognized as such in the United States and Canada.  In the U.S., Wicca has full recognition as a religion and is granted all rights as such under the Constitution.  It is a dedication made to nature, the deities and yourself.  It is a way of life and as such we are mindful of the balance between ourselves and all things within the universe at all times.  America has become a mixing pot.  There are uses for the word 'Lord', a common dating method.  There are statues of Moses, Confucius and Solon on the Supreme Court.  While most modern currency holds images of presidents. 
To those who are reading this and who may wonder how much of these "Wiccan Ritual Killing" articles are true: They are not.  Pick up a book on Wicca - they're in every bookstore.  Google our practices.  You'll find lots of information.  Read our blogs.  Ask us questions.  Go wild and attend one of our events - they're not hard to find.  Just stop believing the hype.  I don't want to flip on the computer one day to find out yet another person has lost a job or suffered injury to a business...or worse...because of this hype.
With as much information as we Wiccans willingly share about our faith and practices, it baffles me to see the need to continue to say this.  But just in case anyone needs to hear it again, Wiccans do NOT practice ritual murder.  By spreading this lie due to your self-imposed lack of education and research, you've left us all in a vulnerable, and possibly dangerous, situation.

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