With the rapid erosion of personal liberties and the increasing power of the religious right, it is time for the Wiccans and Pagans to take back their power both as a group and as individuals. With of the current atmosphere of intolerance, many who follow the Earth-based religions are afraid to come out of the broom closet. They refused to get politically involved because it’s not the spiritual thing to do or because they are frightened of the repercussions. Staying quiet and hiding is what led to the murder of countless Wiccans and Pagans during the Burning Times. By refusing to fight for their rights and going under ground, the Christians were able to hunt them down individually. But the violence and bigotry has not been left in the past; today they do not burn or hang, they use more subtle means to discriminate and harass.
According to the New York Times, both religions are the fastest growing in the country; by the year 2010, Earth-based or those who worship the Goddess will be the third most popular religions in the United States. Both Wicca and Paganism are legally recognized by the Supreme Court, all military branches, and both houses of Congress, yet they are still the most misunderstood and discriminated religions in the United States. Many acts of violence and intolerance go unreported because the authorities refuse to take action or the individuals involved are afraid of the repercussions so they don‘t report the attacks. Some of the responsibility lies with the members who refuse to speak out by demanding their rights under the existing laws, use the influence of the voting booth and with their economic clout that every consumer has. By refusing to get involved, they give their power away to those who wish do them harm.
Online groups are an efficient way for Wiccans, Pagans and all spiritual people to learn about and from each other. It is a wonderful way to share knowledge and to keep everyone up to date with current events. By keeping connected via the net, the distances between us are eliminated and we can be come a strong community. Yet even with the unanimity of the net, many refused to get involved. In one group, after several members brought up political topics, they were told that political discussions were not allowed in the group because it had nothing to do with either the Wiccan or Pagan religions. Members of another group suggested that they stop watching the news because it was too depressing and frightening; instead they suggested that everyone bliss out and pray for peace. The members of the first group refused to knuckle under to the pressure of a few; the discussion led to a vote, which opened the group to all topics without censorship. The second group just went along. No one asked how not getting involved would help the world become a better place. Prayer does work miracles, but unless it is backed up with practice action nothing is truly accomplished. There is an old parable. A group of spiritual people saw a bush wilting. They circled it and prayed. The bush continued to die, so they prayed harder. A woman walked by, saw the condition of the bush and watered it. The bush was saved and the woman moved on. Pray and light candles, but unless you back it up with speaking out very little will be accomplished.
The Inquisition, the Burning Times and the Salem witch trials are only three examples of the savagery inflicted by Christians. The Inquisition was not limited to witches or Pagans, but included anyone who was different, either mentally or physically and anyone who was not following the narrow Christian path. By 430 AD, death sentences for heretics was enthusiastically enforced. The accused had no right to face the accuser, no witness were allowed to testify on the behalf of the accused, the inquisitors were the judges and there were no appeals. There aren’t any reliable statistics of how many people were tortured to death during this shameful period of human history, but the general thought is that the numbers rise into the millions. The Burning Times is considered from the mid 15 century to the early 18th century, with the peak being from 1550-1675. During such time 200,000 -500 ,000 women, children, men--entire families and villages were butchered. However single women were the predominately victims, as was any woman, who own property and didn’t have a man to protect her. The Salem Witch trials brought the madness to the Americas. Not as many people were murdered, yet for a country, which was based on religious freedom, it continues to be a black mark on its history.
Just as the Earth-based and Goddess religions have been reborn with new names and titles, so has the bigotry and violence returned. On one hand the in the 1980’s the laws making g fortune telling illegal were repealed. Wicca and Paganism have become legally recognized religions. Many of their healing techniques have become common practice. Psychic Fairs can be found regularly across the country. Wiccan and Pagans have created successful businesses, temples, and churches. Yet with all the positive changes that happened in the 80’s and 90’s, the year 2000 bought about a revival of the open fear and hatred of non Christians. The Helms amendment was proposed by Senator Jesse Helms to deprive organizations, which “espouse a system of beliefs, rituals and practices derived in part from pre-Christian Celtic and Welsh traditions” of tax exempt status. In 1985, the amend was defeated. However, Jim Towey, director of Bush’s Faith Based Initiative program, revived the old sentiment when he said, “I haven’t run into a pagan faith-based group yet much less a pagan group that cares for the poor.” Although the remark was ignorant and bigoted, it did serve to unit groups across the country. However, not all such case are so banal; increasingly acts of legislation, judicial decisions and personal acts have crossed over to include infringements of civil rights and threats of violence. In Oregon Township in Michigan, a family of Wiccans moved into a new home, only to have their neighbors try to legally drive them out; they were afraid the family would practice animal sacrifice. Judge Bradford, Chief Judge of Marion Superior Court in Indiana imposed his religious beliefs on a couple, whose divorce case he was presiding over, by forbidding them from teaching their son their Wiccan beliefs. In Greer, SC, a couple was pulled over for an out dated license plate. However the officer was more interested in the Druidic bumper sticker. He questioned them about their beliefs and tried to covert them to Christianity. In an interview with a reporter Mrs. Gainey stated the “officer sent a card and letter to her home address days later. ‘In this letter, he promises our problems will continue unless we listen to the words of the Baptists," she told the reporter. "We're feeling like those are threats.’" In Michigan, a woman tried to file an insurance claim for home repair. The adjuster arrived to survey the damage; he was more interested in her marrital status and her religion instead doing his job. The policy was cancel due to the adjusters report of non existent damage. The insurance company ignored her complaints and the governmental agency said it was a civil matter.
The Burning Times has been redefined to refer to “any threatened return of prejudice against or persecution of Witches and neo-Pagans by other religious groups, law enforcement agencies, employers, politicians and others.” All four examples and others to numerous to list are well within the new definition. The time has come to draw the line in the sand and say no more--no more shall we accept discrimination or violence on any level. We need to combine our political and economic clout to insure the Constitutional limits between Church and State remain intact. By standing together, we can made sure the laws of discrimination and civil rights are enforced. To put it bluntly, we can hang together and stop religious bigotry or we can hang separately and lose our rights to follow our own spiritual paths. Every individual must chose how they want to live--in fear or in faith.