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Title: Expanding The Pagan Tent Of Worshippers; Wicca 'Gaining Acceptance' In US
Source: RawStory
URL Source: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ ... 1018-20101018,0,7124947.column
Published: Oct 18, 2010
Author: Chicago Tribune - Dawn Turner Trice
Post Date: 2010-10-18 14:58:42 by Brian S
Keywords: None
Views: 2315
Comments: 2

Paul Larson doesn't celebrate Halloween. Instead, he spends Oct. 31 in a worship service that's a ritual feast with offerings of sweet cakes and ale to the ancestors.

For many pagans such as Larson, Oct. 31 is the autumnal new year called Samhain, a time when the veil between the spiritual world and the world as we know it is the thinnest and it's possible to contact those who have passed away.

"We honor the ancestors by casting a magical circle of protection and invoking the divine powers in the form of a god and goddess," said Larson, a white-haired 63-year-old with a professorial air. "And there's chanting to create and build energy within the group, and sometimes a bonfire."

A member of the Wiccan branch of paganism, Larson knows that some people equate his religion with evil witchcraft and devil worship and that evokes a wide range of images and controversies — from people wearing conical hats, black gowns and medallions to the recent dust-up over GOP U.S. Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, who has taken flak for saying she "dabbled into witchcraft." But Wiccans don't like that she linked their religion to Satanism.

Larson said the reality is that paganism has nothing to do with Satan worship and that the pagan tent is large enough to include people who do identify as witches (although not the green-faced, wart-laden stereotypes) and people like Larson, a Chicago attorney who has a doctorate in psychology and who's on the faculty of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

He said he spent years searching religions for the proper spiritual fit.

"I was born into the Mormon faith, converted to the (Episcopal) faith and then became a Buddhist," Larson said. "But I had been investigating paganism since 1969."

About eight years ago, after experiencing the loss of several family members and friends, he began to concentrate on paganism.

"I still consider myself a hyphenated American, a Mormo-Episco-Buddhi-pagan," said Larson, who has a Buddhist statue in his office located in the Merchandise Mart. The statue isn't too far from the certificate that shows he was ordained over the summer as a Wiccan minister.

"Eight years ago as I was going through my (reinvention), I stopped believing in religious exclusivity, that there was one path through which the divine speaks," he said.

Larson said that despite the misconceptions, contemporary paganism has become attractive to more people, particularly young people, over the last three decades because of its reverence for the environment and its embrace of feminism. It also allows for a diversity of thought and belief systems that aren't bound by a singular doctrine.

"There's no formal book or scripture that's considered divinely revealed," Larson said. "Pagans don't have to reconcile a creation story written millennia ago with the findings of modern science. Consequently most pagans are quite comfortable with a scientific world view including such specific ideas as evolution."

And pagans don't proselytize.

It's not clear how many Americans identify as pagans because many fear their acknowledgement would lead to discrimination. (As Larson puts it, "It's hard to come out of the broom closet.")

But a 2008 American Religious Identification Survey out of Trinity College in Connecticut suggests that practitioners may be more comfortable identifying as pagans. According to the survey, those calling themselves pagans increased from 140,000 to 340,000 between 2001 and 2008. The number of Wiccans grew from 134,000 in 2001 and 342,000 in 2008.

Larson said the increase in part is because the religion has become more acceptable in the mainstream.

Three years ago, Larson's church, the Wisconsin-based Circle Sanctuary, was a plaintiff in a decade-long lawsuit that got the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to add the Wiccan pentacle, or five-point star, to the list of religious emblems allowed on veterans' graves. The government settled the lawsuit.

"Just as Christians have the cross and Jews have the Star of David, we wanted to allow fallen pagan soldiers the same dignity of having the pentacle placed on their government-paid-for tombstones," Larson said.

After years of protests and advocacy work, Circle Sanctuary and others were successful in getting college campuses (including Northern Illinois University), hospitals and prisons to open their chaplaincies to pagan ministers. Larson ministers to inmates at Chicago's Metropolitan Correction Center and a prison in Wisconsin.

"As pagans, they feel isolated from other inmates who don't share their background," Larson said. "I've had several inmates tell me that I've been the only one who has visited them."

As a professor, Larson teaches hypnosis, and he interacts with students who typically come to psychology with a fairly secular point of view. He said many of his students don't care about his religious beliefs. Consequently, he's been able to maintain good relationships with students of different faiths.

He said he's begun meeting more young people born into paganism, and that would have been unheard of in his generation.

"More people see the importance of reconnecting with nature as technology pushes us further away from it," Larson said. "A lot of us feel, whether we're pagan or not, that we've lost touch with the natural processes of the world and we need to reconnect with cycles of the seasons."

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#1. To: Brian S (#0)

Smart man. I am of Wicca too. Let the blessing be.

Ferret Mike  posted on  2010-10-18   17:23:13 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


#2. To: Brian S (#0)

"I was born into the Mormon faith, converted to the (Episcopal) faith and then became a Buddhist," Larson said. "But I had been investigating paganism since 1969."

No wonder he's a fookin psycho!

Ibluafartsky  posted on  2010-10-18   17:25:32 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


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