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Article ID: 3003
Age Group: Adult
Posted: September 24th. 2000
We Worked Magic: News From the Bible Belt
by Diotima Mantineia
It's been very dry in western North Carolina recently, so the rain that began the weekend before the We Still Work Magic rally was welcome. But when it kept raining through the early part of the week, I became a bit concerned about what kind of weather we might have on Wednesday, the day of the rally.
I needn't have worried, of course. The day dawned clear, and the Weather Channel promised it would stay that way at least through midnight. On the Appalachian Pagan Alliance email list, we hadn't heard from Ginger, Beth, or any of the other organizers in over 24 hoursa sure sign they were really busy. It had been only a little over three weeks since Ginger had written the letter requesting the Reynolds High School stadium for the rally, and the organizers of the event had been keeping their brooms at warp speed ever since.
The school had acceded to the APA's request for the stadiumthe same one that had been the focus of the We Still Pray event back in Augustbut they had insisted on giving us the exact same contract as the WSP group, despite the fact that we expected only a tiny fraction of the number that had attended that rally.
However, with the help of Witches Against Religious Discrimination (WARD), Alternative Religions Educational Network (AREN), The Witches' Voice and numerous individuals, the cost of the stadium, insurance and 15 police officers had been covered and the event scheduled. Then, five days before, Ginger was informed that the powers-that-be felt it necessary to have the police in place an hour before the rally was scheduled to begin, and that the cost of security would now be almost double what we had originally been quoted.
If they expected us to go away with that announcement, they were certainly disappointed. The call went out on the Vox that Sunday, and by the night of the rally, through the generosity of both individuals and organizations, enough money had been raised to cover the additional costs, and the rally was on. (We Witches are kind of hard to get rid of once we've set our minds to something.)
The APA list had been snowed under with posts about programs, speakers, press releases, PA systems, boxes for the food drive, ribbons, signs, directions, rides...
"Who's coming from Charlotte?"
"Does anyone have an extra PA system?"
"Everybody memorize the chant!"
"Who's bringing cameras?"
"People are coming from Maine!" "Maryland!" "Oklahoma!"
I was getting tired just reading my email.
Magically, it all came together, and by the time I arrived at the stadium at 6:00, folks were already starting to arrive, reporters were interviewing them, and cameras and sound equipment were being set up. I spent an hour meeting people I had previously only known through email, and almost forgot to be nervous, I was having so much fun.
The rally began with Al Replogle leading us in a few rounds of "We All Come From the Goddess", after which Ginger Strivelli and Beth Langley, the two founding priestesses of the APA, led us in prayers and invocations; Ginger to a variety of gods and goddesses from different traditions, and Beth to Brighid.
Darla Kaye Wynne, Assistant National Director of WARD and Eastern Regional Zone Director of AREN invoked the Morrigan, and spoke of the community work that is done by WARD and AREN, which includes working with inmates, attending government meetings and providing legal assistance. She reminded us that:
"What we do today not only affects us in the present, but our children and our future. As we work to overcome prejudice and intolerance now, we move toward a future of peace and freedom for our children." She went on to say:
"There has never been a more important time to get out and vote, to stand up and be counted, make our voices heard, ensuring that by doing so we take a step closer to that future of peace, freedom and tolerance." Ami Peck, the North Carolina Director of WARD, spoke on "The Equinox and Equality". Noting that this is a season of change and transition, she said:
"My greatest goal for the Pagan community is the realization by society that we are among their friends, their family, and their co-workers. We are their neighbors, their hairdressers, and their managers. We are their most loved bank teller and their children's favorite teachers. We are so much more than our religion... and yet our religion is US. If each of you is able to take away one thing from what you have heard and experienced today, I hope that it is a renewed faith that our collective voice will continue to be heard. As long as there are organizations like the APA and WARD, and as long as there are people out there willing to put our best face forward, we will keep moving forward, keep pushing ahead and strive for the day that each of us can step fearlessly out of our broom closets and proudly into our everyday lives." The next speaker, introduced as Gryphon Rosemead, a high school teacher in the North Carolina public schools, walked up to the front of the crowd in a hooded cape, her face hidden. She spoke of the steps she had made in her journey here tonight. She told us:
"When I wore my pentacle to school years ago I opened the door to my hidden spiritual life. When I performed a Handfasting this spring that was featured on the news I stepped out onto my shady porch. When I linked my magical webpage with my mundane one, I walked out, blinking, into the bright sunlight. Speaking at this rally marks the first steps in my dance in the sun." Pushing back the hood of her cape, she said:
"Those here who know me, know me as Gryphon Rosemead. hat brought the crowd to their feet in a standing ovation that lasted for almost a full minute.
Those I work with know me as Wendy Thurston.
I teach in the NC public school system.
And I am a Pagan."
She went on to remind us that:
"If we remain in the shadows, we will always be forced to stay in the shadows. It is time for people to know us for who and what we are; parents and children, business people, rich and poor, loud and quiet, teachers and students." She risked her livelihood by coming out of the broom closet like this. We all realized it, and were quite moved and inspired. Brava, Gryphon!!
Kerrwyn Pendragon, APA's official Holly King, was up next, speaking about "What a Witch Is And Is Not", and he kept the audience laughing through his entire speech. As is still necessary, (sigh) he spent a lot of time explaining that we don't eat babies, ride brooms, or have warts on our noses. Nor, as his own presence made clear, are we all women. We are, he said, healers, community builders and environmentalists. Anyone listening to him would realize that Witches include among our number big, bearded Irishmen with a talent for blarney and a wicked sense of humor!
I was next, and I spoke about how the Internet has tied us together as a community and about religious freedom and prayer in schools. I pointed out that:
"There is a minority of Christians who believe that Christianity should be supported by the government to the exclusion of other religions. They want their commandments displayed in public buildings, their prayers broadcast at public events, and even want the biblical version of creation taught in the schools instead of the scientific one! After my speech, I led the crowd in a spell to charge a cauldron of good Asheville earth with energy that would help create a more open and tolerant religious environment in this country. People were invited to come up afterwards and take a handful of earth home with them, to use as they saw fit. What remained will be scattered around the Asheville area. (Thanks to Byron Ballard for providing the idea, the cauldron, the earth, and the scattering!)
This is not the American way. Our country was founded on the principle of freedom of religion for all religions, including small minorities like ours. The founders of this country understood that only a free people can be truly religious, for a religion that is forced on someone cannot be a true faith. True faith requires freedom of belief and freedom of conscience. The choice to worship must come from the heart and not be imposed from without.
The Supreme Court has upheld this principle time and time again. There are those who would circumvent the law by attempting to force their prayers on others at school-sponsored events. This cannot be tolerated. We pray, too. Not only do we pray, but we pay taxes, we are citizens, and our children attend these schools. We do not wish our children to be forced to participate in the prayers of another religion in order to attend a school-sponsored football game.
There is room in this country for all religions. There is room for the children of all faiths in the schools. The question is, what will our children learn in the schools? Will they learn compassion and understanding towards others, or will they be taught hatred and intolerance towards those whose religions are different from their own? Will they learn the skills of respectful dialogue with different faiths, or will they learn to try to force their faith on others?"
I hadn't realized it, but halfway through my speech, the school's PA system, which had been struggling since the beginning, finally diedor, rather, the batteries did. I can shout just fine, but our next speaker, Joy Harwood, is a soft-spoken woman whose lovely speech on "Creation Through Destruction" was not heard very well because of the lack of amplification, so I am reproducing it here in its entirety. Joy said:
"These mountains remind me of other mountains. They remind me of other lands, where the summits glow with the rainbow colors of molten lava. Nature expresses her fury. Pele, goddess of the volcano, spews fire from the slopes of Mount Kilauea in the Hawaiian Islands. Ginger closed the rally with an invocation to Ares. She said:
Those islands, where over a million people live today, owe their very existence to Pele's wrath. From just one hot spot where her anger flared, an entire chain of islands was born. For even as Pele destroys, she also creates. Lava builds on lava. We see mountains where there once was nothing.
Years pass. The barren slopes rest and become a home for the spiders. Years more pass, and the hard ground turns to rich, fertile soil. The mountains burst with new life: ferns and berries and trees bearing bright red flowers. The cycle of destruction and creation turns upon itself. What once was scorched and dead returns to life again, transformed.
Right now the Pagan community is in a season of transformation. Many of us are ill. Some of our loved ones have died recently. And some among us have received threats of violence for speaking out today: this coming from people who claim to love Jesus.
To that I say, listen to the words of Jesus: "By their fruits ye shall know them." I have seen both good and bad fruit in the Pagan community and in the Christian community. There is no real difference, except in socioeconomic status. Even in the year 2000, people lose their jobs and their social standing for worshipping the old gods, when it would be easier to follow the mainstream. That is the fruit of organized Christianity, the dominant religion of the South.
I must point out that nobody here is trying to take away anybody else's rights. We are simply acknowledging our own rights, for ourselves and our children. Regardless of what kind of fruit we bear as Christians or Pagans, our time here is very limited. We must take notice of the eruption in our midst and respect its power to transform our lives. But we must also do what we can to keep each other safe, whatever creed we live by, whatever names we assign to the great Unnameable. For in the end, nothing will remain but love, fierce and fertile. Let us pray.
[offering hibiscus petals to the west]
Madam Pele, great and terrible Goddess of the volcano, we share your anger. We share your pain over misunderstandings and over the misdirected power of those who would take away our rights and call it love. We welcome your transforming powers of creation and fruitfulness, and we ask that you keep us away from senseless destruction.
Madam Pele, please destroy the things that keep us from loving each other and from doing what we were brought to this world to do. Let us come together in the safe places in a spirit of love, with our minds and hearts focused on what is essential, and let whatever we do in that spirit be fruitful. Thank you for coming to our gathering and sharing your energy with us. So mote it be, and so it is."
"In closing, I would like to invoke Ares, the God of War. For, this is a war, a war of philosophies, the philosophy of liberty and freedom of religion against the philosophy of religious control, domination, and intolerance. So I beseech Our Lord Ares to bless us, His warriors for freedom, and I as His devoted Priestess, ask Him to lead us on to blessed Victory! So Mote It Be!" All in all, the rally was a big success, with between 300 and 400 people attending. While there are some people whose minds we will never change, there are also a number who probably nodded to themselves when they heard about the "We Still Pray" event and thought; "Sure, prayer is a good thing!" and then, perhaps, didn't think much more about it.
It is to those people who are open-minded enough to hear a different point of view that the rally was directed, and we got our message across. The media coverage was generally quite positive, and included a piece on the 11:00 local news (WLOS), as well as coverage by NPR, Asheville Citizen-Times, The Charlotte Observer, The Atlanta Constitution, The Asheville Tribune, and the Associated Press. MSNBC was there as well, and we are told they plan on airing an hour documentary in January.
The rally was also an official part of "Pagan Pride Day", and, as is true with all Pagan Pride Day events, we had a food drive. When Sean, Ginger's husband, brought the food to the MANNA food bank, they had to get out their industrial scale, as there was too much for their normal scale. The food collected weighed in at 142 pounds!
The APA did a wonderful job bringing this all together, and the Pagan community was incredibly supportive. Letters came from all over, along with donations, and Pagans, once again, stood up for the right of all those who belong to minority religions to worship freely in the faiths of our choice.
As I was driving home after the rally, the clouds began to gather and the wind picked up. I had a snack while I watched us on the late news, then went to bed and fell asleep to the sound of falling rain.
Associate Editor - The Witches' Voice
September 22nd, 2000
Top: Rally Shot
Middle: group shot at the gate
Bottom: Diotima and Gryphon Rosemead (the h.s. teacher) -- with a lovely view of the mountains.
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