(Reprinted from an editorial of mine published 12-31-2001, Waukesha Freeman)
Background: In 2001, a woman was hired as a chaplain at the Waupun Correctional Institution, and caused quite a commotion. Not only was she a woman, her faith and religion of origin was Wiccan–instead of some usual variation of Christian or Jewish. Waupun was a small town close to home, and my background is in world religions and spirituality; I know something about these things–as a mechanic knows about cars. I’m a bridge and teacher and contemporary spiritual counselor. In our communities and families of increasing diversity–and more frequent encounters, especially this time of year, I’m bringing this back to build some bridges of light and grace across traditions. Happy Spirit of Halloween season. – Anne
The hiring of a Wiccan chaplain at Waupun Correctional Institution is raising a lot of controversy, much of it based on fear and rumor, rather than fact.
We live in a land of religious diversity. Sept. 11 has raised our awareness of the Islamic religion. The hiring of a Wiccan chaplain at Waupun Correctional Institution is raising our awareness of the Wiccan religion. Just as we’ve discovered that the religion of Islam does not advocate terrorism–in spite of the fundamentalist faction that perpetrated the acts of Sept. 11–we will also learn that the nature-based religion of Wicca is not as Hollywood filmmakers portray; nor is it Satanism, a different religion still.
The word pagan means of the earth, and Wicca is a pagan, of the earth, religion. So are the Native American traditions. The cycles of nature, the changing seasons, respect for life, and honoring our interdependent relationship with the earth, are all part of this religion. The Wiccan Rede is a guiding principle: And ye harm none, do what ye will. What ye send out comes back to thee, so ever mind the rule of three.
Respect for life, preserving the environment, harming none and embracing ancient native wisdom are values held by many Americans, regardless of religious upbringing.
Perhaps it’s really the language we need to get past. Some words have been demonized for us. And maybe now it’s time to take a new look.
Yes, the Wiccan religion speaks of gods and goddesses. And Christians speak of angels and saints. The Wiccan religion uses words like spells, incantations and magic. Other religions speak of prayers, symbols, blessings, invocations and rituals.
In all cases, the individual has the choice to use their words and actions to request goodness or destruction. The difference: the Wiccan practitioner knows that to request destruction is to invoke three times as much destruction upon themselves (the rule of three), much like a Catholic knows that prayers to St. Anthony get results.
Keep in mind, nature-based religions existed thousands of years before the Hebrew scriptures or Christianity. People’s lives and livelihood were intimately connected to the land, to nature, and the seasons. They learned by observing how nature works. Their practices grew out of their experiences and their acknowledgement of a Greater Power that interacted with their efforts. Farmers and gardeners know this well.
And finally, consider the perpetrators of horrendous wars, criminal acts and inhumanity of the past. I can think of none who were practicing Wiccans. (I cannot say the same for my own religion of origin.)
In this time of a well-educated population, information access, and the Internet, I encourage you to set aside your biases and do your homework – as intelligent adults who are capable of making and holding their own informed opinions. Withhold your judgments. Observe the fruits of the Spirit at work. And like the Wiccan Rede (and Hippocrates), seek first to do no harm.
(Anne Wondra is owner and founder of WonderSpirit Resources Inc., a spiritual educator, and married to a descendant of Martha Carrier, who was hanged as an accused witch in Salem, Mass., in 1692.)