This essay was written initially for a "informative speech competition" at purdue. It ended up placing 4th out of 7th, probably due to the fact i stammered my way through it ^_^ i'm not a very good public speaker, which is why i did this. But it won me 25 bucks, and i guess 12.50 an hour isn't bad for a few pages of text. Don't I WISH i could get paid like that in the real world. Whatever. It's not exactly an instance of node your homework but it's close enough. And when the essay says "close to home" it's because i'm an hour from Indy. Guess how comfortable this makes me, with things as they are. Oh yeah, and feedback++

Paganism is not readily accepted by the American public in the best of times. The religion often finds itself met with fear, and sometime outright hate. And during times of crisis, be it local, regional, or national, Pagans and their beliefs oftentimes find themselves right in the line of fire. The events following the recent terrorist attacks on America are no exception.

Nearly immediately, Jerry Falwel was right there, ready to jump in the finger-pointing game. On a national broadcast, he said 'I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen''. He later apologized, again on public airwaves, but even after that rescinded the apology, saying he regretted apologizing because more he claimed more people disagreed with the apology than the actual statement.

Closer to home, a Wiccan coven in Indianapolis came under attack when a New York Post article claimed there was a connection between the organization and the anthrax letters being mailed all over the country. The investigator who was assigned to the case knew virtually nothing about the religion, nor why they were suspect, only that the FBI had ordered him to investigate this possible 'lead'. He was in fact told the coven was a cult. Fortunately he had the sense to contact Wiccan leaders in the state, non-offiliated with the coven, for legitimate information on the religion.

Now while I have no speculation on why people like Falwel hold the opinions they do, the public view of pagans and Wiccans is based mostly on misinformation and lack of information. And with most access to these religions, and to aspects of magic, coming form the media, it"s no wonder there are wrong ideas. Willow of 'Buffy the vampire slayer' fame, the films Practical Magic and The Craft, Dungeons and Dragons, Sabrina the teenage witch, and most lately Harry Potter hardly paint a complete picture of these religions and their followers.

Pagan originally came from Latin, "paganus", meaning "country dweller". The farming folks who lived on small plots outside the cities retained their old religions far longer than the cities, which were rapidly Christianized. Since the farmers were seen as backwards, "paganus" was more of an insult than anything else, indicating a lack of civilization more than a religion. Pagan more recently came to mean any religion that was not Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. Today, pagan basically means any nature or magic based religion or spirituality. It is a blanket term in the same way Christianity is; within Christianity you have Methodists, Baptists, Catholics, and Lutherans, just like you have Druids, Santarians, Asatru, or Wiccans within paganism.

Paganism is really too broad a topic to cover in any short essay because each branch varies so much from the others. Asatru is a Norse religion worshipping deities like Odin and Thor, the Druids focus mostly on nature reverence, and many shamanistic paths follow old Native American deities and principles. For this reason, the rest of this essay will focus on Wicca. Wicca is one of the most common forms of paganism, and also one of the most widely known. More importantly, many of the fundamental principles of Wicca are so universal that they have spread out through many other branches of paganism.

Unlike asatru, which is unbroken in line back thousands of years, Wicca is a fairly "new" religion, originating in this century in England, some people claiming it started as early as 1920, some as late as the mid 60"s. But no matter when, it is a new religion based on old concepts instead of a "pure" form of ancient religions.

The first and most important principle of Wicca is the very one that makes the anthrax accusations on the Indianapolis coven so absurd. The central concept to the religion is called 'the Wiccan rede', which states 'AN HARM YE NONE, DO WHAT YE WILL.' "An" is not a shortened version of "and" but rather an archaic word for "if". 'If you cause no harm, do as you choose to do.' Wicca is not a restrictive religion, claiming 'you must not eat this food' or 'it"s sinful to drink' or 'you cannot have sex except under this certain set of circumstances.' Instead it is a religion of personal responsibility. As long as you live your life in ways that do not harm anyone *including yourself*, there is little that is forbidden. But "harm ye none" means yourself as well, and if you choose to drink enough to get alcohol poisoning, or have unprotected sex with many partners without knowing their medical history, and in these ways harm yourself, you are violating the central belief.

If you choose to ignore the Rede and attack someone, physically or magically, you will suffer under another concept of Wicca, the "threefold law", which is a modified version of Karma. If you put good into the world, you will receive blessing and good in return, but if you choose to harm another, you will have ill three times as great come back to you.

It is for these two reasons, the rede and the threefold law, that any 'Wiccan' you meet who threatens to curse you, make you ill, or turn you into a toad is not a true Wiccan. You are also not dealing with a true Wiccan if you meet one who preaches to you that their path is the only right one and you must join it or you will pay for it. Wiccans support the spread of correct information and do as much as possible to make it available to the public, but do not preach nor attempt to convert by force or threat.

One other common misconception about Wicca is that Wiccans are "Satan worshippers". Far from this, Wiccans do not believe in the devil, or in hell, seeing them as constructs of Christianity. As for an afterlife, most Wiccans—and pagans in general—believe in reincarnation, and in a "Summerland" or "greenworld" which is both the soul"s resting place between lifetimes and the final destination of the soul as well.

The central deity in Wicca is the Goddess, often called the Triple Goddess. She is represented oftentimes by the moon, her three stages of life corresponding with the moon cycles. As it waxes, she is the Maiden. As it is full, she is the Great Mother. And as it wanes, she is the Crone. Her symbol is a waxing, full, waning moon all touching sides. Also important is the Horned God, the Lady"s consort. Often called the Stag King, he is fully human in form except for a pair of stag"s antlers branching from his head. These two deity figures are central to the Wiccan calendar, or 'wheel of the year' as well.

The eight major days, Sabats, are days of great celebration and celebrate the god and goddess in the stages of their lives. The equinoxes and solstices mark four, with the other four alternating between. Of the eight, three are harvest festivals and three are planting and fertility festivals.

The next set of holidays for Wiccans are the "esbats", dedicated only to the Goddess. There are twelve or thirteen of these a calendar year, falling on each full moon. These are times of introspection and meditation, quieter holy days than the festival-like Sabats.

Pagans are much more common than most people think, as well. Twenty years ago, pagans were few and far between, but today it"s more likely than not that you work with a pagan or three, that there are pagans in your classes, that you run into them on a regular basis without ever knowing it. Just about any good-sized city will have a pagan group or two or eight. And nearly without fail, there are many more pagans than that in the area—the vast majority either choose not to associate with an organization, or are still 'in the broom closet' as it were, in their public lives, for fear of repercussions including religious discrimination in the workplace.

Organizations aside, there are three styles of practice among most Wiccans. Solitary, in which one logically studies and practices alone. Membership in a coven, which is a close-knit group of no more than thirteen members that make a vow to their coven and each other. Coveners all practice the same form of Wicca. This is important because there are so many forms of Wicca, ranging from celtic-based, to "famtrad" ("you must be born into the line to be worthy to practice") to "faerie" wicca which deals greatly with otherworld beings. There are even instances of new forms of wicca begin 'invented', such as klingon Wicca, but these are generally not taken too seriously by most Wiccans. The third option is 'open circle' practitioners, in which large group rituals are made open to people of any background, lending to an 'eclectic' group that changes each time it meets.

The role of Magic in Wicca is one under much debate. To many Wiccans it is a very important part of the religion, but many choose not to practice at all. This leads to the distinction of "witches" and "Wiccans". A Witch is someone, male or female, who actively practices magic, whether it is healing, energy manipulation, spellcasting, divination, or any other number of forms. While most Wiccans are witches, many are not. Many witches also choose not to follow a Wiccan path, choosing some other branch of paganism instead. But if you wanted to use pop culture as a way to explain magic, a manipulation of energy more like the force from Star Wars is closer to accurate than the wandwaving, latin chanting spells of Harry Potter.

These concepts I have just spoken are just a very short overview of Wicca and paganism in general, but I hope they have been in some way informative in clearing up some of the general misconceptions about these topics that are so prevalent in the general public. Because it"s a pity when something so simple as wrong or lacking information grows into hostility merely from ignorance. If you are interested in further information, good places to start are To Ride a Silver Broomstick by Silver RavenWolf, Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham, and Spiral Dance by Starhawk.

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