What do pagans believe?

In the age of the Internet, what do those sometimes entertaining, often overlooked, free weekly tabloids do to be independent and different from everything else out there? One way is by exploring offbeat subjects that will get overlooked for various reasons in the main paper or television news broadcast. For example, The Portland Tribune, a free newspaper published twice a week in Oregon's largest city, ran a 1,500-word article on Wicca that was appropriately timed for Halloween. October 31 happens to be the day Wiccans hold a celebration akin to New Year's Day.

I do not make the Portland Tribune part of my regular reading, nor do I have Wicca on my Google News alerts list. Reader Dan Grover submitted the article to us and was not all that impressed. He appropriately noted that there is a lot about what Wicca is not and not many facts about Wicca.

I tend to agree, and would like to add that the article focused heavily on how the religion, if you can call it a religion, has been heavily persecuted in the past. Those stereotypes continue, the article tells us, and gives a few examples of those who have been persecuted. Wicca is growing in popularity, but we are never told why. Just that if you join Wicca, you should be prepared to be discriminated against, but for no reason at all because Wiccans' beliefs are so benign that just about anyone could embrace them, including me:

Many witches practice their craft alone, and with no central, organizational body for witches, the exact number of witches in Portland is unknown.

They may no longer be burned at the stake, but once "out of the broom closet," witches might lose their jobs, be physically attacked or have their property vandalized.

When McSweeney opened her brick-and-mortar store, Triple Aspect Herbs, in Beaverton, she had a great relationship with her landlady, but not with some of her landlady's customers.

"They boycotted her store and threatened to continue the boycott until she stopped renting to 'evil witches,'" McSweeney says. "They made assumptions about me -- what I believed, what I do -- based on pure hearsay. Invariably their objections involved the words 'devil worship,' and the threat that I was going to hell."

It is not very helpful to a journalist that McSweeney wouldn't go into her beliefs, but then again, as the article says, there is no central organization or beliefs for Wicca, so why bother trying to account for it? Well, since this Wikipedia article told me more about Wicca than the Tribune's piece, I think it is fair to ask a journalist to discuss at least a thing or two regarding Wiccans' beliefs. Since when do alternative newspapers attempt to force their subjects into the mainstream of normalcy? I don't want to read about how Wicca is oh so normal. I expect to read about its more offbeat characteristics.

wiccaTake, for instance, these paragraphs, describing McSweeney's beliefs:

A witch, McSweeney says, is someone who takes complete responsibility for her beliefs, the choices she makes and the actions she takes. "I've had many students voice surprise at just how much is involved with being a witch. It goes far beyond what you see on 'Charmed' or 'The Craft' or in many of the books in Barnes & Noble.

"Being a witch is a way of life to me, not a hobby or a label," she says. "It is about living your life in a conscious way, combining your energies with those of the world around you on a daily basis."

So, being a witch is being responsible for what you believe in, your choices and actions, a lot of involvement in something, a way of life, not a hobby or label, living life consciously and combining energies with the world -- and doing this daily, no less. Um, great. That sounds like me, except what the heck does "combining energies with the world" mean? Am I a witch? I regularly combine my energies with the world in a biological sense.

Rather than focusing on witches in the community who are not afraid to talk about it, why not go a bit deeper and explain the actual beliefs of witches and other modern pagan believers? What exactly are those things that take a lot of involvement? Watching Monday Night football? I do that too.

The article also fails to explain the rise in Wicca's popularity. A tmatt column from a year ago suggests that the growing popularity of Wicca is because of people's desire to go against secularism and search for a way to connect with nature.

But the Tribune piece goes a step further and makes an effort to explain how Wicca is oh so similar to Christianity in that there are many "paths within Wicca and witchcraft" just "as there are many Christian denominations." The Wiccan Rede, a Golden Rule of sorts, even resonates with the central teachings of other religions, including Christianity!

So what's so alternative about Wicca?

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