By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Merry Meet! Do you feel a sacred call in the presence of nature? That's the basis of neo-Pagan spirituality. Ideas commonly thought of as Pagan are evolving into a religious expression for our time.
The publication of Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon (Beacon, 1986) and Starhawk's The Spiral Dance (Harper and Row, 1979) popularized these ideas. While concepts borrowed from Native American and other non-European nature religions often find their way into neo- Pagan rituals, the overwhelming influence comes from the pre-Christian religions of Northern Europe and the Mediterranean.
Followers of the best-known variety of neo-Paganism, Wicca, call themselves Wiccans or Witches. The term Paganincludes Wicca and the followers of other related religions. Pagans often wear the pentagram, a symbol that, to most, represents spirit and the four elements.
Sadly, misconceptions about the pentagram and modern Paganism in general often draw unpleasant responses from outsiders. Therefore many Pagans prefer to keep their religious beliefs secret. Nonetheless, as Paganism grows and worshipers become more noticeable in our city parks, the necessity for recognition as an organized religion has become an issue in the Pagan community.
While many prefer secrecy, others have made themselves known. Judy Harrow, High Priestess of Proteus Coven and former first officer of Covenant of the Goddess, one of the oldest registered Pagan groups in the United States, is actively educating the public about the Craft. She's a member of the Interfaith Council of Greater New York City, a group that came out of the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions and included a place for members of the new 20th-century sects. At the opening plenary, the Honorable Olivia Robertson, a cofounder of the Fellowship of Isis, rattled a sistrum and offered a prayer to Isis. To some this signaled the return of the Goddess to the assembly of world religions.
Merry Part, and Merry Meet Again!
Where Pagans GatherThe Pagan world has no central authority. The community consists of many small groups. Finding a good one is an adventure. Individuals seeking entry often start with a visit to a local Craft shop. Leafing through newsletters or examining notices on the shop's bulletin board can help you find a public ritual. Candle Therapy (213 West 80th Street, 260-9188,www.candletherapy.com) looks like a Witch owns it. Descend the wrought-iron staircase into a magical space filled with goodies including some of the finest sacred oils around town. Perhaps the lovely Dr. Catherine Riggs-Bergesen will attend to you herself. Instruction on candle dressing or blending incense is available.
Other Worldly Waxes (131 East 7th Street, 260-9188), Candle Therapy's downtown sister, offers the same high quality merchandise. The East Village's more colorful practitioners have been known to purchase their supplies here.
An experience in good vibrations awaits you at Morgana's Chamber (242 West 10th Street, 243-3415, members.aol.com/morganasch). Morgana, the cheery proprietress, often sponsors talks by well-known Pagan authors; Silver RavenWolf made a Yule visit. The shop also offers classes for solitary practitioners.
Although Roger Pratt is best known for his tarot skill, he is also a Witch. His mother taught Roger his Craft. What do Scottish Witches teach their lads? Find out at one of Roger's chats. Schedules are available at Predictions (110 West Houston Street, 677-9588).
No listing of Craft shops is complete without The Magickal Childe (35 West 19th Street, no telephone, open daily from 2 until 8 p.m.), the city's oldest, which started as The Warlock Shop in Brooklyn Heights and moved to its present location in 1979. It lives on despite the death in 1992 of Herman Slater, its controversial owner. The energy is different, but hints of the Childe's mysterious past linger in its dark interior.
Joining a Pagan Way Grove is a traditional way to learn about the Craft. Enchantments' Grove (341 East 9th Street, 228-4394) offers an introduction to all varieties of Paganism. Sessions held in a pleasant outdoor garden help bring nature into urban consciousness. Shadowfolk Grove (email@example.com) does the same at the Source of Life Center (22 West 34th Street, 539-3824).
Radical Faeries New York Circle, founded by gay men to express themselves in their own special way, presents a different kind of Paganism part politics and part religion. The Faeries are known for the excitement they generate at any event. Call the Faeriephone at 718-625-4505 for a schedule of events open to everyone, gay or straight.
If you are lucky, you might get a chance to celebrate nature with Lake Circle Coven (www.lakecircle.com). This lively group offers outings at nearby campsites for city dwellers. Good food and ritual drumming under an open sky make for magic! Write to Lake Circle, P.O. Box 777, 105-C Court Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201.
Lake Circle will be leading New Moon New York's popular "Beltane in the Park" at Central Park's Frisbee Hill in May. Call 388-8288 for information on this and other public rituals. NMNY is the city's oldest Pagan networking group.
Serious inquiries are always welcomed by Covenant of the Goddess (COG), a religious group legally recognized since October 31, 1975. COG holds introductory meetings every other month. Write Covenant of the Goddess, Gotham Council, at P.O. Box 6208, Long Island City, New York, 11106 for information, or access www.cog.org.
An inspiration brought the Fellowship of Isis (FOI) into being at Clonegal Castle, County Wexford, Ireland, in 1976. The FOI is open to both men and women who wish to explore the mysteries through its unique liturgy. Write directly to the Fellowship of Isis at Clonegal Castle, County Wexford, Ireland, or access the Iseum of the Nine Muses at www.webnik.com.
What do Pagans have in common with Henry David Thoreau? The Unitarian Universalist Association established a Pagan branch in 1985. The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, Inc. (CUUPS), 8190A Beechmont Avenue #335, Cincinnati, Ohio 45255-3154, will provide the address of the CUUPS chapter closest to you (there are over 60 chapters nationwide). Their Web site is www.cuups.org.
Books for those who want to know more about the Pagan Way:
RavenWolf, Silver, To Ride a Silver Broomstick: New Generation Witchcraft (Llewellyn, 1993). This popular introduction to Wicca includes special acknowledgment of many who worked to make it a viable spiritual path.
Buy this book
Kondratiev, Alexei, The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual, (Collins Press, 1998). The Celtic contribution to the neo-Pagan movement, discussed in a scholarly manner, makes this book worth seeking.
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Cott, Jonathan, Isis and Osiris, Doubleday, 1994. Ancient Egypt's great love story discussed from different viewpoints, including interviews with Egyptologists, the founders of the Fellowship of Isis, and others.
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One of nine articles in our Mind/ Body/ Spirit Supplement.