Wiccans gather to promote freedoms
- By CHRISTINE MORGAN ARCENEAUX
- Advocate staff writer
“We honor and recognize that the elements are all around us, all the time,” Gray told followers who had traveled from as far as Shreveport to attend the private gathering.
“Take a breath and let out all of the stress, all of the anger,” Gray continued. “Let Mother Earth hold you.”
Saturday’s event, which turned from fundraiser to private gathering, was organized by a Wiccan group and offered speakers, workshops and other activities.
“We’re sharing our love and peace,” said Valli Harry, president of the Louisiana Alliance of Wiccans.
For Rhye Gray, a high priest of Spiritwheel Coven, a Wiccan for 22 years and Baton Rouge resident, the gathering aimed to raise consciousness “for our community to connect to one another and to have a positive experience with one another.”
The gathering also was designed to raise community awareness “that we are very much like others,” Rhye Gray said. “I think lack of knowledge causes fear and apprehension.”
The group, which has been persecuted in the past for members’ beliefs, must also contend with thousands of years of negative propaganda, Rhye Gray said, adding he believes that in order to educate people, members of the group have to allow area people to know they exist.
Mukunda Datta, of Baton Rouge, a practicing Hindu, decided to attend Saturday’s gathering after reading about it in the newspaper.
He said he was hoping to find “some like-minded individuals at the event.”
“When I moved here from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, everyone thought I was some kind of demon or something,” Datta said. “Now, they all love me. They know that I’m not a threat.”
His advice for others who may be skeptical of the pagan religion was simple: “Be open and don’t close your mind off before you find out. There’s a lot to offer in all of the traditions,” Datta said.
Charlotte Pipes, of New Orleans, a solitary Wiccan practitioner, said the religion is still largely misunderstood.
“Most people think, ‘Oh, it’s witchcraft,’ ” Pipes said. “For Wicca, it’s our religion. When you talk about witchcraft, you’re talking about the physical trappings that are associated with spell work.
“The spiritual part is Wicca. Wicca is a nature-based religion that goes back to the Stone Age,” the former associate professor of music at Nicholls State University said.
Jessica Zebrine Gray said she wants others to know that there’s no need to be afraid (of pagans).
“All of the scary fairy tales are just fairy tales,” she said. “We are really working for a better world.”
Wiccans have helped Quad Area Action Agency for the past 10 years by contributing to its Christmas Food Drive, and plan to help other causes, said Jim Harry, attorney for the Louisiana Alliance for Wiccans. He, too, is a Wiccan.
The Louisiana Alliance for Wiccans is a nonprofit organization that represents the rights of Wiccans and Pagans, he said.
Jim Harry wore a T-shirt imprinted with the words, “Freedom of religion means all religions.”
While Saturday’s event wasn’t a fundraiser, some attendees offered to donate to the Wiccan alliance.
“This is more about protecting the religious freedoms of everyone,” Valli Harry said.
“If a Christian would come to us to use to represent them in a case, we would do it,” Jim Harry said. “Anytime religious persecution is involved it affects all of us.”
For Valli Harry, the gathering was important to help make Christians aware of “who we are and what we do and that we’re not devil worshipers.”
“People fear what they don’t understand,” she said.
Valli Harry said she was overjoyed by the support from people attending the event, and offered a quote from the Hebrew Bible to express her feelings.
“My cup runneth over,” a smiling and happy Valli Harry said. “We’re a peaceful religion … We see the divine in everything. We are part of the divine and we are all children of the divine.”