In just a few minutes, you are going to have the opportunity to sit in on a fascinating conversation that is the first of the “Voices in the Static” series. These are meant to be conversations that highlight often-muffled “voices” that, although quiet, are steadily shaping our culture in ways that we may not yet be fully aware. But before I bring you into that dialog, I want to begin by offering you a brief introduction to my partner in this conversation. Over twenty years ago, Kendra Williams and I knew each other as friends who worked together in our high school theater. Following graduation, we lost touch with one another, as so many high school friends are prone to do. But in recent months, we have reconnected through Facebook; and tonight, she has agreed to engage with me in a conversation about her beliefs as a Pagan/Wiccan and how these beliefs shape her interactions with the broader culture and with Christians, in particular. Kendra holds a degree in the theater arts from the University of Illinois (Chicago) and later went on to study the Japanese language at the University of Maryland. She presently works as an Office Manager in downtown Chicago and moonlights as an artist in the medium of henna.
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Hello. You ready to do this?
All right. Let’s start by jumping right in. When you and I first reconnected through Facebook, you told me that you were a pagan and a practicing Wiccan. Am I remembering that correctly? Is that how you would define yourself?
I am Pagan, with a Wiccan base. Meaning that’s what I go back to for ritual. But I’m not … dogmatic about it. I’ve had Pagan ideas about things since before I knew what the word meant.
Okay. Let’s back up for a minute, because you have me at a significant disadvantage here. Because Christianity is such the cultural norm in this country, the language and the terms are widely known. Help me understand what you mean when you say, “I am a Pagan, with a Wiccan base.”
Well I think of it this way. Paganism is the broader term, much like Christianity is. However, there are different paths under that broad heading. In Christianity, you have Protestant, Mormon, Catholic, etc. In Paganism, there is Wicca, Druid, Shamanism, and those that believe in Norse or Greek or Egyptian gods. Then there are those that look at it purely as magic, and not as spiritual. Does that help?
It does, thank you for clarifying that. I have a feeling you may be doing lot of that tonight, so please, bear with me. You also said that you’ve had these thoughts from before you even knew what the word “pagan” meant. Tell me a little about your background? Were you raised in any particular religious tradition?
Yeah. I grew up Catholic…kind of. Here’s the deal, my mom and dad divorced when I was two. So, in the divorce agreement, she promised to raise me Catholic. But my mom grew up Lutheran; and her stepfather was Jewish. So my mom’s family is not Catholic!
But as far back as you remember, you had ideas that were in sync with paganism, not with Catholicism. Where was that coming from? Any idea?
Nope. I just remember reading a kid’s version of the bible when I was really young, and wondering why God was all alone. Where was his family? Why was he a “he?” What about the girl gods? That sort of thing.
Nor did Adam and Eve make any sense to me. If they were the first humans, well where did Cain and Abel get wives? You know, kid logic…
So let me see if I’m hearing you correctly? You were raised Catholic. You spent time reading through a children’s Bible. But you had questions about the “logic” of it, and some concerns that God was “all alone.”
Yes. And again, more kid logic. Why put such emphasis on the first commandment of “I am the Lord, Thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me” if no others exist? Why claim to be a “Jealous God” if you are the only one?
You know, it’s funny. This is trickier than I thought it would be.
Well what did you really have in mind?
No. It’s not the conversation itself. It’s just that … Part of me wants to jump in and answer your questions. But I’m trying to give you space to just talk. I think listening is a dying art in this world. And I want this to be a series on learning to listen to voices that we don’t ordinarily hear.
I would agree with that. It’s one reason our political landscape has gotten so ugly.
No doubt. I want to jump back to something you said earlier. You said that when you were a kid, you were wondering where all the “girl gods” were? How much do you think gender plays into your belief system?
Quite a lot actually, because I think that Christianity is unbalanced. It is so over patriarchal. Women were property. We had no rights. Heck we’ve had the right to vote less than 100 years, and a lot of that had to do with male-oriented, Christian-dominated, Western civilization. Have you ever read Margaret Starbird?
I have not. Who is she?
She was a devout Catholic, and came about through her own spiritual journey, to believe in the Magdalene Myth of Mary being married to Jesus. She wrote The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, and Goddess in the Gospels.
Yeah, now that you say that, I do remember her. Couldn’t pick her out of a line-up, but I do remember the title of her first book.
Let me say this before we go any further, I have no problem with Jesus. I think he was a cool, caring, compassionate, holy man. And it saddens me to see what is done in his name and in the name of Christianity … It angers me and sickens me. I know that not all Christians are like that, just like not all Pagans are stoners that just want to have sex with as many people as possible.
When you say that you know that not all Christians “are like that,” would you say that a majority of Christians in your experience are?
No. But I would say the ones that attract the most attention – like the “radical right wing” Republicans – are. They are the ones that make all the noise and get all the attention.
Fair enough. I think that’s part of the reason I’m trying to start this series. Too much attention is paid to people with the largest megaphones. And I’m not sure that they really represent everyone in the fairest possible light.
I would tend to agree with that.
So let’s circle back to the gender issue if we can. From what I have read, Wicca tends to attract far more female practitioners than male. Why do you think that is?
Because of the male dominated, Christian, Western culture we live in. In Paganism, there is the Goddess and God, and far more attention – at least in my experience – is placed on the Goddess. She is a Mother, Creator, and Nurturer. We women can be powerful leaders and not thought of as less for having a vagina.
There is an interesting book I have called When God was a Woman. It looks at history and talks about how all the areas that are now heavily patriarchal – the Middle East, etc. – were once matriarchal. But then the Germanic tribes came down from the north with their war gods and everything changed.
I’d be curious to read that. From my studies of the Ancient Near East, there seemed to be a wide array of gods and goddesses that were equally prominent. Let’s shift gears. If you would, I’d like for you to talk a little about the practicalities of your faith. You game?
Sure. But before we do that, please understand that I am just one small practitioner in a sea of vastly differing opinions, beliefs and customs. This is just my way of doing things and how I see it. I, by no means, speak for the Pagan community as a whole.
Duly noted. As a Christian, if I move to a new city, I can check out a wide variety of churches because they’re on every street corner. As a Pagan (with a Wiccan base), where do you find community?
Online. Usually I go to meetup.com or Witchvox and find out what is going on. There are no religious buildings for pagans, really, other than the local “New age” bookstore.
Really?! I would have thought that in a major metropolitan city like ours, there would be gatherings of like-minded individuals. No?
Oh yes, but to find out where they are, and what is going on, you go online.
Okay. That makes a little more sense. So you go online to learn more about meeting times, places, etc. Now take me into a meeting, if you would. What’s the purpose? What are you hoping to experience?
Well, it depends. We do have holidays: the Solstice, Equinox, etc. And on those occasions, some of us do ritual. But for example I am part of a pagan discussion group, and once a month we have topics we discuss at the local coffee shop. Kind of like your version of Bible study. There are groups for kitchen magic – making potions and teas and herbals, etc. – or groups for Tarot reading.
The discussion group I am part of is just a safe place for us to come together and talk about our experiences as pagans, or different ideas on beliefs. One discussion might be on astral projections, one might be on past lives, one might be on how do you keep your faith each day. That sort of thing. I guess what I am hoping for is to experience a sense of community and fellowship with my fellow “outcasts.”
Interesting that you finished your last comment in the way that you did. As soon as I saw the word “safe place,” I found myself wondering: Why do you need to be safe? Do you feel persecuted as a Wiccan? Or ostracized?
Well I was fired once because I was the only person at the company who wasn’t a Jehovah’s Witness. So yeah. I don’t feel persecuted on a day-to-day basis, but it’s not something that you can just talk about freely with everyone. You are coming at this from a place of “Christian privilege.”
No doubt. And yet, at the same time, I think you might be surprised to witness how much persecution Christians come under, even here in the West. In that sense, I think there might be some commonalities between our faiths.
What persecution do you come under? Have you read the case of the Wiccan soldier who was refused the right of having the pentacle on his grave because Wicca is not an “official religion?”
You and I live in a world where the only “truth” that is acceptable is “truth” that can be derived from reason. Nothing in the Christian faith can be purely derived from reason. The Christian faith is based upon a story that God cared enough about the world to enter it Himself. So if you actually believe that story to be true – if you believe that story to have genuine meaning for today – you are seen as something of a relic, a product of a by-gone era that Modernity would love to erase.
Hmm…I think anyone that is really spiritual is seen as a relic in the age of Jersey Shore. But if you want to understand where I am coming from, you have to realize that we are a minority in this country. When it takes a lawsuit to have the symbol of your faith carved on your gravestone…
That isn’t right! … And in another sense, you are correct. If you and I walked into a bar, stood side by side, and told everyone what we believed and practiced, I have no doubt that you would be looked at far more oddly than I.
And that is where the “Christian privilege” comes in. You are understood for your faith. People ask me if I kill goats and drink blood or worship Satan.
And you’re saying you don’t. If that’s the case, why don’t you tell me a little more about what you do practice. Tell me a little about the ritual of paganism? What is the magic? From where does it come? What is it used for?
Well, way back in the old days, the rituals were very agricultural. It was all about the changing of the seasons and surviving. For instance, we just had Winter Solstice, a time when the Sun King makes his slow return to our side of the planet. It’s about connecting you with the elements, the planet. That’s what the pentacle represents. The five points of the pentacle are: earth, air, fire, water and spirit. Earth is to ground you – it’s where you grow from, gives you roots. Water cleanses, air lets you breath, and fire gives you heat and warmth and passion.
So this next question is going to sound really offensive, so bear with me. Are you telling me that as an educated woman with a college degree, you believe that the Sun God is rotating around the earth and that you can, through alchemy or magic, connect with him in some fashion?
Nope. That is where the tradition started. But the ritual celebrates the end of the darkness and the return to light. Are you telling me that you believe the earth is only 6,000 years old?
That’s a fair counter-punch. My point in phrasing that question in the way that I did is because you and I both practice faiths that are at times seen as being at odds with the Modern world. And to those that are committed rationalists, our faith can sound very odd when juxtaposed against contemporary science.
It’s myth. It’s a basis for answering things that people did not understand in ancient times. Now do I believe in a Higher Power? Yes. Do I believe that that the Higher Power is female and male? Yes. Do I know that mine is the only answer? Not by a long shot. But it is the truth that speaks to me. It is my truth.
So your belief system allows for the possibility that there are other paths to the Higher Power outside of Pagan practices?
Of course. Why would I be so arrogant as to think that my way is the only way? There is no decree from on high in the pagan world that says you must believe in x, y or z. There is no eternal damnation in my belief system.
So let me ask you this. Earlier in our conversation, you said that you believed Jesus to be a “holy man.” What do you make of a passage like John 14:6, in which Jesus says: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Well, for Yahweh, Jesus is the way to go. But just so you know, the idea of the sacrificial king dying for his people is not just a Christian idea.
Interesting. So you are placing Yahweh in a pantheon of gods. And when you hear Jesus say, “No one comes to the Father except through me,” you read that as Jesus being the only way to get to Yahweh. But you believe there are other paths to other gods.
Well again, “I am a jealous God. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.” If he is the only one, why is that even necessary? And to be the first Commandment, no less.
Are you asking?
No, I’m commenting. I’m not asking you to answer for it. I’m just saying that this is my line of thinking.
This is harder than you thought it would be, isn’t it?
Honestly … it’s really interesting. And I wish conversations like this happened far more often than they do.
Can I ask you a question? What was your perception of Paganism before this conversation? What did you think we all did or believed in?
Well … I think I assumed that there had to be some way for you to find one another. I never once, for even a second, believed that paganism was an individualist movement. In fact, I suspect that its resurgence is actually something of a reaction against the individualism of Modernity.
Oh it’s very much an individual thing. It’s like herding cats trying to get pagans to do anything! And by that, I mean organize … as a religion. Most of us turned to Paganism because we are against organized religion and all the negativity that goes with it – all the corruption.
I would also say that I assumed that when you gathered, you would do so in nature.
Well if we can, we do. But living in a city doesn’t always afford us that luxury, not when it’s 10 degrees out! But yes, we have meetings and gatherings in parks, etc. But we don’t have an agenda. We don’t have a mission; we don’t try to convert others to our beliefs. And that is a huge difference. We aren’t trying to grow our faith. So we don’t proselytize.
If I’m reading you right than, I’m guessing that you find the Christian mission to spread the Gospel to be offensive. Would that be accurate?
When it invades my government? Yes. Or my school – public school that is. When I’m told I’m going to hell for not doing what someone else says. Yes, I find that offensive.
Just for a moment, can we leave politics out of it? I want to know what you think of a Christian’s call to share the Gospel? Face to face. Life to life. Is that offensive to you?
Well, I think a lot of things have been re-worded, translated, changed, altered and taken out of context. I mean, how many revisions has the Bible had? I don’t think that the way that people go about it nowadays was what Jesus had in mind.
Well, in term of translating the Bible, we are probably closer to the original Greek and Hebrew now than we have ever been in the past. So don’t mistake translation for revisions.
True, and that is a good thing.
But that’s not really your point here. What do you think Jesus had in mind?
I think his message was one of love and forgiveness, and at the time, Nazareth and that whole area was in pretty bad shape. Historically, politically, etc. The oppression of the Jews by the Romans, etc.
Forgive me, but I’m not tracking with you here. Are you saying that you see Jesus as a political revolutionary?
And what would you consider the core of his message to be?
Love God, love your neighbor, love your enemy, and love yourself. Not a lot of hate there, unlike the Westborough church.
Fair enough. But honestly, would you want your faith judged by its worst elements?
It is all the time. It’s judged by people that don’t know any better, or by people who refuse to believe that those that are not Christian can still have a sense of right and wrong and a decent set of morals. We are accused of being Satanists, child molesters, sex and drug addicts, etc.
[Long pause] … Again, I am struck by the beauty of learning how to listen. You’re right. I think most people probably do make all sorts of assumptions about the things you practice and believe. And they probably do it based on nothing more than stereotypes.
Thanks … I think the basis for all faiths, across the planet, is that we all search for something beyond ourselves – something that is bigger, greater than humanity.
I would agree.
And for so many different cultures who never interacted with each other, to all come to that conclusion…I know that there is a Higher Power. I just don’t believe that only one group has it right. My one friend who does henna with me grew up Muslim, and her statement on Facebook is: “God is too big for any one religion.”
I don’t know about that. C.S. Lewis once said that the only thing that separates Christianity from the other religions of the world is the concept of karma. In every other world religion, the religious and the non-religious alike get what they deserve. But in the Christian faith, those that believe in the work of Christ on the cross do not get what they deserve. They are released from it. And they are set free. For me, there is genuine beauty in that. For I know that many of my actions fall far short of my best intentions; and yet, I truly believe that it is not my actions that will redeem me, but the actions of a King that dared to become a man.
That’s an interesting concept.
Kendra, I want to be respectful of your time this evening. So I want to ask you one final question. If there were anything that you could say to Christians that read this interview, what would you want to say to them?
Two things. First, I would want them to know that there is a common theme between Christianity and Wicca. It comes from the Rede, which is what we base our faith on.
“Bide within the Law you must, in perfect Love and perfect Trust. Live you must and let to live, fairly take and fairly give. Eight Word the Wiccan Rede fulfill: An it harm none, do what ye will.”
And the second thing?
I would want to say that just because I don’t believe the same as they do, that does not mean that I don’t have a spiritual path that is sacred to me. I can be a heathen and still have morals and values.
Kendra, I want to thank you. You gave me two hours of your time tonight; and I want you to know that I appreciate it very much.
G’night buddy. Blessed be.
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If you have any questions that you would like to ask Kendra, or myself, please feel free to do so in the comments below. She has graciously offered to stick around so long as the questions are polite and fair.
 As the point of our conversation is not denominationalism, I ultimately decided not to say anything about Kendra’s inclusion of Mormonism under the heading of Christianity. But clearly, many within the Christian faith would challenge the notion that Mormonism is a distinctly Christian denomination.