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Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Age, New Ideas: Spiritual Bookstores

If you walk too fast, you might miss it — the quaint, little shop nestled between Maly's Beauty Supply and an Army surplus store on busy South B Street.

However, spiritual seekers from all walks of life know to pop into Sacred Paths Bookstore when in need of divine solace, hope, and even intervention.

Susie Ughe and business partner Nancy Connolly created the ethereal haven a little more than a year ago — making it the newest place in San Mateo County to cater to all faiths, mysticism and New Age ideas.

It is one of a few spiritual bookstores dotting the county, as more and more people are starting to question their true purpose in life, without the restrictions of a specific religion. Full Story

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Witchcraft Research In Vardø

About 100 researchers into witchcraft from all over the world will congregate in Vardø next year to discuss the witch trials in the Finnmark, North-West Russia and Central Europe. Midnight Sun Witchcraft Conference 2007 is being co-funded by the Nordic Cultural Fund.

The witch hunt in Vardø in the 17th century was exceptionally ruthless and brutal, and themes like human rights, terror and religious tolerance were just as topical in a geo-political context then as they are now. Full Story

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Fallen Wiccan Soldier Due Honors Of His Faith

It's something I never really stopped to think about, but we have American soldiers in the line of fire who happen to be Wiccans. Last year, Sgt. Patrick Stewart, a member of the Nevada National Guard, was killed in Afghanistan. He is, or was, a Wiccan. We had Wiccan soldiers in the Korean War and in Vietnam. For all I know, Wiccans have been taking up arms for one side or the other since the beginning of time.

The reason I know this is because I have been following the story of the difficulty the Wiccans are having with the government. The government will not allow our fallen Wiccan soldiers to have the pentacle on grave markers issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The pentacle is a five-pointed star within a circle that, according to Wiccans, represents earth, air, fire, water and spirit. I guess to some people, like the producers of horror movies, the pentacle has been used as a sign of the devil, just as the Wiccans themselves have been associated with flying broomsticks, bubbling kettles of toil and trouble, and evil spells cast under the moonlight.

If Wiccans could really cast spells, we wouldn't be talking about this. They would have taken care of it. Full Story

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

We Love Them Witches, The Occult

Malaysians are spending up to RM40 million a year on imported occult books.

Malaysian Book Exporters and Importers Association president Kevin Sugumaran said this only made up three to four per cent of the country’s book import bill of RM1 billion.

"Occult books have always been popular but sales doubled when the Harry Potter series became popular (in the late 1990s)," said Sugumaran.

He said books in the Harry Potter series alone accounted for RM5 million of the import bill. The rest consisted of books on topics such as witchcraft, voodoo and others.

Titles include Spells and Spellcraft, Potions, The Wicca of Love and Witch’s Almanac 2007. Full Story

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Wiccans Aren't Just Witches

With an estimated 400,000 members nationwide, and a high-profile fight with the federal government over veterans' grave markers, Wiccans are moving into a more prominent place in the religious landscape.

And Selena Fox is leading the way.

A Wiccan priestess and founder of Circle Sanctuary, a 200-acre nature center in the Wisconsin woods about 30 miles west of Madison, Fox battles for acceptance of the so-called neo-pagan religion.

Though they are often equated with witches, many Wiccans reject the label because of the baggage it brings.

Fox, whose graying hair flows midway down her purple dress and matching cape, exudes more hippie-esque charm than any kind of Hollywood-conjured witchery. She embraces the task of fighting discrimination against Wiccans.

"Spirituality should be something that lifts the spirit," she said. Full Story

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Santeria, Other Religions Can Employ Toxic Rituals

The new age practices of Santeria and Palo Mayombe (usually referred to simply as “Palo”), which trace their roots to West Africa, sometimes use rituals involving chemical mercury, whose properties could be potentially hazardous to people.

Dr. Arnold Wendroff of Brooklyn has spent the last 15 years trying to get health officials to do something about toxic practices in certain local Hispanic religions, including those practiced in West New York and Union City - like Santeria and Palo Mayombe.

The two religions, which were brought to local communities from Latin America, employ the toxic metal mercury in some of their rituals, which can lead to contamination of the surroundings.

In the late 1990s, Wendroff testified at the Department of Environmental Protection about his concerns, and they formed the Mercury Task Force out of the Department of Health, and performed a study of the immediate area entitled "Cultural Uses of Mercury in New Jersey." It was completed by December of 2002. Full Story

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Monday, December 25, 2006

Alternative Christmas

As Christians prepare to celebrate one of their most important religious dates, Chrissie Russell and Jane Hardy speak to people with a different take on December 25

Buddhist

Gen Drolkar (57) is a Buddhist nun and teacher attached to the Potala Buddhist Centre at Donegall Pass, Belfast

People often say the real spirit of Christmas has been lost and we try to reinstate it; part of my job is doing workshops on giving and generosity, which is relevant at this time of year.

All Buddha means is 'enlightened being', which could be Jesus or you or anyone else. We're pretty tolerant and say that if the Christian teaching works for you, good.

Pagan

Esther (she wants to keep her identity secret) is regional coordinator of the Pagan Federation in Northern Ireland

We don't celebrate Christmas ... it's nothing to do with me (she laughs). People often make the mistake that a non-Christian celebration means a non-spiritual celebration, but all the nature festivals have a deep spiritual basis.

We like to mark the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, which occurs today. That's when you'd bring a Yule log and evergreen tree into the house, to encourage spring to come. Full Story

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas For Pagans

Christmas spirit is in the air, but just exactly how should Pagans and other non-Christians celebrate the season – if at all?

Brought up a Congregationalist, I came into adulthood firmly and irretrievably committed to a secular belief system. For me, a religion that required the acceptance of superstition and miracles was one I could never accept as my own.

But should my refusal to accept the virgin birth and Jesus’ divinity preclude me from celebrating the Christmas season? After all, can’t non-Christians feel charitable, and be filled with joy, hope and good will toward all men?

No, Christmas isn’t just for Christians. It’s a holiday and time of year that has been celebrated and shared by many religions. Indeed, the truth is that while many self-described Christians would seek to make the holiday theirs alone, all the customs of Christmas pre-date the birth of Jesus Christ. Full Story

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

God Is Dead. Long Live The Gods!

The world stands in dire need of new gods, and preferably lots of them. The current fad of worshipping one single all-powerful deity is clearly not working - all the major monotheistic religions are in crisis. Believers have been losing faith in the Judaeo-Christian God for centuries. In spite of the shrill evangelical movement, Western society is still largely secular - one of this year's runaway best-sellers is The God Delusion by the militantly atheist Richard Dawkins. In the Islamic world, one of the root causes of extremist anger - according to some scholars - is the feeling that Allah has not delivered: if he is indeed all-powerful, why are his followers subject to the political will of America and Israel?

Part of the problem is that a single God is too remote. Omniscience notwithstanding, we stand little chance of catching his eye, let alone interacting with him in any useful way.

Benrik Limited has devised a range of more accessible gods, more suited to our 21st-century requirements. They are inspired by the lares and penates, the Roman household gods. These, of course, were little wooden figurines that every Roman household kept in a special shrine, called the lararium, and prayed to every morning. Unlike the all-in-one monotheistic God, the lares and penates were fit only for particular purposes: ensuring the family was properly fed, for instance, or protecting travellers against peril. Full Story

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Think How The Pagans Must Feel At Christmas

Tis the season for Christian clergy to issue jeremiads about the paganization of Christmas and reminding anyone who will listen that “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

In fact, a good case can be made for saying the opposite is true.

The winter solstice was a major celebration long before Christianity reached Europe. So, in a sense, it was the Christians who co-opted the holiday season.

But I say more power to the pagans. Christmas trees whose midwinter greenery proclaims the triumph of life, wreathes that symbolize the sun, eggnog, caroling, lights, family visits, feasting, gift-giving and gift-getting — that all belongs to Yule, the older festival. We would all be poorer without them, because even in our electrified world, winter gloom needs brightening.

Yule is the pagans’ festival, and I wish them luck in trying to hang on to it. However, I worry that they might not succeed. They are taking a beating, but not from Christianity. Yule and Christmas coexisted for more than a millennium and a half without much tension. The assault on Yule comes from commercialization, and the odds of withstanding that assault seem slim. Full Story

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bringing Light Into The Season Of Darkness

Archeological indications are that the winter solstice in particular was a spiritually significant time. Neolithic observatories such as Stonehenge in England and Ireland’s Newgrange reveal that man has long known how to accurately calculate the solstices and equinoxes. During the early Roman Empire the winter solstice celebrated the birth of the Persian Sun god, Mithras or Sol Deus Invictus (The Invincible Sun) who was widely worshipped in the Mesopotamian provinces of the Empire. In the European regions, including the city of Rome itself, Saturn, the god of agriculture was honored with the Saturnalia Feast from December 17 through the solstice, which fell on December 24 or 25 of the Julian calendar.

In an agrarian society, the winter solstice marks a crucial point in the natural cycle. The word comes from the combination of Sol, the Latin name given to our sun, and ‘stitium’ a Latin word meaning ‘a pause’. For a few days twice a year the sun appears to do just that, pause in its journey through the sky. Full Story

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

U.S. Snapshot: Pagans, Marriage And TV

Membership in Wiccan, Deity, Druid and Pagan sects has been skyrocketing -- up from an unregistered blip in 1990 to more than 350,000 as of 2001.

If you are curious about your nation, your state or your neighbors, the Census Bureau's latest national statistical abstract gives a glimpse of where the culture is heading.

Compiled each year from a variety of sources and surveys, it tells us how much television we watch (nearly half our lives is spent absorbing media of one sort or another, according to the Census Bureau), and how often we injure ourselves (women are more likely to suffer falls; men are about twice as likely to be struck by an object or another person; they are poisoned at about the same rate). Full Story

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Astrological Signs Blamed For Bad Driving

TORONTO, Dec. 13 /PRNewswire/ - A study of 100,000 drivers finds that the month you were born is far more significant than your age in predicting car crashes.
The study ranks astrological signs based on North American driving data, gathered by InsuranceHotline.com's online quoting service over the last 6 years. The data was collated by Stanford University professor Keyvan Mohajer.

"The results are overwhelming, showing that drivers of certain astrological signs are prone to getting more tickets, while others seem destined to have accidents," says Lee Romanov, president of InsuranceHotline.com.

"Insurance companies weigh a number of variables when determining your insurance rate, such as where you live and the type of vehicle you drive. Ironically, they overlook the most significant factor of all -- your astrological sign," says Romanov. Full Story

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas Trees Origins

It's a bit of ancient history commonly known by theologians and professors.

But it's not much mentioned in what's become an international controversy over the Christmas trees at Sea-Tac Airport.

Those rallying for the sanctity of Christmas trees are, according to the experts, fighting for a pagan tradition that goes back centuries.

"In German-speaking lands, this was the Christianization of the devotion that Druids had to evergreens," said professor Lawrence Cunningham, who teaches theology at the University of Notre Dame.

"Druids were an ancient people that lived in Germany, and in present-day France, and also the British Isles. They were basically a nature religion. To them, trees that kept their greenery in wintertime showed power, endurance, immortality." Full Story

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

This Pagan's A Real Witch

When you're driving down Interstate 95 and a dragon appears above your windshield, you might want to keep your eye on the road and never mind the disconcerting sight.

For Jill Pagan, that statement couldn't be more true. You see, the 41-year-old Palm Coast resident and editor at the Parkeast Literary Agency is a witch.

No, she doesn't fly through the air on a broom. But Pagan says she casts spells, hears the trees talk and can communicate with the dead, though not all of her late relatives talk to her.

Sometimes the hardest part about being a witch is getting people past the word itself. Full Story

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Christmas, Pagans And Religious Divergence

Have I just offended you? If you are a member of the American Family Association, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights or the Committee to Save Merry Christmas, I probably have.

For the second year in a row, conservative Christian groups have threatened boycotts of big-box and department stores whose advertisements for "holiday trees" and whose hearty if non-specific holiday well-wishes reflect, these groups say, an "anti-Christian and anti-Christmas bias."

Of course, if you are a Jew celebrating Hanukkah, or a Muslim marking Eid al-Fitr, or a neo-pagan Wiccan for whom the Winter Solstice (Dec. 21) is a major observance, you probably had appreciated the more inclusive acknowledgement that the end of the year is a festive time for you, too.

Indeed, particularly if you are Wiccan, the matter of being un-included this holiday season must especially sting. A group of Wiccan families is suing the Department of Veterans Affairs for the right to bury their fallen heroes in military cemeteries in graves marked with a pentacle, the five-pointed star that symbolizes their religion, much as a cross does Christianity or a Star of David, Judaism. Full Story

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Yule Festival Breaks Holiday Mold

For most of us, the holiday season involves trudging through crowded shopping malls, enduring long, aggravating lines, and slogging through the mass exodus from said shopping malls.

On the other hand, many followers of pagan religions spend the weeks before their major winter holiday – Yule – making handmade gifts, pounding out their excess energy in drum circles, and working with calming herbs to cleanse the soul.The second annual Yule Festival in the Ancient Tradition, held at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Saturday, offered all of those options to practicing pagans and curious community members alike.

The Granite Tribe chapter of SpiralScouts International, the pagans’ answer to Boys and Girl Scouts, sponsored the event. Full Story

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Pagan Christmas Ritual Pressed On Young Kids

A public-school handout urging young children in Virginia to attend a "Pagan ritual" tomorrow to "celebrate Yule" is sparking objections from concerned parents.

"Amazing – government schools ban orthodox Christianity, but allow an openly pagan organization to proselytize six-year-olds!" one observer who asked for anonymity told WND.

The concern has risen to such a level that the head of the Albemarle district in Charlottesville, Va., admits the policy allowing handouts may change, potentially eliminating them from all organizations.

The flyer in question is from a group called NatureSpirit from the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, a Unitarian Universalist congregation that also teaches "Exploring Islam," "Women Weaving Wisdom," "Discovering the Healing Power of Dreams" and other religious subjects. Full Story

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Pagan Proselytizing In Virginia Public School

A group of Pagans in Albemarle County, Va., was recently given permission to advertise their multi-cultural holiday program to public school children – and they have the Rev. Jerry Falwell to thank for it.

The dispute started last summer when Gabriel and Joshua Rakoski, twins who attend Hollymead Elementary School, sought permission to distribute fliers about their church’s Vacation Bible School to their peers via “backpack mail.” Many public schools use special folders placed in student backpacks to distribute notices about schools events and sometimes extra-curricular activities to parents.

School officials originally denied the request from the twins’ father, Ray Rakoski, citing a school policy barring “distribution of literature that is for partisan, sectarian, religious or political purposes.”

A Charlottesville weekly newspaper, The Hook, reports that Rakoski “sicced the Liberty Counsel on the county,” and the policy was soon revised to allow religious groups to use the backpack mail system. Liberty Counsel is a Religious Right legal group founded by Mathew Staver and now affiliated with Falwell.

Some local Pagans who attend Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, a Unitarian-Universalist congregation in Charlottesville, decided to take advantage of the new forum as well. Full Story

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Calls To Pardon 'UK's Last Witch'

The family of the last person in the UK to be prosecuted under the Witchcraft Act will mark the 50th anniversary of her death by calling for her pardon.

Medium Helen Duncan, who was born in Callander, Perthshire, was imprisoned using the law during World War II.

She was targeted by the government after revealing to a séance audience that a warship had sunk before the news had been released to the public.

Mrs Duncan became one of the most famous mediums of her time, heading a network of spiritualist churches. Full Story

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Father Fears Wife's Wiccan Ways

A young girl taken by her Wiccan mother for the Halloween holiday will spend Christmas with her Catholic father, in a divorce and custody battle that came to a temporary truce Monday at Macomb County Circuit Court.

Gregory Haines of Clinton Township, and his attorney claim he hadn't seen 17-month-old daughter Jessika Haines since his estranged wife, Jennifer Haines, took the girl away on or shortly before Halloween and moved to St. Clair County. After she left, officials said, the father allegedly learned more about Mrs. Haines' practice of Wicca and became concerned for the child.

Mr. Haines filed for divorce from Jennifer Haines on Nov. 21, after she'd left him some three weeks earlier; court documents cite her practice of Wicca and allege she had the child without his consent. Mrs. Haines acknowledges being a Wiccan adherent but denies snatching or absconding with the child. Full Story

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Shedding Light On The Reason For The Season

I've got your "reason for the season" right here, pal.

Just outside the window, to be exact: Sunlight.

No secret there. Civilizations all over the northern hemisphere have been making merry toward the end of December for thousands of years, with most of the celebrations linked somehow to the "return" of the sun --- the longer periods of daylight that begin on the Winter Solstice December 21.

Which is why the triumphant, even defiant slogan "Jesus is the reason for the season" -- seen this time of year on buttons, T-shirts and bumper stickers and heard from those who grouse that secular society is at war with Christmas--- is so irritating. Full Story

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Pagan Yule Festival In Milford Saturday

Long before the birth of Jesus Christ left its mark upon the world's cultures, pagans viewed dark days leading to the winter solstice as a time of the sun's rebirth.

On Saturday, members of the Spiral Scouts - a pagan-based youth organization based loosely on the Boy Scouts - will celebrate the winter solstice, or the yule, as it was known in Celtic circles, at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Elm Street.

Organizer Jess Baribault, state coordinator of the Spiral Scouts, said the event is open to everyone and will give people who have grown up fearing pagans a chance to experience their culture. Full Story

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Holly And Health: Superstition And Science

It is December once again and time to bring in the holly. Did you know there are more than 150 species of holly? Most of the commercial holly in North America is produced here in British Columbia, and in Washington and Oregon states. Most Saskatchewanians are decorating their mantels with holly from Vancouver Island. The two most common varieties grown are English holly (Ilex aquifolium) and American holly (Ilex opaca).

English has the darker, less spiky leaves. In fact, Ilex opaca is so spiky, "spine spot" often plagues commercial growers. These are spots caused when the spines of neighbouring leaves puncture other leaves during winds and storms.

More than any other festive greenery, holly is connected to all sorts of lore and superstition. Full Story

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

W Is For Wicca

Though many people believe Wicca is an ancient practice, the nature-based faith is actually considered a neopagan religion which got its start in the 20th century.

Wicca has various forms, but what believers call Traditional Wicca was founded by Gerald Gardner, a British man who wrote books on the religion in the 1940s.

- Most Traditional Wiccans are members of groups, or covens. One must be initiated into these covens, in which members achieve different degrees of rank based on their experience and knowledge. Full Story

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Lawsuit Demands Equality For Wiccan Veterans

The pentacle, a symbol with meaning for many Unitarian Universalist pagans, is the cause of a lawsuit brought by Americans United for Separation of Church and State against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs over the VA’s refusal to include the Wiccan symbol on its official list of emblems for headstones and other grave markers.

Americans United filed suit November 13 on behalf of Roberta Stewart, whose husband was killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2005; Karen DePolito, whose husband served in the Korean war and died last year; and two Wiccan congregations, Circle Sanctuary near Madison, Wisc., and the Isis Invicta Military Mission, a Wiccan and Pagan congregation based in Geyserville, Calif., that serves military personnel.

“For far too long, the VA has discriminated against service members of the Wiccan faith,” said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United, at a press conference in Washington, D.C. “After asking the VA on a number of occasions to stop its unfair treatment of Wiccans in the military, we have no alternative but to seek justice in the courts.” Full Story

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Forget Christmas And Party Like A Pagan

I'm with Bill O'Reilly on this one. I'm tired of all this "Happy Holidays," politically correct mumbo jumbo. Everyone knows December is about one holiday and one holiday only - there's no need for plurals.

Yes, I'm talking about the time-honored pagan celebration of Yule.

All those pseudoholidays such as Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa have merely co-opted Yule, the hedonistic, alcoholic romp commemorating the winter solstice. I say we cut out the middlemen and get back to basics. Full Story

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Monday, December 04, 2006

World's Oldest Ritual Discovered

A startling archaeological discovery this summer changes our understanding of human history. While, up until now, scholars have largely held that man's first rituals were carried out over 40,000 years ago in Europe, it now appears that they were wrong about both the time and place.

Associate Professor Sheila Coulson, from the University of Oslo, can now show that modern humans, Homo sapiens, have performed advanced rituals in Africa for 70,000 years. She has, in other words, discovered mankind's oldest known ritual.

The archaeologist made the surprising discovery while she was studying the origin of the Sanpeople. A group of the San live in the sparsely inhabited area of north-western Botswana known as Ngamiland. Full Story

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Secrets Of Swedish Witch Hunt Revealed

A manuscript containing previously unpublished information about witch trials in northern Sweden has been discovered in a museum archive in northern Sweden.

“A true tale about the nature of witchcraft” was penned by a minister called Jöns Hornaeus.

“Most of the text is already available at the National Library of Sweden,” archivist Göran Gullbro told the Local.

“But until this summer nobody knew where the original manuscript was. And now it seems that there are some pages not seen before,” said Gullbro. Full Story

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Holiday Celebrations Are Often A Personal Choice

"Happy Holidays" is rapidly taking over as the most socially accepted form of holiday well-wishing, as opposed to the less politically correct "Merry Christmas."

The fall season, home of the chilly breeze, color-changing leaves and hot cider, is also the home of holidays. While Halloween and Thanksgiving are widely celebrated and rarely contested, December's holiday is often perceived as a point of contention, in both the secular and spiritual communities.

This may not be completely true, though. In Lincoln, tolerance and acceptance of individual beliefs, along with a general sense of joy for the season itself, may be bridging the gap between various religions and secular holiday traditions.

Jan Deeds, the director of the Women's Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is a Celtic Wiccan. Wiccans believe in the power and beauty of nature. Their beliefs are rooted in a pre-Christian tradition.

"Many Christian traditions are rooted in pagan traditions," Deeds said. Full Story

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Wiccan Troops Deserve Wiccan Headstones

Visit a national cemetery, and you will see any number of federally recognized religious symbols adorning headstones. The Star of David is OK with Uncle Sam, as are over a dozen variations of the Christian cross. Even the atomic symbol used by some atheists gets a thumbs-up from the government.

But a Wiccan symbol representing earth, air, fire, water and spirit isn’t recognized by the federal government for veterans’ grave markers.

A federal lawsuit filed earlier this month accuses the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs of violating the constitutional rights of Wiccans because the government does not allow its symbol on headstones in national cemeteries. Full Story

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