The Blame Game

Recently, at the 25th anniversary of the Starwood Neo-Pagan Festival, I attended a presentation, "The Growing Dangers of American Theocracy," by Phyllis Curott, First Amendment lawyer, Wiccan High Priestess, author of "The Love Spell: An Erotic Memoir of Spiritual Awakening." She warned of the Christian Right's stealth desire for achieving "Biblical law" that would require the death penalty for blasphemy, adultery, homosexuality and witchcraft.

Already, teenage witches are expelled from school; Pagans in the military are harassed by religious fundamentalists; there have been public burnings of Harry Potter books; a Wiccan couple is challenging a court order that they must protect their 9-year-old son from "non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals."

Neo-Paganism may well be a canary in the culture-wars coal mine. Child custody battles are taking place in courts equating witchcraft with Satanism (and therefore child endangerment), people are losing their jobs, trumped-up charges are leveled against witches who come "out of the broom closet." There are now 130 members of Congress who are born-agains, and a president who thinks he's the end result of an Intelligent Designer. As governor of Texas, Bush was part of a movement to deny access to religious facilities for soldiers at Fort Hood who were Pagan. He declared that Wicca wasn't "a real religion." A real religion, of course, believes that there was a pair of dinosaurs on Noah's Ark.

Curott, named by Jane magazine as one of the Ten Gutsiest Women of the Year, told me that, according to her contacts, "Evangelical groups have been meeting with major chains to 'advise' them on marketing to their community, pointing out that Christian bestsellers like the 'Left Behind' series make the stores more dollars per square inch of shelf space than Wiccan, feminist or psychology books, and also that their community won't come to those stores unless they're not offended by what's being shelved in the stores and unless they're 'made to feel welcome.' The two groups I heard were spearheading the effort were Assembly of God and the Philadelphia Church. Pagans are in danger of becoming the new Jews in a culture that is increasingly fascist, however that fact may be obscured by being wrapped in red, white and blue bunting and religious platitudes."

It was an ironic observation in view of the pope's recent lament about the "insane, racist ideology, born of neo-paganism" that gave rise to the Holocaust.