Praise the Goddess and pass the magical candle — the Federal Department of Veterans Affairs has finally recognized the Wicca religion.
You've heard of the Wiccans, right? They're the group perhaps 700,000 strong in this country who sometimes call themselves witches — but sometimes don't. They believe in the power of the seasons, the Goddess of the earth, and the United States of America, which some of them even died for. Until Monday, however, none of these vets were allowed to be officially buried under the Wiccan symbol, the pentacle — a five-pointed star inside a circle.
After a 10-year fight, the VA finally relented, agreeing to add the pentacle to its list of 38 other approved religious symbols, including an atom for atheists.
Leaving aside the question of why a country founded on religious freedom would even make a list of "approved religions" (what are we, China?), how did this breakthrough finally come to pass?
Simple, Wiccan High Priestess (and Bronx shopkeeper) Lady Rhea said: Magic.
"There have been thousands of spells done" to make the VA come around, the Lady R, reached at the Magickal Realms botanica on Webster Avenue, said. "Everyone's been doing a lot of magical operations to get them to agree that we have our constitutional rights."
The fruits of these spells could not have come at a more propitious moment, as this weekend is Beltane, one of the two highest holidays in the Wiccan religion (the other being Samhain, a.k.a. Halloween).
Beltane in the Park, an event taking place this Saturday(error: Sunday) at the Central Park dairy, has already received 300 RSVPs, according to its organizer, a Brooklyn Wiccan named Starr.
"It's supposed to be on the eve of May, but we're doing it on Saturday because of everyone's work schedule," Starr said. Activities include dancing ‘round the Maypole — an age-old fertility rite (think: pole) — and a purifying ritual called "jumping the cauldron." Traditionally, one jumps over a cauldron brimming with fire, Starr said. For safety purposes, "We're using a plastic cauldron."
There will be incense inside it. There will be a line to jump it.
"Wicca has exploded in the last 10 to 15 years," the author of the Goddess classic "Drawing Down the Moon," Margo Adler, said. "There's even a military pagan network." And yet she sounds a little wistful remembering the religion's earlier, struggling days.
"When I got involved about 35 years ago, you went to the library to find out about groups," Ms. Adler said. You were lucky if there was one near you. "Now you can go on witchvox.com and if you're Irish you can find a Celtic group, or an Italian one with a strega background." At big Wiccan shindigs there's often a "teen tent" (where the kids probably talk about how square their parents are). Pagan Pride events are popping up all over. And Alcoholic Wiccans can join a Pagan AA.
Wicca is the next yoga.
For all that, the religion is still widely distrusted, in good part because many confuse it with devil worship — something Wiccans never practiced, except in B-movies. To fight such disinformation, Laurie Cabot formed the witchcraft equivalent of the Anti-Defamation League.
"We have an organization here in Salem called the Witches Public Awareness League," Ms. Cabot said. She is the Official Witch of Salem — thus proclaimed by Governor Dukakis. As the founder of the WPAL, she campaigns for Wiccan civil rights. In particular, she hopes to raise awareness of the prejudice that still meets many Wiccans in the courtroom, where judges have decided custody suits against them because of their religion.
Unfortunately, there is still no spell against prejudice that has proved 100% effective. But Brooklyn's Starr has concocted one potion that is almost as sought after.
"I have an incense and oil to try to get rid of parking tickets," she said. "It worked a little bit. I got a couple less tickets."
Share that with the world and Wiccans will not only be tolerated, they will be worshipped.
Links to a Charmed Halloween Event 2006 http://www.charmedbystarr.com/free/press/bcckingsman1.htm
Longest Day of the Year; Few Notice
At precisely 7:59 p.m. on Friday in New York, a momentous celestial event, one that has been celebrated around the planet for thousands of years, officially arrived.
Summer began, or in astronomical terms, the sun reached its highest point in the sky, marking the summer solstice and the longest day of the year, which means more sunlight. In ancient times, Egyptians heralded the event as the start of the New Year. Native Indians held elaborate ceremonies. And the Celts, always up for a party, danced and lighted bonfires to add to the sun’s energy.
So how did New Yorkers handle their moment, or in this case, their day, in the sun? There were no citywide celebrations, no public rituals to the gods, and according to a spokesman for the Fire Department, no bonfires to speak of. Many New Yorkers noticed the extra sunlight but were unaware of its significance.
As the clock struck 7:59 p.m., the sun fell behind a patch of clouds like a white peach, and Steve Simon, an organizational psychologist, stopped for a moment at 132nd Street and 12th Avenue in Upper Manhattan with his eyes pointed toward the Hudson River. He appeared to be taking in the gravity of the event, but soon confessed. “I did forget it was the longest day of the year,” he said. He was not outside reflecting on the seasons, he said, but merely waiting for his wife to finish her shopping at the Fairway .
At that precise moment, a borough away in Long Island City, Queens, Elena Kim, 27, appeared to be celebrating at the Water Taxi Beach, an outdoor bar on the East River. But on this day of maximum sunlight, she, too, was slightly in the dark. “I knew today was the first day of summer only because my secretary told me so,” she said. Her date for the evening, David Turley, 30, said they were there primarily for the view, not the solstice. “I’m more excited about the weather,” he said.
Michael Walker, a spokesman for the American Museum of Natural History, said even the Hayden Planetarium had no special events planned to mark the occasion. And Mordecai-Mark Mac Low, the curator-in-charge with the museum’s astrophysics department, was out of town in