A model father
Kudos to Chris Nettleson for his openness, acceptance, and support of his wife and her conversion to Paganism. Religious tolerance of our neighbor’s beliefs is one thing. Needing to deal in a positive way with the difficult questions your own children raise about spirituality can be extremely difficult, but he is facing these hard questions with a sincere and loving heart. He is a model father and partner.
Shay Black, Berkeley
Great article, interesting. I am always so astonished by the amount of tolerance that Pagans and Wiccans show toward Christianity — after all, their religion has been almost brutally wiped out by Christians. Mr. Nettleson deserves compliments, but surely Mrs. Nettleson deserves the same!
Daniel Schut, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Who is civilized?
My son was raised in Wiccan traditions and is now bringing up his son in the security of a circle of Pagan friends and family. One thing I have noticed, in my forty-plus years of Wicca practices, is that when we are threatened or slandered by someone’s dogma, we in turn learn everything we can about their particular faith in order to defend ourselves. As a rule, Pagans are much better informed about other religions than the average Christian. The word “pagan” originated from “paganus,” a Roman term meaning those who live outside the city, i.e., “uncivilized.” Of course, when one considers that the Romans fed people to lions for entertainment, it sort of brings the term “civilized” into question. Excellent article!
Candy Taylor Tutt, Woodland
It’s all good
What a great article! There are significant social impacts as a result of our spiritual/religious affiliations and preferences. Monotheistic approaches to spirituality have missed the mark in de-emphasizing nature-based spirituality. What is down beneath our feet is not only good — it is critical. Some Pagan and Buddhist practitioners are critical of monotheistic practices while many of my friends integrate monotheistic, Buddhist, and polytheistic approaches to spiritual practice — it-is-all-good, take-what-you-like approach.
Because of the pain caused by historic violence, everyone is at risk for saying “Hey, my covenant is the right one” and being limited and fascist in approaching spirituality. There is no perfect document for relating to the history of creation. There is no perfect document for our human suffering. There is always more to learn. Going down and integrating earth-based spirituality as well as the disowned shadows (personal negative character traits) of self, is critical, as is joy in spirit.
I am Jewish and love my cultural heritage, though I disagree with violence perpetuated by fundamentalist and selfish, limited approaches to problem-solving — notice the problems go unsolved. I am Buddhist and I believe in nature as religion. Polytheistic cultures offer creative opportunity for integration and are critical to all of humankind — we are varied. When the dove from Noah’s ark found life, it was not for one people — it was not for humans — it was opportunity for all life. How do I find peace? Looking around at the earth, the good people of Berkeley, appreciating the people buried under the cement, their land and culture, the Earth, Moon, and the stars, and being grateful.
Scott Weber, Berkeley
A rare choice
I’d like to recommend the book The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, to Chris Nettleson, interviewed in your article. Dawkins has a very sympathetic discussion about the legacy of fear that Christianity often leaves in its practitioners in the chapter “Childhood, Abuse, and the Escape from Religion,” that might make it of interest to Chris. I appreciate the fact that Tina and Chris are making it clear to their children that they can choose what religious beliefs they will adopt (if any) once they are grown. Most kids don’t get that kind of consideration from their parents but are pressed into service, so to speak, before they are old enough to make those kinds of decisions.
Jean Rains, Oakland
Paganism is not transcendent
Wicca and Paganism arose in the ’60s as a reaction to fundamentalist Christianity, or “Jesus freaking.” And the Jesus freaks arose as a reaction to the success of the Hare Krsnas. I am a Hare Krsna who was formerly a Pagan. Many Pagans don’t like that we Krsnas are monotheistic — they like many gods. We also have many demigods, but Krsna is Lord of them all, and we don’t have to worship each of them individually. Their perspective is that Krsna is just another demigod — our perspective is that Krsna expands Himself as Allah, or Jehovah, and is the Source of all the demigods — “It is better to live in a cage full of fire than to live with a worshipper of many gods.”
Paganism is not a transcendent religion — it is for getting things here. The original Pagans had a transcendent philosophy called Gnosis, which was the remnants of the impersonal philosophy of the brahm among the mlecchas (those people who were/are bereft of the Vedic wisdom). The modern pagans do not have this philosophy — they simply rely on various fallible gods and on animal magnetism to achieve their desires, which are also small.
The trouble with Christianity, on the other hand, is that nobody practices it.
Clayton O’Claerach, Oakland
See it through
All Pagan sectors are going to experience much negativity, as the initial beginning of the USA was based on religious freedom. The problem is that religious freedom was to be extended to Protestants, Catholics, and at a later time Jews and Islam, Buddhism, etc. The Pagan religion was considered not included, as the Salem witch trials attest. Any person professing Paganism in any form will have the same fight that the Protestants and Catholics experienced in Ireland for hundreds of years. So we must be prepared to see it through, or forget it completely.
Lamargo Petersen, Vancouver, British Columbia
*** bless America
Great article. The pentagram made out of crayons on the cover was so creative. My kids often feel that they are part of a religious minority because hardly anyone at their schools attends churches. It is so good to learn about any other families that are following spiritual paths. Insert-your higher-power-Bless-America!
Jeanne Killian, Albany
Thanks for your recent articles about Pagans and the emergence of Earth-based religions in the popular culture. It is nice to see a fair presentation from time to time, and I thought that yours was outstanding. I followed the link from Witchvox.com and was pleasantly surprised to find an insightful and compelling story about fellow citizens who happen to be Wiccan and/or Pagan.
It is good to know that there are more and more areas of the country where Wiccans/Pagans don’t have to hide — here in Tulsa, there are certainly Pagans, but they don’t advertise their leanings. I have been a practicing Pagan for over fourteen years, mostly solitary or with my wife. We follow the old English/German traditions such as they are known. Not quite Asatru, and not wholly Wiccan. Phillip Carr-Gomm describes a hybrid leaning as DruidCraft. I think of it more as a Hedgewitch. We are herbalists who feel the living earth in our bones; we honor the elements, and find wonder in wild mushrooms, bees, and the holy hot springs that survive in our wild country.
After many years of trying, we had a child, Abby, who recently turned five. And detecting a need for some kind of formal religious framework (this is THE Bible Belt) so she wouldn’t be ostracized at school, we started attending our local Unitarian church. We made friends, and enjoy our intelligent comrades there. I don’t mean to ramble on so, but it is a challenge to raise Pagan kids (especially Joklahoma — forgive us, Imhofe, he knows not what he says …) — it is also a challenge to raise ANY kind of kids. So thanks again, have patience with parents, kids, and yourself.
An original prayer follows:
My Daily Prayer
Lady of the Rains (note – in season this changes to Lady of the Snows)
Lord of the Greenwood (changes to Greywood)
heed this prayer
bless and keep our happy clan
help guide us on the path
that we may walk
in beauty and abundance
that we may share
the love and honor
we hold for each other
with all the cousins
we meet along the way
and come journey’s end
we may arrive safely
at the source
with dignity and grace
help us overcome all sorrow
help us learn to live
let it be
Bill Rollins, Tulsa, Oklahoma
I just wanted to send an e-mail to let you know what a fabulous job I thought you did on this article. It was very informational (and well written) to those who may not know a lot about the Pagan way of life. Also a well-written story and I enjoyed reading it. I didn’t know there was any alternative to Boy/Girl Scouts. I am going to look into SpiralScouts in my area for my young son. Again thank you for writing this article. I know many others who will thoroughly enjoy it as well. Peace be with you and Blessed be!
Jillian Glover, Lincoln, Nebraska
Your article — while having some good elements — was itself victim of some misunderstanding. Ms. Richards defines Witch as “a woman or man who practices a life-affirming, Earth- and nature-oriented religion.” Sadly, this is utter nonsense. Witchcraft is an occult art that is not, and never has been, a religion. The idea that witchcraft has anything to do with religion started with the paranoiac satanist fantasies of medieval churches and culminated with Gerald Gardner’s invention of Wicca as a supposed pagan religion.
Both were wrong. The Middle Ages saw the word “witch” being used as synonymous with “satanist” (some Christians labor under that delusion to this day) and Gardner made up his own religion and tried to give it historical credentials by pretending it was witchcraft. Your columnist could do worse than read Professor Ronald Hutton (The Triumph of the Moon) and Hugh Trevor Roper’s The European Witch-craze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries and learn what is and is not witchcraft. Till then, please refrain from defining witchcraft as a religion, thanks!
Geraldine Byrne, Dublin, Ireland
We love letters. Please provide your full name, address, and daytime phone number, although we’ll only print your name, city, and affiliation. Send letters to [email protected] or Letters, East Bay Express, 1335 Stanford Ave., Emeryville, CA 94608. Letters are edited for length and clarity.