Frequently Asked Questions About Neo-Paganism. Provided from a couple different sites.
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Wicca FAQ From ReligiousTolerance.org
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"Pagan" is from an old Roman word meaning 'country dweller' or 'country district'. The ancient Romans used it much as more modern folk used to use the word "hick" or "hayseed" - a put-down because the folk of the country worshipped their old gods rather than the gods of the city. Neo-pagans (neo = new) have reclaimed the word and made of it one of pride, because we have <i>chosen</i> to worship the old gods. However, pagans do not all belong to one religion. Rather, "pagan" is an umbrella term that covers a wide range of earth religions. The most widely known of those is the new religion of Wicca, but there are also the Asatru, Druids and many more. Some people would have it that all religions that are not Christian, Muslim or Judaic are pagan religions. I'm a bit more restrictive than that. Not all non-Abrahamic religions are earth religions.
The word 'witchcraft' is one with many meanings, depending on whom you talk to. To be sure, it is "the craft of the witch", but what is a witch? In ancient times the word had very few meanings that weren't negative, but in today's world the word is being 'reclaimed' (re-interpreted would be more accurate) and those meanings are becoming more positive every day. The most well-known witches are the members of the neo-pagan religion of Wicca, although there are others who also claim the word - including a few whose religion itself is called Witchcraft. For the purposes of this FAQ, these modern-day witches are the ones that will be referred to when mentioned.
As already mentioned, witchcraft is the craft (practice) of the witch. For some witches this merely means a nature religion - the more pacifistic will add that it is one which teaches respect for life and tolerance of other pathways. For others it means casting spells, herbology, divination and using the powers of a witch. And there's everything in-between. There are many different beliefs covered by the term, and nearly as many ways of practicing as there are witches. In fact, there are "witches" in almost every religion - if "witch" is defined as a person who works magic or casts spells. This includes Judaism and Christianity. However, they each use the symbology of their own religion and in the name(s) of their own god(s) while doing so.
Most witches are pagan or neo-pagan, but not all pagans are witches. There are druids, Asatruars and Vanatruars (Norse paganism), shamans of various sorts, wizards and others, although I hear that those practicing Norse paganism actually prefer to call themselves 'Heathens' rather than Pagans. My guess as to the reasons for this is to distance themselves from the New Age influences that plague so much of modern neo-paganism.
No. There are no modern pagan religions that even believe in the <i>existence</i> of the "Devil" by any name whatsoever. The concept of demons and devils in several ancient pagan religions in the Far and Middle East caught the imagination of early Christian leaders as a means of keeping their straying flocks in line, and in 447 AD the Council of Toledo (Spain) adopted the Doctrine of the Devil. The common portrayal of the Devil as having red skin, a barbed tail, hooves and horns - was borrowed from that of a (beneficent) Persian fertility god.
What is not commonly known is that the Christian religion itself once made use of horns as a symbol of holiness. Some early examples of Christian
art, including a statue of Moses, clearly show small horns on the heads of holy figures. (Christianity also used the pentagram for several centuries.)
Some of this misinformation was perpetuated by 19th and 20th century dabblers who invented a new kind of witchcraft, not so much based on any supposed "Old Religion" as on alchemy and High Magic. This gave us Aleister Crowley, Gerald Gardner, Anton LaVey, and even Helena Blavatsky. So-called "black" magicians (those practitioners of magic whose main aim in life is to do harm) or devil worshippers could be called 'witches' as the word was known before the neo-pagan movement, but under the new interpretation of 'witch' as a certain type of neo-pagan earth/nature-worshipper, there is a notable and understandable reluctance to share that title with them. The modern witch prefers to call these people by the longer names already mentioned; black magicians and devil worshippers. Most of those invert the Christian Mass and ridicule it. In essence, they are reverse Christians, since they <i>do</i> believe in the Christian paradigm - they simply choose to fight it. Since modern witches and neo-pagans do not believe in Christianity, what possible purpose would it serve to use a perversion of its rituals as a tool? Not at all logical.
There are some neo-pagans which use the Greek pantheon. In that pantheon is a god called Lucifer. Some Christians shout "Ah-HA!" when they see this, equating the name with their Devil. What they don't understand is that Lucifer, as a Greek god, existed long before their religion did. The author of the "Book of Isaiah" in their Bible mentions this god - in a derogatory fashion, of course - and the translation to English rendered his words - or at least one of them - as "devil". Lucifer is and was the Greek god of the morning star. The man must have been having, if you'll excuse the phrase, 'the devil's own time' trying to convert the followers of that god. But you'll find the names of many an ancient god among those of Christian devils, demons, etc. - and even one or two among the Catholic saints, when demonizing them didn't work. What better way to convert those "unholy" pagans than to use smear tactics on their gods?
The word warlock is a corruption of the Scottish "Waer Loga" and means oath-breaker or traitor. Male witches are called witches - not
warlocks. In Wicca, female witches are wicce (pronounced 'witch-eh') and male witches are called wicca (witch-ah). Members of other religions have their own designations for their members.
This is a harder question. There is almost nothing that all pagans share belief in. Wiccans have the Wiccan Rede which says: "An it harm none, do what thou will," which is a simplified version of the OTO (Ordo Templi Orientalis) "Do what thou wilt is the whole of the Law. Love is the Law; Love under Will". Contrary to popular belief, the Wiccan Rede is not a law (the word "rede" means advise or advice). But the main idea is that you should harm no one - much like the well-known Golden Rule. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no way to predict what <i>all</i> of the effects <i>any</i> action, magical <i>or mundane</i>, will have. However, many of the more new-age magic practitioners who follow the Wiccan Rede or the Westernized version of 'karma' would have it that you are responsible for all such results, even if some of the ramifications are accidental. Most other pagans do <i>not</i> follow the Wiccan Rede, however, most have their own codes of conduct. Most pagans (but by no means all) believe in reincarnation. By definition, this is the rebirth of a spirit in another body. Most do not believe in transmigration, which holds that the spirit reincarnates immediately - often, but not always, into the body of an animal.
There is no organization to which even all <i>Wiccans</i> belong, let alone all witches. Nor is there a central authority for most other types of pagan. Each witch or other pagan is a Priest or Priestess, and has a personal relationship with his or her own deities. There is, as yet, no provisions for a laity in most types of paganism, although many are working on it. If they belong to a group, that group, depending on the religion, is called a circle, coven, grove, college (a teaching group) or any of a number of other designations, and can number anywhere from three to fifty (usually no more). The usual upper end, however, is right around twenty, with the average being six to ten. Each group makes its own rules and cares for its own members. In spite of the high profile witches/pagans you find from time to time, none is recognized by all of their community. Often those who are most public are considered opportunistic and commercial by most of the others. Pagans in general believe that one should follow a faith and not a leader.
Yes, but here we have to define <b>"God"</b>. What, exactly, existed at the beginning? We can be morally certain, but not factually certain, of the answer to that question. Christians, certainly, would immediately say "God" (meaning Yahweh). But that doesn't really answer the question, because "God" cannot be quantified. The fact that everything is made of energy gives us at least a part of the answer, and that is that energy would have existed then, too. So the universe and all that is within it is and was created of energy. There would have been very simple energy combinations first, resulting in sub-atomic particles, then atoms, then molecules, etc. And all of that matter went into making up all of the flora and fauna, all of the men and women and everything else that exists both in our world and everywhere else. It's all energy. We call that primal energy that started it all, and that still exists in all its myriad forms, "God" and/or "Goddess". But even that is much too large an entity for most of us to get our minds around. In order to help us comprehend the nature of "God/dess", we really have to give it form and substance - so we sub-divide it and name it depending on our pathway, culture, race, etc. It is Cerridwen, Bride, Hecate, Astarte, Isis, Aida-Wedo, Arianrhod, it is Lugh, Bile, Osiris, Thor, Damballah, Manawyddon and many others. What we must remember is that there is only one energy force, and we all share it. Every object, animate or inanimate, is part of the whole. Some believe that there is only one god-force that embodies male and female, both and neither, some believe that there are other gods as well, but that they are all merely aspects of the whole, and some believe that, like humans, animals, plants, etc., there are gods that - while sharing the divine spark - are at the same time distinctly separate beings with their own personalities and agendas. And there are many shades in between.
If you will forgive a somewhat inelegant analogy? Let us imagine a pot of stew - or perhaps a gumbo would be more in keeping (For there are some that say that, in a stew, all you can see is a meal, while what you can see in a good gumbo, is <i>everything</i>. [w/ apologies to Terry Pratchett]). That gumbo represents all that is, was or ever could be. In its entirety, that gumbo is God/dess. Everything within that gumbo partakes of the "gumbo-ness" but is, at the same time, a separate entity. This is similar to how many pagans view God/dess - not as being "out
there", but as in us and with us and everything else, yet so large and multi-faceted as to be unknowable in any but the smallest part.
This is a Wiccan/New Age concept that says that all that you do, either good or bad, will return to you three-fold. This was meant to be a warning not to mis-use ones abilities. It is an outgrowth of a misunderstanding of the East Indian concept of karma. In essence, the East Indian concept of karma is merely one of action and reaction (although that's an over-simplification). For instance, if you stomp in a puddle of water, it will splash, ripples will go out and come back, etc, except that it also applies on a spiritual level. The British were exposed to this concept during their 'Empire' phase, when they ruled India. However, they misunderstood the concept and believed that when you stomped in that puddle, <i>all</i> of the water splashed back on the stomper. They took this misunderstanding back to Britain, where it traveled to the USA - all this during the Spiritualist movement in the mid-to-late 1800's and early 1900's. It wasn't until the New-Age and Neo-Pagan movement that it developed into the so-called "Law of Three", which took the original misunderanding and multiplied it. Mind you, it was done with the best of intentions, but a warning to not misuse magical/psychic abilities to harm others has been taken literally and become dogma.
Yes. And pagans also pray to their gods. But while a group or individual might include a prayer in their spell(s), they're two different things. A prayer is a conversation with your god(s). Humans being what they are, a large proportion of those prayers are requests for help or a favor, but we try to remember to just talk with them as well - not in a time set aside for the purpose, but throughout the day. A spell, on the other hand, is you using your own powers and abilities to effect change. But spells aren't purely a pagan phenomenon. You'll find spells being used by people from most religions, though they may not be called that by those using them.
My definition: A spell is a work of magic. My definition of 'magic' is "the psychic manipulation of fine energies as yet undiscovered by science
(though they're working on it with their science of Quantum Mechanics) to precipitate an event or series of events that results in the desired outcome". One can, if they so desire, request the cooperation of (a) particular god(s), spirits or elementals (including 'totems'), but I have never done so outside of a group setting. No particular reason - just haven't.
Magic doesn't usually work that way. For magic to work, a great deal of emotional energy is usually needed. This is easy to work up for things you really need, but not for those things that can be looked upon as a luxury. So you probably won't win the lottery (which, at any rate, has thousands of people throwing their <i>own</i> "gimme" energy at it), but if you do your best, you might be offered overtime, or a part-time job, or someone might pay back a debt. Somehow, you will be given the opportunity to earn the money that you need. Notice I said "need", not necessarily <i>want</i>, and I said "earn", not be given - which, while possible, is NOT likely. Magic works best when you give it an opening through mundane effort.
In most areas of the world this is done only in a very few Wiccan traditions. In the Western world, it is a practice that was initiated by Gerald Gardner, who was an avid naturist (nudist). The rationale he gave for it, however, was that one must come before the Gods the way they were born and that clothing hampers the flow of energy in ritual and/or spellwork. But it is only a rationale - it is not fact. Nudism is fine if you're comfortable with it and the weather is cooperative, but it is by no means necessary.
The use of fire and smoke in these pursuits is as old as Man, as is drumming, dancing, etc. These days we use candles and incense and turn on the
CD player, but it's the same principle. These are tools to help bring the hindbrain into play - the "primitive" part of the brain that manipulates those energies. (Fire can also be used as a source of energy for spellwork.) Different incenses invoke different energy levels in our minds, and those scents that are most useful aren't always the flowery ones. But neither can one say "this scent is always useful for this purpose for everyone". Just as we all have different tastes and reactions to different foods, we also have different tastes and reactions to different scents. This is why most serious practitioners who use incense mix their own and use smoldering charcoal to burn them. Commercial incenses just don't cut it most of the time. I suggest Scott Cunningham's "Complete Book of Incense, Oils and Brews" for those who wish to investigate making their own incenses more fully.
As for all the other occult tools, some people get very good results with them, others find them a nuisance, and yet others outgrow them. We are all
individuals. Use what works best for you in this regard. I will say, however, that MOST people need them - at least when they're getting started. I did, and most others I know did as well - and for the same reasons.
Most religions do, yes. Some religions have such an initiation as part of the ritual lore and some write a special initiation for the event each time, but for both the initiation is a rite of passage into the religious body. Can you be a witch/pagan without it? Yes. You can be a generic witch/pagan through your own effort and study and can self-dedicate. But you could study, say, Wicca for years and not have the right to call yourself a Wiccan without initiation and study with an established Wiccan 3rd degree witch and coven (of any tradition that was NOT started by someone who only studied from books). The same holds true for most other pagan religions as well. But solitary or covened, be prepared to prove your knowledge when you present yourself to others. In this day and age, there are many who pick up a book and think they are an "instant witch" - an attitude not kindly looked upon by those who have put years of study into their path.
Most (neo-)pagan religions which use degrees, by any name, have a 3-degree system which usually starts with the unofficial status of "seeker". This is any person who is seeking to learn about the religion in question. Next is the initiate - or 1st degree. In this stage the initiate learns the basics of the religion - the rules, laws, dogma, etc. In 2nd degree the initiate learns the rituals and how to conduct them, plus other advanced studies. Third degree is generally considered to be finished with their studies, but actually stay on to learn how to handle and conduct the affairs of a practicing group. Other groups may have five, seven, or more levels of degrees; and some do not use a degree system of any kind - you're in or out, and if in, you're teacher, student or independent - period. The idea of degrees as used in modern paganism, however, is one borrowed from occult brotherhoods such as the Masons, Golden Dawn, OTO, etc. Indeed, a large percentage of Wicca's structure is due to its (aborted) <a href="database/bos-origin.htm" mce_href="database/bos-origin.htm">beginnings</a> as a branch of the OTO.
There is only one way - study. Some people say you can be a "born" witch/whatever. Wrong. You can be born with psychic abilities, but it is study that makes the witch, or any other sort of pagan. A few books or classes will not make you a witch, and there is no easy way to become one.
A responsible pagan must know a great deal, and you will spend your lifetime learning and studying. You must know not only when to do a spell, but when
mundane actions are the better course of action (which is most of the time). An understanding of history and mythology will stand you in good stead, as will a basic knowledge of anthropology, psychology, divination, tarot, herbs, comparative religion, geology, all facets of nature, etc. Study the cultures which resonate with your particular path, whether that be Norse, Celtic, Egyptian, Greek, Native American, Asian, Welsh or other. In other words, study, study, study. Wisdom is not easily come by, and takes <b>self-control</b> as well as learning and a good knowledge of psychology and ethics. This is why most pagans look askance at any person under thirty who claims to know much of anything. You'll have to prove it. Always approach your elders with respect if you expect to get any in return.
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--------Wicca, sometimes called "The Craft" or "The Craft of the Wise" is one of many earth-based religions. The religion which is closest to Wicca in America is probably Native American spirituality. Traditional Wicca was founded by Gerald Gardner, a British civil servant, who wrote a series of books on the religion in the 1940's. It contains references to Celtic deities, symbols, seasonal days of celebration, etc. Added to this were components of ceremonial magic and practices of the Masonic Order. A more recent form is eclectic Wicca which involves a combination of Wiccan beliefs and practices, combined with other Pagan and non-Pagan elements. The various traditions of Wicca are part of the Pagan or Neopagan group of earth-based religions.
-------According to David Barrett et al, editors of the "World Christian Encyclopedia: A comparative survey of churches and religions - AD 30 to 2200," there are 19 major world religions which are subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups, and many tens of thousands of smaller ones. Each of the 19 world religions has a different concept of deity or deities. Even among the main Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, there are very different views of deity. Conservative Protestant, Roman Catholic, liberal Protestant, Islam, Reform Judaism, Orthodox Judaism, and Conservative Judaism all call their deity God, but conceive of their God in different terms. They teach that God requires different behaviors and beliefs from his followers.
Many Wiccans believe in a deity that is largely unknowable -- sometimes called "The All" or "The One." However, they believe that they can comprehend the male and female aspects of the deity, whom they call the God and the Goddess. Sometimes, they commune with "The Goddess" or "The God." Other times, they link with specific Pagan deities from the past. Instead of "the Goddess," they might relate to Athena, Brigit, Ceridwen, Diana, Hecate, Ishtar, Isis, Venus, etc. In place of "The God" they may link to Adonis, Apollo, Dionysus, Odin, Osiris, Pan, Thor, Zeus, etc.
-------Some Wiccans pray to their God or Goddess. More Wiccans probably feel that they have more of a partnership with the God and Goddess than the God/worshiper relationship found in Christianity and other world religions. They need the Goddess and God; the God and Goddess need them. They welcome communion with the God and Goddess; they don't really worship them in the same way as followers of other religions do.
-----The short answer is "No." The long answer is "It depends."
<i>To some conservative Christians, all religions other than their own are forms of Satanism in which followers worship Satan or one of his demons. So, they view Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Wicca, and dozens of other religions as varieties of Satanism.</i>
<i>However, most people recognize that there are over many dozens of religions in the world, with different beliefs about deity, humanity and the rest of the universe. One of these is Wicca. Another is Satanism. These two religions have entirely different beliefs about deity, different rules for ethical behavior, different expectations from their membership, different views of the universe, different seasonal days of celebration, etc. Wiccans do not recognize an all-evil deity or quasi-deity like Satan. Christianity and Islam are the main religions that teach of Satan's existence, either as an evil principle or as an all-evil fallen angel with supernatural powers. </i>
Wicca and Satanism are not at all similar religions. However, the Christian church did link them in the past -- particularly during the Witch burning times of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. They regarded Witches as Satan worshipers. Some Christian denominations have not been particularly thorough in correcting mistakes of the past. So, Wicca and Satanism continue to be linked in many people's minds. This problem is rapidly fading as more Wiccans come out of the closet and become public with their faith.
"Pagan" is one of those religious terms which has so many conflicting definitions that the word is meaningless. "Neopaganism" is a better term. It refers to a group of many religious belief systems that are reconstructions of (or patterned after) ancient Pagan religions. Wicca is one Neopagan religion, as are Asatru (Norse Neopaganism), Druidism, Shamanism, and ancient Egyptian, Roman, Greek and other religions.
Yes. However, it generally involves a direct encounter with the God and Goddess, rather than an indirect experience routed through a priest, minister or other clergyperson.
Many Wiccans observe a Wiccaning service for newborns which is vaguely like a Christian infant baptism. It welcomes the newborn into the community. However, it does not obligate the infant in any way. Wiccans feel that a person must mature before they can make their own decision about religion; an infant cannot make such a choice.
There are initiation rituals where a person becomes a Wiccan. Some are self-initiation rituals where a person declares themselves to be a Wiccan. There are other initiation rituals performed in a Wiccan group, often called a Coven.
Many Wiccans write rituals for themselves or their coven to recognize life passages, like the onset of puberty, graduation, marriage, purchase of a house, divorce, healing, death, menopause, etc.
Many Wiccans observe Esbat rituals at the thirteen or so full moons each year, and occasionally on the new moons as well. There are eight Sabbats: four minor Sabbats at the solstices and equinoxes, and four major Sabbats each year.
Wiccan rituals take many forms. But they all generally include:
The casting of a circle -- the consecration of a sacred space.
The invocation of a deity/deities.
The body of the ritual, which may involve magick, spell casting, a community meal, dance, readings, singing, etc.
Closing or banishing of the circle -- restoration of the space to ordinary usage.
Common to almost all Wiccans is the recognition of the existence of the Goddess, and her consort the horned God. These may be viewed as real living personal entities, or as symbols.
Wiccans follow the Wiccan Rede "A'in it harm none, do what thou wilt." 2 This means that as long as it harms no one, including yourself, one is free to do what they wish. A Wiccan carefully reviews the implications of each action or non-action in her/his life. Domination, manipulation and control are particularly prohibited by the Rede.
Wiccans typically go through a dedication ritual at the start of their training, where they declare their intent to study Wicca. If they choose, they experience an initiation ritual when they complete their initial study of the religion -- often a period of a year and a day.
Wiccans engage in rituals, either alone or within a coven of other Wiccans. They are committed to personal spiritual growth.
There are many "Witchcraft" web sites and booklets that lists spells of all types. However, many of these are forbidden to Wiccans because they involve an attempt to control, dominate or manipulate another person. Using such a spell would conflict with the Wiccan Rede (see above). However, a Wiccan could cast a spell to help make themselves more open to love. They could cast a spell to help make another person more open to love, if that person specifically asked for it.
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In many ways, the two are similar. For example, the have similar ethics of reciprocity. The Wiccan Rede and Christianity's Golden Rule both emphasize kindness to and consideration of others. But there are many differences:
On sexual and gender matters:
Wicca has generally accepted the equality of men and women. Christianity has historically reserved positions of power in the church, the rest of society and the family for males.
Wicca regards responsible sexual behavior as a gift of the Goddess. Some committed
Wiccan couples engage in private sexual rituals. Christianity has tended to have a negative and restrictive view of sexual behavior.
Wicca generally accepts all sexual orientations as normal and natural: heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual.
Wicca is largely an oral tradition, and has no holy text that corresponds to the Christian Bible.
Wiccans stress the cycles of life and look upon time largely as cyclical. Christians mainly view time as linear.
Most Wiccans reject the concept of Heaven and Hell, and embrace reincarnation. The concept that a person must believe certain things or behave in a certain way to achieve salvation and avoid being tortured in Hell for all eternity is foreign to Wicca.
Wiccans feel close to nature and are highly concerned about its preservation.
Wiccans do not proselytize. In particular, they do not usually dedicate, teach, or initiate potential converts unless they are 18 years or older.
Where possible, and where it is safe to do so, Wiccans prefer to perform their rituals out-of-doors.
This is an intensely personal decision. We cannot recommend whether a person should or should not adopt a specific religion. Such a decision has to come from the heart. If you are searching for a faith group that matches your beliefs, you might find the Religion Selector by SelectSmart.com and SpeakOut.com to be helpful.
If you find the following portion of the Charge of the Goddess to be particularly moving and meaningful, then you might have the makings of a Wiccan. If it simply sounds like gibberish, then Wicca may not be for you:
<b>Hear ye the words of the Star Goddess; she in the dust of whose feet are the hosts of heaven, and whose body encircles the universe:
"I who am the beauty of the green earth, and the white moon among the stars, and the mystery of the waters, call unto thy soul: Arise, and come unto me. For I am the soul of nature, who gives life to the universe. From Me all things proceed, and unto Me all things must return; and before My face, beloved of gods and of men, let thine innermost divine self be enfolded in the rapture of the infinite. Let My worship be within the heart that rejoices; for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals. And therefore let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you. And thou who thinkest to seek Me, know that thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not unless thou knowest the Mystery: that if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without. For behold, I have been with thee from the beginning; and I am that which is attained at the end of desire." 1</b>
Becoming a Wiccan is not a simple path. Parents and friends might be very distressed when they learn that you are not accepting their religion. If you live in some areas of world, you have to be quite secretive about being a Wiccan because of danger of physical assault. People's reaction depends a lot on how tolerant they feel towards other religions, and on what they believe about Wicca. There is still a lot of misinformation being circulated about Wicca and other Neopagan religions. Fortunately, an increasing number of Neopagans are coming out of the closet and openly discussing their religions. Increasing numbers of non-Pagan web sites which accurately discuss Neopagan religions are becoming available. Over time, the hatred and misinformation should largely disappear.
There are generally no Wiccan listings in the religion page of your local newspaper. Individual Wiccans and covens tend to be in the (broom) closet for reason of security. It is safer that way. Many Wiccans start by attending a local Neopagan gathering or festival. The Witches' Voice maintains an index of Wiccans and covens worldwide. We urge caution when contacting an unknown Wiccan individual or group for the first time. There are a lot of nut-cases and sexual predators in North America and Wicca has its share. We recommend arranging the first meeting in a public place.
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