Teri Gurnell knows what it feels like to
live a closeted existence and be denied rights. Gurnell is a Wiccan
High Priestess and owner of the Dragon Den pagan supply store.
As with the gay community, pagans live in fear of losing jobs or
custody of their children, and are even denied by the military the
right to put their religious symbols, such as the pentacle, on a
loved one’s tombstone.
“God is God, no matter how you look at it. People just take
different roads to get there. All religions have basic tenants —
you don’t do harm and you don’t behave in an inappropriate
manner,” says Gurnell.
According to Wicca: A Legacy of Persecution, “Wicca” is an
Old English word meaning wise, and the Wiccan religion is an
Earth-oriented nature religion with roots dating back to pre-
Christianity. It celebrates the life force, encourages spiritual
growth and includes seasonal rites to attune oneself to beauty,
magick, love of Mother Nature and the earth goddess.
Gurnell says the persecution of pagans began when masculine
ideals and male gods began to rise and challenge the Mother
Goddess. Families began to be traced through male lineage and
men took over the chief places in the priesthood. The old ways
of the common people came into conflict with a new religion
that was popularized by rulers and the upper class: Christianity.
In an effort to convert people to the new way, many old ways
were adapted and incorporated into Christianity. For example,
although Biblical evidence shows that Jesus was born in late
summer or autumn, the Church of Rome, in the fourth century,
declared December 25 as the date of his birth. This date falls very
close to the old pagan celebration of the winter solstice, Yule, the
birth of the sun. Eggs and hares, fertility symbols of the Vernal
(Spring) Equinox, which pagans celebrate as the return of the
Sun, became the Easter eggs and bunnies of Christians’ Easter
celebration, the day of the Christ’s resurrection.
When Christians felt their ways weren’t catching on fast
enough, life became much harder for those still practicing the
old religions. Christian leaders began to demonize witches and
other pagans as devil worshippers and savages. Those who still
followed the old ways were forced to go underground in order
to survive. Even though the blatant persecution of pagans ended
in the 18th century, the stereotype of the witch as a worshipper
of Satan still remains. Not until this century did the U.S. Supreme
Court recognized Wicca as a valid religion.
“We are finally being recognized in hospitals, so when asked
our religion we can choose Wiccan or Pagan,” said Gurnell.
Gurnell formed the Coven of The Dragon Moon eleven years
ago when she started practicing the craft as a solitary practitioner.
She is self-taught and formed her own denomination of
Wicca. Now that she has trained at least three high priestesses or
high priests and they, in turn, have trained at least one student
for a term of a year and a day, her denomination, or tradition, can
be named. On Samhain (Oct. 31) her tradition was formally
named as the Wyvern Moon Tradition.
Pagans consider themselves healers of the earth and believe
it is each person’s responsibility to leave the world a better place
— not to hurt people or animals. Another basic tenant of the
religion is the Threefold Law; everything that you do, good or
evil, is returned to you threefold.
Gurnell’s philosophy is right here right now. “If I screw up,
I have to pay for it now. Everyday I walk this earth I need to watch
my step and try not to step on others.”
The Dragon Den started as an online pagan supply and retail
store nine years ago. On Oct. 13, 2006 Gurnell opened a store
in the USA Flea Market in Port Richey. Candles, books, witch
boards and jewelry are available, and anything else a customer
needs can be ordered and shipped virtually anywhere in the world.
As for the future, Gurnell is optimistic and hopes to see the
day when Pagans can worship openly without fear.
“But if all I see is freedom of religion that too would be
a blessing.” FMI www.thedragonden.com
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