Utah’s pagan community opens its doors

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SOUTH SALT LAKE -- Members of Utah's pagan community are stepping out of the broom closet, as it were, to dispel myths and misconceptions about witchcraft in the land of Mormonism.

They held an open house here on Tuesday, where they answered questions for a few dozen people about their beliefs and put a friendly face on paganism.

"A lot of the misinformation is that witches are evil, that witches are green, that witches are ugly, that witches sacrifice children or eat babies or whatever the case may be, that there is worship of Satan, things of that nature," said Rita Morgan, who runs Crone's Hollow, a store in South Salt Lake that sells ritual supplies to pagans.

"None of those things are true."

Crone's Hollow serves as a sort of "Pagan Community Center" for Utah's estimated 15,000 pagans. Many local covens hold their services here.

"You've got the Zion Curtain here in Utah," said Durriken Homewood, a priest in the Stonebeacon Coven. "A lot of people have put up this curtain around us, around Utah that says everyone that lives in Utah is a Mormon. When in truth, Utah has a very vibrant, very diverse religious community. Paganism is just one of those diverse factions."

At Tuesday's open house, Druids, Asatru, the Temple of Isis, Wiccans and others were represented on a panel wryly titled: "Which Witch is Which?" In the corner, a stereotypical green-skinned witch riding a broomstick looked on.

"I'm just curious about witchcraft and if it's a possibility or not, if things are really out there that we don't know about," said Miranda Bowerbank, who came to listen to the panel because she was curious about paganism.

Bret Gold, who is a member of a local coven and runs Crone's Hollow, said people most commonly believe pagans are godless. "Pagan" is an umbrella term for people who worship multiple god forms, archetypes and spiritual beings.

"Most people think we're tree huggers, ultra liberal," Gold said. "No, we run the gambit between conservative and liberal. I know several staunch Republicans and very left Democrats."

In Utah, the first recorded coven began in 1981, Aisling, Mistress of the Four Dragons Clann, told the crowd. Since then, it has grown significantly. Each year, they host a "Pagan Pride Day," and some local covens have begun opening their services to the public as an educational opportunity.

"I think the major myth that I'd like to dispel is that we're kooks, that only crazy people believe in this," Homewood told FOX 13. "There are teachers, there are doctors, there are lawyers who are working in Utah right now who are pagan."

Morgan is quick to point out that pagans do not proselyte, nor are they out to convert. What she hopes is to build understanding.

"If you understand what we do and what we're about better, then our ability to live with you peacefully, and for us not to have gross misunderstandings, is much greater," she said.