Alternative religions fight misconceptions

When the recent slaying of a Loudoun County scientist was rumored to have “occult overtones,” citing that the alleged killers may have had beliefs rooted in Wicca and Paganism, those in the area who practice the religions said the news is sending the wrong impression.

Tony Gatlin, a Woodbridge resident and 20-year practicing Wiccan and Pagan, said he found the bloody murder as repulsive as any other person and the mere mention of Pagans and Wiccans as the culprits has local Pagans disturbed.

“The Pagan community is a peace-loving, mild-mannered group. Unfortunately, this has been associated with all this ugliness,” Gatlin said.

Michael Paul Pfohl, 21, and Katherine Erne Inglis, 20, both of Haymarket, and Kyle Hulbert, 18, of Maryland, and a former Woodbridge resident, have been charged with murder after the body of 57-year-old Robert M. Schwartz was found stabbed to death in early December in his secluded Loudoun County home.

While searching the Haymarket home of Pfohl and Inglis, authorities found documents containing information on “killing and human sacrifice in a Wiccan fashion,” as stated in a search warrant affidavit. The court document also defined Wicca as “a cult which involves Pagan rituals and sacrifices.”

Further stirring the pot, friends who knew Hulbert said he was involved in the occult, collected swords and told people he was going to be a vampire.

Practicing Wiccans and Pagans say their religion follows two basic rules: “If it harms none, do what you will,” and “Whatever you put out, comes back to you threefold.”

“If someone was in Wicca, killing someone would not be in their best interest,” said Drema Baker, publisher and editor of Paganet News, a Pagan publication based in Virginia Beach. “We dont kill, we honor life too much.”

Baker, who has been practicing Wicca and Paganism for 15 years, calls young people who collect Pagan items and profess to be witches “seriously misguided.”

“I just dont see anything that shows they knew what they were doing,” she said.

According to the Potomac Pagans, a Northern Virginia group, Paganism encompasses several religions, including Wicca, which are nature-based, promoting love and harmony with all life, which may hold beliefs in Gods or Goddesses and magic, and that celebrates the changing seasons, the equinoxes, solstices and life cycles,

Baker said the misconceptions of the occult and witchcraft do not surprise her.

“This false propaganda has been going on for years,” she said.

As a guru in Wicca and Pagan practices, Baker spoke to about 300 police officials at a conference for the Virginia Gang Investigators Association last April to help dispel some misunderstandings about crime and the occult.

“They showed slide of crime scenes. Some of these people had done things that were seen as occult … they are just disturbed kids,” Baker said.

Upon hearing about the Schwartz slaying from news reports, Baker was mortified.

Reports on the murder said a sword had been used in the slaying and an “X” was carved in the back of Schwartzs neck. In Pagan rituals, knives and swords are used as symbols for will and courage and are never used to hurt anyone, Baker said. “And theres no special significance for an X.”

It was said that Hulbert walked around his Woodbridge neighborhood in black clothing and long black trench coats and authorities found black cloaks and black clothing in the Haymarket home of Inglis and Pfohl.

“Young people that go around in black are not witches,” Baker said. Black holds a magical significance for Wiccans because it is absorbs all colors and some Wiccans and Pagans have been known to wear black. However, those in the religion also wear colorful clothing to celebrate nature, she said. And cloaks are used as common ritual attire, she added, but those rituals do not include slaughter.

“A lot of [young people] get caught up in the vampire, Marilyn Manson, goth thing and are misled,” said Lisa Starnes, a Manassas native who studies religion at James Madison University in Harrisonburg.

After practicing Wicca for 13 years, Starnes said she has come across teen-agers who claim to be involved in witchcraft and Wicca and hold to bizarre, non-Pagan practices such as self-mutilation. “It all just doesnt seem healthy to me,” she said.

Both Baker and Gatlin blame Hollywood.

“Young people a lot of times get attracted to witchcraft and Wicca because they feel powerless. Their parents are always telling them what to do, when to go to bed, when to do their homework … kids think it will make them more powerful,” Baker said, citing movies such as “The Craft” as an example.

In “The Craft,” a group of high school girls experiment with witchcraft, casting evil spells on classmates and altering their looks with magic. “If I could change my hair color with the wave of my hand I would be a rich woman,” Baker said. “The pop culture is annoying.”

“In a word, sex sells. This is sexy; its flashy … here you have devil-worshipping Pagans,” Gatlin said. “There is so much misinformation.”

Starnes noted that Satan is a figure in Christianity and not in Paganism.

With every sensationalized occult or witchcraft-related flick that hits theaters and every report that cites Paganism, Wicca, or witchcraft as motives for brutal crimes, those practicing the religion move further away from one of their goals acceptance, they said.

“When people continue to stick to those stereotypes it makes it hard for acceptance of Wicca like that of any other religion,” Baker said.

An accomplishment that Gatlin, a major in the Air Force, achieved was getting an approval to add the Pagan sects, such as Wicca, Shaman and Druid, to the list of religions to be included in the Air Force Personnel Data System, allowing military personnel to have their Pagan religion declared on their dog tags and personnel files.

Similar Posts