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OKC area's first Pagan Pride Day celebrates alternative religions



by the plethora of self-help and do-it-yourself spirituality books available in bookstores, but the ethos undergirding it is still very much alive in the pagan community.

"The New Age Movement encouraged practitioners to pursue an integrated way of looking at life," Boyd said. "The governing question was 'How do you unify life?'"

BALANCE Kat Lansdale has been a practicing Wiccan for almost seven years. She lives in a small town outside Oklahoma City with a Christian husband who supports her faith practices. She said the issue of balance, or unified life, is what drew her to Wicca shortly after her daughter was born.

"I came to Wicca because I believed in balance," Lansdale said. "I liked the concept of yin and yang; you have to have one to have the other."

Lansdale said practicing in a small town in Central Oklahoma is sometimes difficult, but the support from her family and friends helps.

"My sister-in-law also practices, so I can talk to her," she said, "and I have a group of four or five friends who also practice. I'm a sole practitioner, so I don't have a coven, but I do have friends who support me."

Wiccans, even when they practice in a coven, have a diverse range of beliefs and practices. They might agree on some principles, but the finer points of their practice and beliefs encompass a range of possibilities related to race, culture, nationality, denomination, sect and creed.

"We have the freedom to worship how we choose," Lansdale said. "I believe in a god and goddess, but I haven't narrowed it down to a particular god and goddess. As for personal practices, I carry my stones, bless them on the full moon and ask for their protection; I pray daily and cast protective spells on my house, my car, my family."

Many Wiccans believe that stones and gems resonate with energy that can be directed to the benefit of the practitioner: Jade is for wealth, tiger's eye for protection, etc. Lansdale said that as with other aspects of Wicca, stones are part of a personal liturgy and not a fundamental tenet of Wicca.

The one fundamental tenet that Wiccans tend to accept is the admonition to "do no harm." Lansdale said she wants people to know that Wiccans take that rede seriously.

"As a group we are very passive," she said. "We don't harm. Movies and television have exaggerated our religion beyond reason. We don't typically cast black magic spells to harm. Granted, there are those who practice the darker side, and I have done it before, but it was out of fear. I believe that I should not harm others unless I want that harm to come back on me."

Lansdale said she was baptized in a Southern Baptist Church at a young age, but she stopped practicing Christianity when she was 12. She lost interest in religion until her daughter was born.

FEMALE PRACTITIONERS Boyd said the Wiccan movement is predominantly populated with female practitioners.

"I see this movement as largely made up of people who have been passed over due to their gender," he said. "I don't know how far I'd push that observation, as there are certainly men associated with the movement."

According to Lansdale, Boyd is largely correct. She is aware of only a handful of men who practice Wicca, but the movement is open to both genders and is not a gender-based faith. She said some believe in a god and/or goddess, or many gods and goddesses, while some believe in neither.

In addition to the earth-based groups that will be represented at Pagan Pride Day, Central Oklahoma is also home to another movement that is lumped under the category metaphysical religions, and unlike Wicca, this movement traces its origins primarily to the New Age Movement and secondarily to American writers in the Romantic era.

"I like to think of these groups as the fourth wheel of American religion," Boyd said. "The first three are classical Protestants, followed by Catholics, and then the Neo-Protestants, a group that is best represented by the Southern Baptist Convention. The fourth wheel dates back to early voices like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Mary Baker Eddy," who is the founder of Christian Science.

The Romantics, like Emerson and Walt Whitman, emphasized a direct connection to god or spirit by means of mystical communion, often when experiencing nature. And while these newer groups may have lost the nature emphasis, they have maintained their mystical element. They have done this by drawing from different traditions, especially the Eastern faiths of Buddhism and Hinduism.

"Spiritual, but not religious" also defines this movement, although Boyd understands that phrase differently than some of its adherents.

"I've found that people who describe themselves as 'spiritual, but not religious' mean they do not want to belong to traditions," he said. "Ironically, they are continuously re-institutionalizing themselves."

'WHATEVER WORKS' Janice Francis-Smith moved to Oklahoma City in 1994 from New Jersey. She worked at The Journal Record, but she said she always dreamed of opening a coffee shop and spiritual seeker center.

"I have a hard time subscribing to a particular religion," Francis-Smith said. "My philosophy is, 'Whatever works.'"

In keeping with her philosophy, she opened Coffy's Cafe in the Plaza District in April of this year. The combination coffee shop, cafe and seeker center hosts meditation groups, an Orthodox Catholic Church, yoga classes and psychic readers on different days of every week.

"We wanted to offer services that can help bring people peace," Francis-Smith said. "I grew up in a poisonous religious environment, and I left that movement completely jaded. It was many years before I became interested in spirituality again, so I wanted to create a very nonthreatening environment for people who are seeking."

Coffy's Cafe features a separate yoga studio and meditation room. The imagery and art are drawn from Catholicism, Hinduism and Buddhism. The syncretistic approach encourages people to draw what is best from each of the traditions.

Boyd said experiences like those of Francis-Smith aren't unusual for people in the metaphysical movement.

"Many of these movements have a quasi-relationship to Christianity," he said. "Sometimes that relationship was a negative one, and that shapes the form of the movement. Somehow, though, they end up emulating what goes on in traditional churches: a form of spiritual practice, an implied

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