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Bewitched

Paganism has gone mainstream. But here's how to keep you and your loved ones from being ensnared by it.

BUMPER STICKERS appear on cars around my small town: "Born-again Pagan"; "Witches Heal"; "Life is a witch (lavender broomstick inserted) and then you fly."

Do I live in an odd little enclave of weirdos and eccentrics? No, I live in a major metropolitan area. But I live in the midst of a pagan revival—and so do you.

Of course, you could say it's that season. During Halloween, interest in the occult seems overt. Yet catalogs hawking ready-to-worship statues of Egyptian gods and goddesses come uninvited through my mailbox any time of year. Books on spellcasting and pagan ritual can be found in my local library and bookstores. Television and magazine ads trumpet the services of psychic counselors.

What's going on?

In a word, witchcraft.

Like many Christians, I knew little about the neo-pagan movement until five years ago, when I discovered that the name of a Seattle abortion clinic, "Aradia," named after a "goddess of healing arts," also was cited in witchcraft literature as the daughter of the moon goddess Diana and the sun god Lucifer sent to earth to establish witchcraft.

Witchcraft, or Wicca, is a vital part of the growing neo-pagan movement and is considered to be one of the fastest-growing religions in America. While estimates vary, several sources say there are between 100,000 and 200,000 practicing Wiccans in the U.S. today. If one includes other neo-pagans and New Agers, who share many similarities, that figure likely would be higher.

The Quest for Control
A Wiccan high priestess named Shaune Ralph once wrote in Mademoiselle magazine that she cast her first spell because she was unhappy in her job. She made a talisman, or charm, out of a few objects, "charged" it with energy, and waited. A short time later she was hired as a laboratory administrator for a biotechnology company. Witchcraft, she found to her delight, got results.

Experienced church leaders say that to deny the reality of demonic supernatural power in witchcraft is to be misinformed.

"It's real. It works," says Dr. F. Douglas Pennoyer, a cultural anthropologist and senior pastor of Snohomish Free Methodist Church near Seattle. The son of Christian missionaries, Pennoyer has seen the efficacy of demonic powers in other cultures, and agrees there is a strong pagan revival happening here. But he says the "power" demonstrated by witches and other pagans, which at first seems positive or productive, is doled out by Satan for a purpose: to trap the practitioner. Pennoyer likens occultic powers to the euphoria of illicit drug use: It feels good for a season—but by the time you realize it's hurting you, it may be too late.

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