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On the west coast of Canada, where my wife and I live, the Halloween cover of a community newspaper pictured a smiling couple, both with long robes and flowing hair, holding a pumpkin. The headline announced, "Wiccan Priest and Priestess to Wed on All Hallow's Eve."

The lead story enthusiastically described the details of the wedding and narrated the couple's pilgrimage to an "ancient faith" away from Christianity. The bride said that after she became an atheist, "It seemed to me that creation was sacred, the earth was sacred, and in the greater scheme of things we were not outside of it, we were part of it."

The newspaper article reflects an undeniable aspect of contemporary life in North America: the rise of neopaganism. Supporters claim it is the fastest-growing religion in the United States, with nearly half a million adherents. On the rural British Columbia island where we live, solstice celebrations can be attended better than the local church. In the city yellow pages, Wiccan is listed with Baptist, Presbyterian, and Catholic churches. (Wicca comes from witch and means one who works with natural forces by shaping or bending them. Thus, the word is closely related to wicker, not wicked.)

The thousand-acre forest that surrounds the university where I teach is called "Pacific Spirit Park" and is described as "a ground for our becoming one with nature." In many bookstores, large sections deal with magic, paganism, and Wicca and are full of volumes by mainstream publishers with titles like The Pagan Path and Voices from the Circle.

Interest in paganism is not limited to the West Coast, where some religious flakiness is expected. The largest pagan group in North America ("The Circle Network") is based in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin. ...

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November 15, 1999

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