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Santy Claws

...and we'll celebrate our way. A selection of alternative persepectives on Christmas sent to my email box over the years.

The Santa Theory
After much research, we present the annual aeronautical engineers report on the theory of Santa:
No known species of reindeer can fly. BUT there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified, and while most of these are insects and germs, this does not COMPLETELY rule out flying reindeer, which only Santa has ever seen.
There are 2 billion children (persons under 18) in the world. BUT since Santa doesn't (appear) to handle the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish & Buddhist children, that reduces the workload to 15% of the total -378 million according to Population Reference Bureau. At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household, that's 91.8 million homes. One presumes that there's at least one good child in each.
Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with. This is due to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 822.6 visits/second. That is to say that for each Christian household with good children, Santa has .001 second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house.
Assuming that each of these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false but for the purposes of our calculations we will accept), we are now talking about .78 miles/household, a total trip of 75.5 million miles; not counting stops to do what most of us do at lease once every 31 hours, plus eating etc. So Santa's sleigh must be moving at 650 miles/second, 3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle on earth, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a pokey 27.4 miles/second. A conventional reindeer can run, tops, 15 miles/hour.
The payload on the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-sized Lego set (2 lb.), the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as overweight. On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300lb. Even granting that "flying reindeer" (see #1) can pull 10 TIMES the normal amount, we cannot do the job with 8, or even 9, reindeer. We need 214,200. This increases the payload - not counting the weight of the sleigh - to 353,430 tons. This is four times the weight of the ocean-liner Queen Elizabeth.
353,000 tons travelling at 650 miles/second creates enormous air resistance. This will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as a spacecraft re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 QUINTILLION joules of energy. Per second. Each.
In short, they will burst into flame almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them and create deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team will be vaporised within .00426 of a second.
Meanwhile, Santa will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500.06 times greater than gravity. A 250 lb. Santa, being very conservative in terms of guessing Santa's weight, would be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4,315,015 lb. of force. If  Santa ever DID deliver presents on Christmas Eve, he's dead now-- Author Unknown

The London Temple of Mithras

Mithras at Xmas
December 25th was the traditional birthday of Mithras the Bullslayer, sometimes known as Mithras the Lawbringer.  Still considered central in the mythology of modern Zoroastrianism, Mithras was a major member of the pantheon of the Persian Empire.
Roman soldiers, stationed in the eastern provinces, picked up the notions of Mithras (service, loyalty, comradery, honor and eternal life), and carried it back into the Roman Empire.  In the early centuries of Christianity, the Cult of Mithras was the chief rival. 
Indeed a large proportion of not only the army, but members of the Imperial government, were members.  At least three Emperors were also followers of the faith. -- by Blake of Pagan Connections Texas

'Twas the Night Before Solstice...
The night before Christmas as experienced from the Pagan perspective:
Five minutes before the Winter Solstice circle was scheduled to begin, my mother called. Since I'm the only one in our coven who doesn't run on Pagan Standard Time, I took the call. Half the people hadn't arrived, and those who had wouldn't settle down to business for at least twenty minutes.
     "Merry Christmas, Frannie."
     "Hi, Mom. I don't do Christmas."
     "Maybe not--but I do, so I'll say it." she told me in her sassy voice, kind of sweet and vinegary at the same time. "If I can respect your freedom of religion, you can respect my freedom of speech."
     I grinned and rolled my eyes. "And the score is Mom -one, Fran - nothing. But I love you, anyway."
     People were bustling around in the next room, setting up the altar, decking the halls with what I considered excessive amounts of holly and ivy, and singing something like, "O, Solstice Tree."
     "It sounds like party." Mom said.
     "We're doing Winter Solstice tonight."
     "Oh. That's sort of like your version of Christmas, right?"
     I wanted to snap back that Christmas was the Christian version of Solstice, but I held back.
     "We celebrate the return of the sun. It's a lot quieter than Christmas. No shopping sprees, no pine needles and tinsel on the floor, and it doesn't wipe me out. I remember how you had always worked yourself to a frazzle by December 26."
     "Oh honey, I loved doing all that stuff. I wouldn't trade those memories for all the spare time in the world. I wish you and Jack would loosen up a little for the baby's sake. When you were little, you enjoyed Easter bunnies and trick-or-treating and Christmas things. Since you've gotten into this Wicca religion, you sound a lot like Aunt Betty the year she was a Jehovah's Witness."
     I laughed nervously. "Yeah. How is Aunt Betty?"
     "Fine. She's into the Celestine Prophecy now, and she seems quite happy. Y'know," she went on, "Aunt Betty always said the Jehovah's Witnesses said those holiday things were Pagan. So I don't see why you've given them up."
     "Uh, they've been commercialized and polluted beyond recognition. We're into very simple, quiet celebrations."
     "Well," she said dubiously, "as long as you're happy."
     Sometimes long distance is better than being there, 'cause your mother can't give you the look that makes you agree with everything she says. Jack rescued me by interrupting.
     "Hi, Ma." he called to the phone as he waved a beribboned sprig of mistletoe over my head. Then he kissed me, one of those quick noisy ones. I frowned at him.
     "Druidic tradition, Fran. Swear to Goddess."
     "Of course it is. Did the Druids use plastic berries?"
     "Always. We'll be needing you in about five minutes."
     "Okay. Gotta go, Mom. Love you."
     We had a nice, serene kind of Solstice Circle. No jingling bells or filked-out Christmas Carols. Soon after the last coven member left, Jack was ready to pack it in.
     "The baby's nestled all snug in her bed," he said with a yawn, "I think I'll go settle in for a long winter's nap."
     I heaved a martyred sigh. He grinned unrepentantly, kissed me, called me a grinch, and went to bed. I stayed up and puttered around the house,trying to unwind. I sifted through the day's mail, ditched the flyers urging us to purchase all the Seasonal Joy we could afford or charge.
     I opened the card from his parents. Another sermonette: a manger scene and a bible verse, with a handwritten note expressing his mother's fervent hope that God's love and Christmas spirit would fill our hearts in this blessed season. She means well, really. I amused myself by picking out every Pagan element I could find in the card.
     When the mail had been sorted, I got up and started turning our ritual room back into a living room. As if the greeting card had carried a virus, I found myself humming Christmas carols. I turned on the classic rock station, but they were playing that Lennon-Ono Christmas song. I switched stations. The weatherman assured me that there was only a twenty percent chance of snow. Then, by Loki, the deejay let Bruce Springsteen insult my ears crooning, "yah better watch out, yah better not pout." I tried the Oldies station. Elvis lives, and he does Christmas songs. Okay, fine. We'll do classical ~ no, we won't. They're playing Handel's Messiah. Maybe the community radio station would have something secular humanist.
     (continued below)

    "Ahora, escucharemos a Jose Feliciano canta `Feliz Navidad'."
     I was getting annoyed. The radio doesn't usually get this saturated with holiday mush until the twenty-fourth.
     "This is too weird." I said to the radio, "Cut that crap out."
     The country station had some Kenny Rogers Christmas tune, the first rock station had gone from John and Yoko's Christmas song to Simon and Garfunkel's "Silent Night," and the other rock station still had Springsteen reliving his childhood. "--I'm tellin' you why. Santa Claus is comin' to town!" he bellowed.
     I was about to pick out a nice secular CD when there was a knock at the door. Now, it could have been a coven member who'd forgotten something. It could have been someone with car trouble. It could have been any number of things, but it certainly couldn't have been a stout guy in a red suit--snowy beard, rosy cheeks, and all--backed by eight reindeer and a sleigh. I blinked, wondered crazily where Rudolph was, and blinked again. There were nine reindeer. Our twenty-percent chance of snow had frosted the dead grass and was continuing to float down in fat flakes.
     "Hi, Frannie." he said warmly, "I've missed you."
     "I'm stone cold sober, and you don't exist."
     He looked at me with a mixture of sorrow and compassion and sighed heavily.
     "That's why I miss you, Frannie. Can I come in? We need to talk."
     I couldn't quite bring myself to slam the door on this vision, hallucination, or whatever. So I let him in, because that made more sense then letting all the cold air in while I argued with someone who wasn't there.
     As he stepped in, a thought crossed my mind about various entities needing an invitation to get in houses. He flashed me a smile that would melt the polar caps.
     "Don't you miss Christmas, Frannie?"
     "No." I said flatly, "Apparently you don't see me when I'm sleeping and waking these days. I haven't been Christian for years."
     "Oh, now don't let that stop you. We both know this holiday's older than that. Yule trees and Saturnalia and here-comes-the-sun, doodoodendoodoo."
     I raised an eyebrow at the Beatles reference, then gave him my standard sermonette on the appropriation and adulteration that made Christmas no longer a Pagan holiday. I had done my homework. I listed centuries, I named names--St. Nicholas among them.
     "In the twentieth century version," I assured him, "Christmas is two parts crass commercialism mixed with one part blind faith in a religion I rejected years ago." I gave him my best lines, the ones that had convinced my coven to abstain from Christmassy cliches. My hallucination sat in Jack's favorite chair, nodding patiently at me.
     "And you," I added nastily,"come here talking about ancient customs when you--in your current form--were invented in the nineteenth century by, um...Clement C. Moore."
     He laughed, a rolling, belly-deep chuckle unlike any department-store Santa I'd ever heard.
     "Of course I change my form now and then to suit fashion. Don't you? And does that stop you from being yourself?" He said, and asked me if I remembered Real Magic, by Isaac Bonewits.
     I gaped at him for a moment, then caught myself. "This is like `Labyrinth', right? I'm having a dream that pretends to be real, but is only made from pieces of things in my memory. You don't look a thing like David Bowie."
     "Bonewits has this Switchboard Theory." Santa went on amiably, "The energy you put into your beliefs influences the real existence of the archetypal--oh, let me put it simpler: `in the beginning, Man created God'. Ian Anderson."
     He lit a long-stemmed pipe. The tobacco had a mild and somehow Christmassy smell, and every puff sent up a wreath of smoke. "I'm afraid it's a bit more complicated than Bonewits tells it, but that's close enough for mortals. Are you with me so far?"
     "Oh, sure." I lied as unconvincingly as possible.
     Santa sighed heavily.
     "When's the last time you left out hot tea and cookies for me?"
     "When I figured out my parents were eating them."
     "Frannie, Frannie. Remember pinda balls, from Hinduism?"
     "Rice balls left as offerings for ancestors and gods."
     "Do Hindus really believe that the ancestors and gods eat pinda balls?"
     "All right, y'got me there. They say that spirits consume the spiritual essence, then mortals can have what's left."
     "Mm-hm." Santa smiled at me compassionately through his snowy beard.
     I rallied quickly. "What about the toys? I know for a fact they aren't made by you and a bunch of non-union Elves."
     "Oh, that's quite true. Manufacturing physical objects out of magical energy is terribly expensive and breaks several laws of Nature--She only allows us to do that on special occasions. It certainly couldn't be done globally and annually. Now, the missus and the Elves and I really do have a shop at the North Pole. Not the sort of thing the Air Force would ever find. What we make up there is what makes this time a holiday, no matter what religion it's called."
     "Don't tell me," I said, rolling my eyes, "you make the sun come back."
     "Oh my, no. The solar cycle stuff, the Reason For The Season, isn't my department. My part is making it a holiday. We make a mild, non-addictive psychedelic thing called Christmas spirit. Try some."
     He dipped his fingers in a pocket and tossed red-gold-green-silver glitter at me. I could have ducked. I don't know why I didn't.
     It smelled like snow, and pine needles, and cedar chips in the fireplace. It smelled like fruitcake, cornbread savory herbal stuffing, like that foamy white stuff you spray on the window with stencils. It felt like a crisp wind, Grandma's hugs, fuzzy new mittens, pine needles scrunching under my slippers. I saw twinkly lights, mistletoe in the doorway, smiling faces from years gone by. Several Christmas carols played almost simultaneously in a kind of medley. I fought my way back to my living room and glared sternly at the hallucination in Jack's chair.
     "Fun stuff. Does the DEA know about this?"
     "Oh, Frannie. Why are you such a hard case? I told you it's non-addictive and has no harmful side effects. Would Santa Claus lie to you?"
     I opened my mouth and closed it again. We looked at each other a while.
     "Can I have some more of that glittery stuff?"
     "Mmmm. I think you need something stronger. Try a sugarplum."
     I tasted rum ball. Peppermint. Those hard candies with the picture all the way through. Mama's favorite fudge. A chorus line of Christmas candies danced through my mouth. The Swedish Angel Chimes, run on candle power, say tingatingatingating. Mama, with a funny smile, promised to give Santa my letter.
     Greeting cards taped on the refrigerator door. We rode through the tree farm on a straw-filled trailer pulled by a red and green tractor, looking for a perfect pine. It was so big, Daddy had to cut a bit off so the star wouldn't scrape the ceiling. Lights, ornaments, tinsel. Daddy lifted me up to the mantle to hang my stocking. My dolls stayed up to see Santa Claus, and in the morning they all had new clothes. Grandma carried in platters with the world's biggest Christmas dinner. Joey's Christmas puppy chased my Christmas kitten up the tree and it would have fallen over but Daddy held it while Mama got the kitten out. Daddy said every bad word there was but he kept laughing anyway. I sneaked my favorite plastic horse into the nativity scene, between the camels and the donkey.
     I came back to reality slowly, with a silly smile on my face and a tickly feeling behind my eyes like they wanted to cry. The phrase "visions of sugarplums" took on a whole new meaning.
     "How long has it been," Santa asked, "since you played with a nativity set?"
     "But it symbolizes--"
     "The winter-born king. The sacred Mother and her sun-child. Got a problem with that? You could redecorate it with pentagrams if you like, they'll look fine. As for the Christianization, I've heard who you invoke at Imbolc."
     "But Bridgid was a Goddess for centuries before the Catholic Church-oh." I crossed my arms and tried to glare at him, but failed. "You're a sneaky old Elf, y'know?"
     "The term is `jolly old Elf.' Care for another sugarplum?"
     I did. I tasted gingerbread. My first nip of soy eggnog the way the grown-ups drink it. Fresh sugar cookies, shaped like trees and decked with colored frosting. Dad had been laid off, but we managed a lot of cheer. They told us Christmas would be "slim pickings." Joey and I smiled bravely when Mama brought home that spindly spruce. We loaded down our "Charlie Brown Christmas Tree" with every light and ornament it could hold. Popcorn and cranberry strings for the outdoor trees. Mistletoe in the hall: plastic mistletoe, real kisses. Joey and I snipped and glued and stitched and painted treasures to give as presents.
     We agonized over our "Santa" now we knew where the goodies came from, and we tried to compromise between what we longed for and they thought they could afford. Every day we hoped the factory would reopen. When Joey's dog ate my mitten,I wasn't brave. I knew that meant I'd get mittens for Christmas, and one less toy. I cried. On December twenty-fifth we opened our presents ve-ery slowly, drawing out the experience. We made a show of cheer over our socks and shirts and meager haul of toys. I got red mittens. We could tell Mama and Daddy were proud of us for being so brave, because they were grinning like crazy.
     "Go out to the garage for apples." Mama told us, "We'll have apple pancakes."
     I don't remember having the pancakes. There was a dollhouse in the garage. No mass-produced aluminum thing but a homemade plywood dollhouse with wall-papered walls and real curtains and thread-spool chairs. My dolls were inside, with newly sewn clothes. Joey was on his knees in front of a plywood barn with hay in the loft. His old farm implements had new paint. Our plastic animals were corralled in popsicle stick fences. The garage smelled like apples and hay, the cement was bone-chilling under my slippers, and I was crying.
     My knees were drawn up to my chest, arms wrapped around them. My chest felt tight, like ice cracking in sunshine. Santa offered me a huge white handkerchief. When all the ice in my chest had melted, he cleared his throat. He was pretty misty-eyed, too.
     "Want to come sit on my lap and tell me what you want for Christmas?"
     "You've already given it to me." But I sat on his lap anyway, and kissed his rosy cheek until he did his famous laugh.
     "I'd better go now, Frannie. I have other stops to make, and you have work to do."
     "Right. I'd better pop the corn tonight, it strings best when it's stale."
     I let him out the door. The reindeer were pawing impatiently at the moon-kissed new-fallen snow. I'd swear Rudolph winked at me.
     "Don't forget the hot tea and cookies."
     "Right. Uh, December twenty-fourth, or Solstice, or what?"
     He shrugged. "Whatever night you expect me, I'll be there. Eh, don't wait up. Visits like this are tightly rationed. Laws of Nature, y'know, and She's strict with them."
     "Gotcha. Thanks, Santa." I kissed his cheek again. "Happy Holidays."
     The phrase had a nice, non-denominational ring to it. I thought I'd call my parents and in-laws soon and try it out on them.
     Santa laid his finger aside of his nose and nodded.
     "Blessed be, Frannie."
     The sleigh soared up, and Santa really did exclaim something. It sounded like old German. Smart-aleck Elf.
     When I closed the door, the radio was playing Jethro Tull's "Solstice Bells."  -- author unknown

Don't Call It Christmas
Secularist Fanatics Try to Take "Holy" Out of the Holidays.

December 19, 2003 -- If you like your Christmases straight -- i.e., "Merry Christmas" instead of "Season's Greetings" -- the run-up to Dec. 25 can be a trying time. And this year the grinches are again out in full force, trying their best to strip from our public squares any hint of what most Americans will actually be celebrating come Christmas morn.

In New York City, a judge is expected to rule any day on a public-school policy that forbids Nativity scenes while allowing Jewish menorahs and Islamic stars-and-crescents on the grounds that the last two are secular. Likewise in Palm Beach, the city is being sued by residents who have been denied permission to place a crèche on public property that already features a menorah. In the state of Washington, meanwhile, a music teacher who allowed his schoolchildren a Hanukkah song expunged the word "Christmas" in "Carol From an Irish Cabin," replacing it with the words "white winter."

Even Congress now boasts a "holiday tree" instead of a Christmas tree.

Somehow we doubt that this is what Thomas Jefferson had in mind with his wall of separation. As the Supreme Court put it in Lynch v. Donnelly (1984): "To forbid the use of this one passive symbol--the crèche--at the very time people are taking note of the season with Christmas hymns and carols in public schools and other public places, and while the Congress and legislatures open sessions with prayers by paid chaplains, would be a stilted overreaction contrary to our history and to our holdings."

Yet in fairness to city officials trying to navigate the shoals of political correctness, our high court's guidelines have not been clear and consistent. And its rulings have encouraged the idea that the only acceptable religious symbol in the public square is one stripped of its meaning.

This idea was captured perfectly by the town attorney for Palm Beach, who explains that the menorah on town property is effectively "neutralized" into a "secular display" by its placement next to a Christmas tree. Neutralized. It helps to remember that the only reason Palm Beach even allows the menorah is that the local Lubavitch Center filed a lawsuit back in 1995.

Not least of the baleful influences on our civic life is the implicit message that the way for citizens to gain their First Amendment rights on the public square is via pretense and dissembling. Last year in this space we wrote about a New Jersey town that banned a local Jewish group from erecting a menorah on public property even though it allowed a Christmas tree. With a straight face the city fathers insisted that the tree they put up each December was not a Christmas tree at all but a "tree of lights" commemorating Pearl Harbor.

As Notre Dame Law Prof. Rick Garnett notes, forcing Americans to lie about their religious symbols does as much violence to the First Amendment as any ban. "If the point of the Establishment Clause is to keep government out of the business of religion," he told us, "it's strange to have judges and city lawyers in the business of declaring what people's symbols mean."

And if you think labeling our spruces and firs "holiday trees" is the solution to the season's wars, just wait until the ACLU realizes what the dictionary already makes clear: That the word "holiday" itself comes from the Old English "holy day."

-- Opinion Journal

Pagans Prepare to Celebrate Yule Solstice

Victoria, British Columbia -- The winter solstice, which marks the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, is a sacred day to Heather Botting, a pagan chaplain at the University of Victoria.

It is Yule: the festival to celebrate light, the sun and God. On the winter solstice, which occurs December 22 this year, Botting will lead dozens of students and staff through a series of joyous Yule rituals involving cauldrons, knives, wine, dance, cakes, holly, ivy and stag antlers.

In the Anglo-Saxon and Norse pagan traditions, Yule is the New Year. "For many pagans it is truly the darkest day of the year," Botting says. "For that reason it's the celebration of the rebirth of the sun, and the sun is generally associated with God."

On Yule, the university's interfaith chapel typically churns with pagans marking the return of more daylight hours by swirling in a crack-the-whip-like dance, revering stag antlers because they signify the cycle of life, and dipping a ceremonial knife into a cast-iron cauldron of wine to symbolize the unity of male and female divinity.

After five years as an administration-approved chaplain, with the right to perform marriages at the 30,000-student public university, Botting can't prove she's unique. But, she says, "I haven't been able to find another pagan chaplain anywhere else in the world."

Botting is a pagan (also known as Wiccan) priestess in what might also be one of the planet's most witch-friendly cities, Greater Victoria (population 280,000), where more than 1,000 people officially told Canadian census takers they were pagans.

Paganism is Canada's fastest-growing religion, according to Statistics Canada. The number of self-declared pagans in 2001 grew by 281 percent from a decade earlier. There are now 21,080 pagans in Canada, with 6,100 in the province of British Columbia, of which Victoria is the capital. There are more pagans on the West Coast of Canada than there are, for instance, Salvation Army members.

But Inar Hansen, vice president, or "bard," of the university's 150-member Thorn and Oak Student Pagan Club, argues the census figures only hint at Wicca's rising popularity, especially in Victoria, a major tourist destination. The government data don't count, he says, the many witches who have yet to "come out of the broom closet."

Hansen maintains tens of thousands of residents of North America's West Coast--in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California--practice paganism, often informally and eclectically. "The West Coast has a green, fertile energy," Hansen says, "that tends to attract pagans."

The University of Victoria's acclaimed poet and English professor, the late Robin Skelton, paved the way for sophisticated paganism in Victoria, Botting says. His daughter now runs a large pagan group known as Thirteenth House.

Botting, 55, follows in Skelton's academic tradition. With her Ph.D., she teaches religious studies, mythology and medical sociology. A former Jehovah's Witness who left the religion decades ago, Botting is also co-author of the acclaimed book "The Orwellian World of the Jehovah's Witnesses."

In a rare example of North American pagans moving into the mainstream, Botting and other members of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church won government approval in the late 1990s to legally conduct marriages, after being officially recognized as a religion.

Yule (from the Old English word referring to the winter season) is one of eight big pagan rituals each year, Botting says--even though not all pagans treat Yule as a New Year's celebration; many mark the new year on Halloween on Oct. 31, or what witches call Samhain.

A useful way to think about Yule, Botting explains, is as a celebration of God as "the Winter-born king," as an event which symbolizes the rebirth of the life-sustaining spirit.

In the fourth century, Botting says, Roman Emperor Constantine, a convert to Christianity, created today's Christmas event by borrowing from a highly popular pagan winter festival similar to Yule. Constantine chose Dec. 25, when sunshine hours began to grow longer in the Northern Hemisphere, as the time to celebrate the sacred birth of Jesus. "There are real parallels between the pagan and Christian traditions," Botting says. "In both paganism and Christianity, the winter solstice would be the celebration of the birth of light, of divine light, of regeneration."

Botting says many members of school's Thorn and Oak Pagan Students Club who take part in Yule festivities originally hail from smaller towns.

Before arriving on campus, she says, many tended to practice witchcraft on their own, with books bought from bookstores, which these days sport typically large sections on witchcraft. They might also have enjoyed witch-based shows as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "The Craft" or "Practical Magic." "As chaplain, the students come to see me with standard student issues: They wonder what they're doing with their lives. But they also want to know more about pagan tradition," Botting says.

"Some of them come to our community rituals expecting weird things to happen. Some might think witchcraft is used to magically control people. But they soon learn that's not what witchcraft is about. It's about the Earth and the cycle of life."

Hansen, a 27-year-old pagan leader in his last year of nursing studies, says he and his girlfriend, who helps lead rituals, find many students come to campus believing witchcraft is about casting magic spells. "They're insecure. They're looking for power outside themselves," he says. "But the key to paganism is to `know thyself,' to find balance within yourself and the universe, to feel the life energy, which is both male and female, and realize witchcraft is not about hocus-pocus."

While Botting hasn't witnessed serious discrimination against pagans while she's been on campus, Hansen regrets how the student pagan club's posters are often defaced with phrases such as "Christ is Lord."

Paganism is open to psychic phenomena, but Hansen says the last thing he wants is to revere evil spirits. Many conservative religious people are taught paganism is about worshipping Satan, he said. "But it has nothing to do with that."

-- By Douglas Todd for the Religion News Service

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