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Healing under a dark moon

Druids, Wiccas, Pagans unite to heal New Orleans

Published: Thursday, September 8, 2005

Updated: Saturday, September 19, 2009 15:09

Many local organizations have used their talents to coordinate efforts to help the hurricane victims of New Orleans, but few of those efforts have involved walking silently through the woods in black attire.

That is exactly how one group of people began their relief work last Saturday night. Area Wiccas, Pagans and Druids gathered under the dark moon (a moon that reflects no light and therefore appears absent) for a lunar circle. The group, made up of students, professors and local citizens, convene on nights of both dark and full moons.

Because the participants have faced stereotyping in the past, they asked that their names not be used. They were, however, willing to explain their practices.

Druids, Wiccans and Pagans practice a religion based on pre-Christian rituals and beliefs.

Marty Laubach, Assistant Professor of Sociology of Religion at Marshall, said the religions are derived from many sources, some stemming from modern influences.

"The counterculture of the 1960's, American culture of the 1960's, the feminism movement, the gay rights movement, the ecology movement, the ethos of spiritual seeking during that time period and a lot of Americans tracing religious roots all led to the explosion of Neo-Paganism in different places," said Laubach.

Wiccans hold the earth and nature sacred, and believe in multiple gods and goddesses. Most followers choose to study one or two of these deities, rather than the entire group.

Saturday night's group first met in a gift shop amid herbs and oils, statues of various Wiccan gods and goddesses and a steaming fountain. A belly dancer walked around the room in full costume and a man played a drum while sitting on the floor. The smell of incense burned in the air.

Once everyone arrived, instructions were given to sit on the floor so people could introduce themselves before they went to practice magic together.

The group, comprised of six women and four men, took turns talking about their backgrounds in magic, their favorite deities and what had brought them to the meeting. Most of the individuals had practiced alone before, but were seeking a community of other Wicca, Pagan or Druid followers.

At 11 p.m., the group moved to another location chosen by the two group leaders. In the darkness, the group silently stumbled through the woods, stopping only twice along an unlit path with branches to the right and a drop-off to the left.

They first stopped at a bridge they called the crossroads where they lit incense and then continued along the path. Laubach said the crossroads could symbolize many different things such as a coming together, different directions a person can go or different possibilities.

At their second stop, the group circled around the interior of a gazebo where one of the leaders unpacked and repacked a backpack of various items he had been carrying. The leaders of the group passed each member a bottle of oil containing various herbs associated with the moon. They spread this oil on their hands, wrists and heads as the group leaders explained that tonight's spell would be directed toward healing the suffering in New Orleans.

Once they reached their final destination, an area of land filled with tree roots protruding from the earth, the group performed the first step of the spell by creating or casting the circle.

Members formed a circle, placed three candles in different directions around the group and lit incense.

Next came the invoking of the quarters. This practice is performed to call out the elemental spirits associated with each direction desired for the ritual.

The group began to circle around and then began running as they performed the next step, raising the energy. The energy raised drives a spell. There are a variety of ways to raise energy, but the most common is dancing or chanting.

Members of the circle then sat on the ground, most on hands and knees to ground the energy, or release the energy back into the ground through the body and into the earth.

The leaders proceded to hand everyone a small piece of incense, asking him or her to offer it to the earth. Members scattered it to trees, roots and soil, setting their incense down.

"Every object in nature is associated with a spirit or has a spirit. They gave these objects in honor of the spirits of the area," Laubach said.

When the participants returned to their feet, they moved to the next step in the ritual - thanking the deities and releasing the spirits from the quarters. Turning to the north, south, east and west, one group member at each direction said their thanks and released the spirits while the group chanted, "hail and farewell."

The last step in the ceremony was the releasing of the circle and the consuming of cakes and wine. Similar to communion at most churches, each person within the circle received an oatmeal cake and sip of wine. Members not only ate these cakes, but also crumbled them into the ground as an offering to the earth.

When all the steps had been completed, the group walked back down their earlier path and, once again, stopped twice, first at a dilapidated brick shed surrounded by trees.

Here each member silently examined the shed and trees then gave their opinions. The group came to a general consensus that the shed did not exude a positive feeling, while the trees were positive protectors.

The group moved on to a flower garden filled with budding plants.

"How many times can you actually say, I stopped to smell the roses," one of the leaders said.

The group's next gathering will be Sept. 16 during the full moon.

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