Pagan Pride Day Honors Spirituality; and We Don't Worship Satan, Say Advocates of Nature-Based Endeavor

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Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY

Statistics are hard to come by, but many pagans - adherents of modern or ancient forms of nature-based spirituality - are becoming more organized.

Jacksonville resident, college student, mom and pagan Elizabeth Ziemba said the trend derives from a need for the strength that comes in numbers.

"It's so ... we can have equality in society and have our religion recognized legally," Ziemba said.

One step in that direction is being taken today, when pagans of all varieties convene for Pagan Pride Day 2007 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Jacksonville.

The Times-Union spoke with Ziemba about what it means to be a pagan in the Bible Belt.

WHAT IS PAGANISM?

It's so broad. The term paganism is an umbrella for a lot of different faiths. It's similar to the way Christianity is used - there are lots of different branches.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THOSE BRANCHES?

There is only one that is legally recognized, which is Wicca. ... There's Druidism, and then there's Reclaiming. Celtic is really big, Egyptian is huge. There's something called the Green Path, which is nature-based. And then there's a really formal branch, which is called Gardnerian. ... It's a form of Wicca that's very formal, very well established.

WHAT DOES THE WORD "PAGAN" MEAN?

For the most part, it's an ancient word for "country dweller." Back when Christianity was starting and people were converting, apparently many people in the country were the last to convert. The word just stuck.

SO THE TERM REFERS TO RELIGIONS THAT EXISTED BEFORE CHRISTIANITY OR OTHER DOMINANT FAITHS?

Yes. Each area had their own [spirituality]. They worshiped different gods and different aspects of nature. It was all based on when they planted, when they harvested, when the sun shone.

IS MODERN PAGANISM AN ATTEMPT TO RETURN TO THOSE EARLIER TRADITIONS?

Yes. It's trying to get in tune with nature, to follow the natural cycles of life and death. …