It was sweet to see Selena Fox in the news. And on the autumnal equinox as well.
Gotta love the autumnal equinox – a mysterious time of the year, the day’s length changing so fast.
Thereâ€™s an irony to the timing of this hubbub, says Selena Fox, 60, who led her first Pagan ritual in 1971.
Twenty-five years ago, almost to the date, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina) â€“ who Fox says called Wiccans Satanists â€“ led the charge to try to pass legislation that would have taken away tax-exemption status for Wiccan churches. This attempted infringement on her churchâ€™s constitutional rights led Fox and others to form the Lady Liberty League, to educate lawmakers and others, dispel misconceptions and promote Pagan civil rights.
â€œIt was the first time in American history that Wiccans, other Pagans and those of other religions and belief systems came together to defeat an unconstitutional piece of federal legislation directed against the Wiccan community,â€ she says.
Pagan, she explains, is the â€œumbrella term for nature religion practices with roots in Old Europe.â€ Wiccans represent one branch of Paganism, as do Druids and Heathens, for example, she says.
Nailing down the exact number of Wiccans and practitioners of related Pagan paths in America is next to impossible, Fox says, in part because of peopleâ€™s fears of discrimination. But her church, which sits on a 200-acre nature preserve, has been in contact with more than 250,000 practitioners in the U.S. since it started in 1974. Sheâ€™s also heard estimates that the U.S. numbers are anywhere between 500,000 and 1 million.
Numbers measured by the American Religious Identification Survey, most recently completed in 2008, suggest that practitioners may be getting more comfortable owning up to their beliefs. Those identifying as Pagans jumped from 140,000 to 340,000 between 2001 and 2008, according to the survey.The number of Wiccans skyrocketed as well in that time frame, climbing from 134,000 to 342,000.