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Gavin's Underground

Utah Wiccan Alliance

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2008-09-11 -

This Saturday at Murray Park there will be a pride event of a more spiritual nature.  The 2008 Pagan Pride Day will be taking place from 10AM -4PM, with many events to celebrate the Pagan life and show those who are unfamiliar or confused about what it exactly is. One of the Sponsors for the event is the Utah Wiccan Alliance, a group that offers people education into the ways of the Pagan faith, while offering a sense of community and organization among members here in Utah.  I got a chance to chat with UWA Secretary Meg Hafen about the Alliance, how it got started, thoughts on how others view their beliefs, their participation in Pagan Pride Day, and some other topics that came to mind.

Meg Hafen & Joel Olry

http://www.myspace.com/utah_wiccan_alliance

Gavin:
  Hey guys!  First off, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Meg: I'm a single mother of a nine year old.  I'm a solitary witch, meaning I practice on my own and do not belong to a coven.  I've been casting (practicing magick) since I was seven years old, although I didn't realize it until I was seventeen and began learning about Wicca.  I learned about Wicca from watching The Craft.  I get lots of crap about it, because most in the pagan community think it's over done, glamorized, Hollywood version of witchcraft.  But I still love the movie anyway.  Wow, totaling that up I've been casting and practicing magick for 21 years.  Never counted that up before.  As a young girl I was fascinated with witches and ghosts.  I would pick up any book on the subject I could find at the library.  Once I began studying Wicca it opened a doorway to my soul which it had been searching for.  A spiritual awakening I guess you could say.  It all made sense to me, where as other religions did not.  And it made sense as to why I was so fascinated with witchcraft and essentially had been practicing it for ten years naturally.  It was already there in me, I just hadn't found the answer till then.

Joel: My name is Joel Olry, I’m the Press Secretary for the UWA.

Gavin: For those unaware, what is the Utah Wiccan Alliance?

Meg: The Utah Wiccan Alliance (UWA) is a community of Wiccans and Pagans of all traditions.  We want to educate those who are curious or unsure of what Paganism is all about.  And to provide mentorship for those new to Wicca and such.  The UWA also hopes to not only give back to the communities we live in, but to also make a more visible presence known, so our community doesn't feel like it has to hide in the shadows. The UWA was a vision started by our founder Dennis Hobson.  He wanted to create a community for Pagans where we could meet, talk, and grow in a safe environment.  Many other religions have community get-togethers and traditions they can participate in without such fear and misunderstanding.  The Pagan community tends to be run underground, and it can be hard for an individual to find fellow Pagans.  And also to create a positive connection with our communities to give back to, and hopefully coexist with.

Gavin: How did the Alliance first get started, and what have you guys done to grow into the group you are today?

Meg: Well we are still relatively new.  Pagan Pride Day will be our second event.  The first was our Summer Solstice Event, which went great!  It was a smaller turn out than we expected, but I was still impressed. We have been putting up fliers in our communities to advertise our site, again to notify pagans that we are here.  We hope to put out that same message on Pagan Pride Day in Murray.  Two of our council members, hold coffee meetings on Sunday's in Vernal.  And, we have a group Q&A forum on our MySpace page so people can ask questions, and we can post rituals and community information in one place. Our goal is to begin building a website along side with our MySpace page, become a 501 (3) (c) organization, and begin to really reach out into our communities, helping with community service projects, and fundraising for charity.  Along with holding more get-togethers and events with our members.

Gavin: Was there any opposition to it, or were people generally interested in it?

Meg: So far we have not met with any opposition, as we have been focused more on building up members with in the pagan community.  I'm sure we will see some at Pagan Pride Day, and in the future.  But we plan to keep on going, and not let someone else's negativity distract from our positive goals.  The UWA, however, has overwhelmingly been welcomed by other Pagan's.  We get comments and emails on our page about how happy and greatful they are that they are not alone.  That there is a place for them to go to ask questions or just be with other people who believe the same as them.

Joel: There seem to be many people interested in our group and in Wicca in general. I have not seen and opposition to our group, but we are still growing.

Gavin: Your group actually promotes the ideal of all faiths coexisting as one.  What's the response been like from people of other faiths?

Meg: The response of people from other faith's so far has been excellent.  We have members who are more Buddhist then Pagan, and there are many different kinds of traditions with the pagan community.  Even though we are more focused on Wicca, we certainly won't turn anyone away for what they believe in.  "An it harm none, do what thou wilt" is part of the Wiccan Rede.  As long as you are not causing harm to yourself or others, or causing negative actions, you are welcome.

Joel: During our first event, we had a few people from the LDS faith and some Buddhists as well they seemed interested in us, whether out of curiosity or real interest I can not say.

Gavin: Has the Alliance ever set up any kind of programs to educate people about their faith, or do you believe it's up to the individual to seek out the information for themselves?

Meg: The UWA hasn't set up any kind of teachings yet.  We do not believe in pushing our beliefs on other people, or prostalitizing.  However, we are very welcoming and open armed to those who wish to know or learn.  In my opinion, it's because we want to change the misconceptions and stereotypes that are believed about pagans.  But if someone decides it's not for them, there are no worries.  As long as the path is right for that person, it doesn't matter which one they choose.

Joel: For most Wicca is a solitary journey, and we would never discourage anyone from finding what works for them. But, we are a support group of sorts and are more than happy to pass on our knowledge.

Gavin: I notice you guys also support a lot of charities.  Can you tell us about some of them?

Meg: Ah, the charities.  The council members all have charities that are close to our hearts, and we all want to support each of them at the same time.  For instance I've been diagnosed with MS since February 2005, and am a survivor of domestic violence.  So, I want to support the Utah MS society chapter, Rape Recovery Center, and the Family Justice Center of Salt Lake.  Dennis and Rowan would like to support homeless shelters and no kill animal shelters.  In fact we haven't picked a charity yet to support at our booth for Pagan Pride Day.  It will probably be a local no kill animal shelter since the economy has forced families to give up their pets.  We do our best to vote on one charity to support at each event, but all will be local.  It's hard because we all want so much to create a positive change for those in need.

Gavin: This Saturday is Salt Lake Pagan Pride.  Tell is about it as well as the events planned.

Meg: The theme for Pagan Pride Day this year is 'Getting Back To Our Roots'.  So it's more of an educational festival this year, which is perfect for what the UWA wants to provide, and where we are right now in our growth.  Our booth will have general information about the UWA, and Wicca.  We will also have palm readings (done by me), Tarot card reading, massage, and Reiki.  Along with council members who are ready and willing to talk and answer questions about the UWA and Wicca.

Joel:
The UWA is not one of the organizers of this event, but we are proud to be a part of it. As of right now we do not have any events planned but we will be discussing it in council and I'm sure we will be doing more events in the future, and soon.

Gavin: I also saw you'll be donating to the Utah AIDS Foundation Food Bank.  What should people bring to donate?

Meg: One item of non-perishable food is required for admission to Pagan Pride Day.

Gavin: You guys also promoted the Ogden version of it a few weeks back.  How did that go?

Meg: Ogden's Pagan Pride Day was fantastic.  Yes we did promote and advertise it, again as part of our goal to reach out to the community and a place for other pagans to find out about community events.  It was a great turn out for a first year, and I can't wait for the next.  Everyone was so pleasant and kind.  Hopefully the UWA will be able to participate then.

Gavin: A little state-wise, is there anything you think could be done to make things better for members and the Alliance in Utah?

Meg: Making things better for pagans and the UWA requires talking.  A stronger more open presence, which many people are afraid of.  People have been divorced from their spouses for becoming Wiccan.  More education is certainly needed for outsiders to gain tolerance.  That really is the main issue and what would make things better, since people fear what they don't understand.

Joel: Acceptance is our may goal, we would like to be recognized as a positive group and not broom riding witches.

Gavin: Do you ever have groups who protest or threaten you over your faith, or is Utah pretty mellow about that?

Meg: So far we haven't had that experience.  Again this is an example of how underground the pagan community is.  We have even sent bulletins, on our MySpace page, reminding our members that if they go to Pagan Pride Day they may be outed as a Pagan.  This could, for some members, create dire consequences.  As we grow I'm sure more opposition will occur.  But we will cross that bridge when we get to it. 

Joel: My experience has been that most people are pretty accepting. But as stated before we are a small group right now, who knows what the future holds.

Gavin: Do you ever get concerned over the stereotypes out there about your faith, or do you just brush it off and chalk it up to ignorance?

Meg: We are concerned, but at the same time we realize it is because of a lack of education, a long history of being demonized, and conventional media subscribing to the "traditional" form of a witch.  You know, the pointy hat, green skin, long nose with a wart.  Once people learn and realize that this is a religion and belief system practiced long before Christianity, by many ethnic backgrounds all over the world, it's not so scary anymore.  We don't eat babies, or drink their blood.  We don't sacrifice animals, and we don't cast evil spells.

Joel: We have talked about this, and there are indeed a lot of misconceptions about Wicca and witches. Rather than blow it off we would like to educate those who would like to now.

Gavin: What do you guys think of national and world-wide organizations like the Pagan Federation or Covenant Of The Goddess, and what they do to promote the faith?

Joel: They are wonderful  and we respect them for what they do.

Gavin: What can we expect from the UWA the rest of the year?

Meg: Well, that will be discussed at our next council meeting right after Pagan Pride Day.  I know we will want to have another event to celebrate one of the major Sabbaths.  However, I don't know which one.   We all have families and kids, so at times it can make it tough.  I caught wind the other day of a possible temple space we could use, which would help since the weather will be getting colder.  I know that will certainly be on the agenda.  What I can tell you for sure, is we will continue to reach out to our fellow Pagan's to provide support and mentorship, and a helping hand to our community.

Joel: More events and growing in our community

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Meg: Come on out to Pagan Pride Day.  Come learn about our traditions, and who we are.  If you have been curious to learn more, or know someone who is Pagan, but just aren't sure what to think, then join us.  It will be an incredibly positive event, and tons of fun.  And the UWA encourages you to pop by our booth for info, fun, and to please make a donation.  100% of the proceeds we receive will go to the charity we name. And check us out on our MySpace page!

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