Have yourself a Wiccan little holiday

WICCAN PENTACLEA Christmas controversy has been brewing between the Green Bay City Council and an atheist-rights foundation that objects to holiday displays at city hall.

Shocking news, huh? But there is more.

In response to the fuss, the city has allowed and encouraged other religious traditions to put up holiday displays, including a Wiccan wreath and pentacle. The atheist-rights group Freedom From Religion Foundation still objects and may file a lawsuit to protest any religious symbols on public property.

As a reader of ours pointed out, while the reporter’s focus is rightly on the political and legal issues, it overlooks the viewpoint of the Wiccans who put up the display:

Shortly after its installation, a passer-by mistook the display for the Jewish Star of David, which is a six-pointed star.

An Appleton man connected to a state Wiccan group called Circle Sanctuary of Madison dropped off the latest display at City Hall on Friday afternoon.

“That’s pretty,” [Council President Chad] Fradette said shortly after a City Hall maintenance worker set up the display. “I’m glad there’s something else up there.”

After Fradette’s display was installed and he and Mayor Jim Schmitt publicized that the display area would be open to other religious displays, the city received six requests, mayoral assistant Andre Jacque said.

I love the fact people confused the Wiccan symbol for the Star of David, and the quote from the city hall maintenance worker is a keeper. I just wish we could know the tone of voice he used.

Including the views of the Wiccans would have of course made for a deeper story than the traditional Christian v. Atheist paradigm, but that might complicate things and break the mold. We wouldn’t want that, would we?

For that viewpoint, check out the Wiccan group’s website:

“If there are to be holiday displays with religious symbols on public buildings and property, those displays need to accommodate America’s religious pluralism. I sum this up as: Many, if Any, ” said Rev. Selena Fox, Senior Minister of Circle Sanctuary, one of America’s oldest and largest Wiccan churches, which is based near Barneveld, Wisconsin.

Perahps the atheist group could be included in the “many” that are allowed to put up displays at city hall?

Feel free to send us compelling Christmas-related stories that break the traditional mold. We’ll post the best of them.

Photo from Circle Sanctuary.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00368463715994694203 FrGregACCA

    This, of course, begs the question: what symbolizes atheism per se, as opposed to atheism-cum-humanism, Marxism, nihilism, or protest atheism? I guess what immediately comes to mind for me is that picture of John Lennon with the word “Imagine” underneath it, but that has political implications as well. A picture of Feuerbach, perhaps, with one of his aphorisms?

  • Jerry

    I’m also in favor of breaking the mold. But the question is how far to go before anarchy results. Would the following buttons blown up to a suitable size and enclosed by a wreath be ok?

    Yin yang with Christian fish and Darwin fish

    The ways are many… The Light is one! (with graphics of Yin/Yang, Kokopelli, Ankh, Pentacle, Cross, Star of David, Muslim Star/Crescent, Sikhism, and Buddha)

    (or even) Militant Agnostic. I don’t know, and you don’t either!

    http://www.nancybuttons.com/

  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NonDualBibleVerses/ Eric Chaffee

    All is not well in the public square when a Wiccan installation got driven over intentionally in Olean NY last week.

    Such behavior is indicative of the wrongly circulated notion that America is a “Christian nation.” That position would seem justify the tyranny of the majority, but it is without merit. Yes, the founders were of various Christian denominations; but they saw fit to enshrine tolerance for all belief systems in our founding document. And they worded that provision very carefully, indeed, brilliantly.

    Shame on those who would trash the First Amendment, along with a sectarian symbol representing another point of view. Hate crimes perpetrated by those who purport to love him who was crucified for loving too much!!! Shame.

    ~eric.

  • Brian Walden

    Which holy day are the Wiccans celebrating? From the article it seems like they’re just doing it to protest Christianity, which only fuels religious hatred. I’m all for allowing all religions to publicly celebrate their holy days and liturgical seasons, but it’s nonsensical to have a display from every religion for every holiday.

    Luckily Catholics have an age-old solution for this type of thing – sneak someone up there with some holy water during the night and consecrate the star to Christ, making it the Star of Bethlehem for the nativity scene.

  • Kate

    @Brian, Yule is celebrated on the Winter Solstice, which is Dec 22nd this year.

  • Brian Walden

    Thanks Kate. Now there’s a religion story. I’d bet most Americans, myself included, are completely ignorant of how Yule is celebrated. I’d love to see a story about how the group who put up the star is celebrating this holiday. I think it would make a great local religion story.

  • http://none Justin

    As an individual who places himself in the Atheist bucket I can say that protesting this kind of display is useless and serves no purpose other than to inflate ones own self. Individuals who fight any religion tooth and nail are guilty of the hypocrisy that they despise. People need to stop being so caught up in symbology and start respecting one another based on their merits and actions as human beings. I personally have felt what it is to be told I am wrong and nothing is more frustrating than being judged by your beliefs as an individual by someone who is unwilling to listen. And I will say, “Merry Christmas” to any who are willing to accept it.

  • Asinus Gravis

    The notion that “atheism” has a clear cut meaning is dubious at best.

    One early use of the term, in Plato’s writings, indicates the questioning or denying of the reality of the gods and goddesses of the Greek religions of the 5th – 4th centuries BCE.

    A related use is when it was applied to the followers of Jesus because they refused to perform the rituals of the Roman religions, including worshiping the Emperor.

    Therefore there is potentially a form of atheism that is correlated with each form of theism; for every conception of god there is a form of atheism that denies the existence of that sort of god.

    The bottom line is that there is no clear way to have a symbol that covers the entire spectrum of atheism. A crossed out star of David would symbolize only one sort of atheism. A cross that has a slash across it would symbolize a different sort of atheism. A dunce cap would symbolize the more run of the mill, intellectually lazy version of atheism.

  • Bob P.

    The bottom line is who really cares. Religion is supposed to live in your hearts and your home. As far as John Lennon goes, if I hear one more person comment on how “Imagine is about atheism, I’ll puke. It’s about people just being people without any of the bull that causes wars, etc. And yes, religion has ALWAYS caused wars. The reason why Christmas is on December 25th is because the church decided that they would hold it at the same time the Pagans celebrated the Winter Solstice. Yes, Virginia, the Pagans were Europes leading religion when Christianity was in its infantcy. Grow up and look the other way if it bothers you too much. If you can’t do that then do what most Christians have done in the past. Start a war and kill for Christ!

  • http://www.draknet.com/proteus Judy Harrow

    Dear Brian and all

    There’s more information on the Yule festival “>here, and quite a few other places around the Web.

    Essentially, we celebrate the return/rebirth of the Sun after the longest night. Historically, this festival was most important in Northern Europe, where the nights were longer and the winter much more severe. Many of the specific customs were adopted by the new religion when it arrived in the North.

    I wish the blessings of the returning light and the coming spring to one and all!

  • http://www.draknet.com/proteus Judy Harrow

    oops, that link didn’t work. I tried agsin, and it did not come up in the preview. Don’t know what the problem is. Sorry.

  • Mike

    Celebrating Any religion is fine with me, but what I do have a problem with is, I don’t think there is any real point to any of this. It’s no longer is about the recognition of one’s theological disposition, rather the diluting of another’s…

  • Stephen A.

    I think the Wiccan Yule wreath is fine (though why not a Yule Log?)

    But when someone tried to come down to city hall with a wreath emblazoned with a cross wrapped in the American flag, in some cheeky political statement on the eradication of the differnce between church and state, and another brought a “peace” display to represent unitarian-universalism, the mayor called a halt to this little experiment.
    http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071217/GPG0101/71217010

    It’s kind of pathetic that this has to turn into an ACLU circus, and the resulting media coverage will no doubt focus on all those darned fundies trying to force a theocracy on us all – or on how the “war on Christmas” is all in their heads. Suuurrre it is.

  • Bev

    The news here is a little bit behind on the Green Bay pentacle. A man went and tore it down and when sighted in the act, he drove off and left his ladder there. Reports are here, here, and here. Also, I like the coverage from a pagan point of view by blogger Jason Pitzel-Waters here.

  • str1977

    Bob,

    Imagine is about atheism.

  • str1977

    “Yes, the founders were of various Christian denominations; but they saw fit to enshrine tolerance for all belief systems in our founding document. And they worded that provision very carefully, indeed, brilliantly.”

    Is that so? How do you know how carefully they were in wording that provision?

    Tolerance for all belief systems is not the same as the naked public square. Tolerance … something that this atheist group has still to learn.

  • Brian Walden

    I don’t know much about politics, but it seems like a good type of policy might be to require the signatures of a certain number of people to get a permit to put up a religious display on public property and that the application must be filed a certain number of days before the event. Nothing too stringent, but enough to make sure that there’s actually a group who wants it and not just a couple of individuals like what Stephen A described. And the advance submission would give the town time to resolve conflicts and stop any other shenanigans before they start.

  • SouthCoast

    I’m not offended by the wreath. The pentagram/pentacle was used as a symbol by early Christians, representing the wounds of Christ. So we have, therefore, in this one installation, the beginning and the end of the Lord’s life on Earth! Entirely unintended, but one can’t help hearing distant echoes of divine laughter.

  • Jerry

    How do you know how carefully they were in wording that provision?

    There are very extensive historical documents of the period. Just one example, the Treaty of Tripoli signed in 1796 said in article 11:

    As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Tripoli

    I think one of the fundamental problems is that, depending on one’s bias, people focus on two different eras. Those who think America is or should be Christian focus on the early puritan and other settlers such as John Winthrop. Those who feel otherwise focus on the Deist founding fathers and such documents as I’ve cited. It’s an old, old debate.

  • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog.html Jason Pitzl-Waters

    A couple things:

    First. Green Bay wasn’t in a battle with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (which is based in Madison). FFRF was threatening litigation against a smaller Wisconsin town and Green Bay’s City Council voted to erect a Nativity in order to get involved in the fight.

    “After the vote, Fradette declared, “I’m trying to take this fight to the people who need to be fought. I’ll keep going on this until this group imposing Madison values crawls back into its hole and never crawls out.” Fradette also warned that he would reach out to the Alliance Defense Fund and the Liberty Counsel for legal assistance in helping him defend the display. Those groups are renowned for carping about an-out-of-control secular America trying to yank Christianity from the public square.”

    So this display was no act of religious piety, it was a baldly political move. In other words, they did it to pick a fight with “Madison values”. Not very Christian of them (no doubt some will be saying it was very Christian of them, but its the holidays and I want to be charitable).

    Secondly, the weekend after the Pentacle wreath was erected it was vandalized and hasn’t been put back up. In fact, the City Council voted on Tuesday to not allow any other religious symbol (except the Nativity) to be placed on City property until they write up guidelines (at some undefined future point). The Council was split on this issue, and the Mayor (who was quoted as saying that it was “wrong to allow a Wiccan display next to the nativity scene”) cast the deciding vote.

    So what does any of this have to do with Christmas? Nothing. They WANT the atheist group to bring litigation. They wanted to place themselves on the front lines of the “religion in the public square” debate. The initial claims to plurality were smoke and mirrors (the mayor didn’t even realize the wreath was sent by Pagans). The Pagans in this case were an unwelcome complication in a ongoing turf war between Christians and atheists.

  • Jeff

    dpulliam,

    You seriously NEED to check your facts before spouting off that this is a situation on equality and that all are allowed. Sure that’s how it all got started…until the Wiccan display was vandalized, not allowed to be put back up, and then the city counsel voting to allow the Nativity scene to remain, but refusing ALL others until new guidlines can be established on the convenient date of Dec 26.

    So you do NOT have situation of ALL are welcome, but rather a situation of prejudice in saying OURS is the only acceptable and valid display. CLEARLY unconstitutional.

    Furthermore the mayor himself has made many public statements reflecting the attutude that a fight is exactly what he was looking forward to.

    For the record, I am NOT Christian. In fact I am Wiccan, and proud of that fact. To you who would say Christ is the reason for the Season, you are in some way correct. Christ is in fact the reason for YOUR season, but not mine. I celebrate Yule, the Winter Solstice; it just so happens that Christmas CONVENIENTLY coincides with my season of celebration…which has been celebrated long before Christmas was ever concieved.

  • http://orthodoxinparsonsks.blogspot.com/ Will Harrington

    Bob P. Just a historical note. When i looked into the date of Christmas verses Saturnalia, i was struck by one fact. Christmas starts one day after Saturnalia ends. What this means is that when all the rest of the populace was out partying the christians were fasting and praying. Yes, advent is supposed to be a time of fasting and prayer, not office parties and shopping. Then, when everyone else goes back to work with a hangover, Christians started their twelve days of Christmas, A fast free time of celebration beginning with the feast of the Nativity and ending with the feast of Theophany. Far from borrowing the pagan holiday, the Christians used a difference of one day to dramatically seperate themselves from the pagan celebration.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2677 dpulliam

    Yes Jeff, we need to do an update to this story. And thanks to Jason for providing us with all the links and news of what has developed.

  • Christopher W. Chase

    It is worth pointing out that although she is not directly commenting on the Green Bay nativity scene, Starhawk’s recent blog entry over at the Washington Post/NewsweekOn Faith” center (“Let’s Celebrate All Deities“) is worth keeping in mind when considering Rev. Selena Fox’s views on interfaith at Yule.

  • http://www.xanga.com/harmony0stars/ Candace

    There are many symbols of Yule, many of them adopted early on by Christianity. Holly, ivy, mistletoe, the “Christmas tree,” about the only symbol that is an entirely Christian Christmas symbol is the nativity. I’d be happy enough if they put a “christmas tree” up, knowing that the tree itself is an ancient symbol of the holiday from the perspective of many Pagan religions. The Wiccan star is all fine and dandy, but I’m not Wiccan (I’m a Pantheist) and I don’t see that the symbol (aside from the touch of evergreen around the rim) has anything specifically to do with the holiday of Yule. I have to agree with others that putting the star up was a “cry for attention” on the part of the Wiccans. If they really wanted to put up something signifying the Pagan aspect of the Winter solstice, there were a lot of other symbols they could have chosen. Obviously for the sake of equality, I’d like to see as many groups display their holiday spirit as space allows, but I also value honesty and I don’t feel the Wiccan group who put the star up are being honest (maybe not even with themselves). I admire them for their desire to call attention to themselves (and deal with the consequences), but I think maybe they have not thought their motivation through entirely.

  • http://www.geocities.com/hohjohn John L. Hoh, Jr.

    First. Green Bay wasn’t in a battle with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (which is based in Madison). FFRF was threatening litigation against a smaller Wisconsin town and Green Bay’s City Council voted to erect a Nativity in order to get involved in the fight.

    The small town was Peshtigo, north of Green Bay and on the other said of the namesake bay. Peshtigo is know in northern Wisconsin for its famous fire that was more devestating in lives, property, and area than the Chicago Fire. Ironically, both occured on the same night.

    One small detail left out is that someone wanted to put up a Festivus pole. That’s when the common council decided to delay applications until later.

    Certainly policies about such displays need to be developed and implemented and cognizant of valid faiths. Would Rastafarianism be valid and what is its holy days and symbols?


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