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Wiccans support their own
They answer a call in a woman's bid to offer "spiritual counseling."
By JODIE TILLMAN
Published June 6, 2007
[Times photo: Lance Aram Rothstein]
Teresa Gurnell, a Wiccan who wants to offer "spiritual counseling" at her New Age gift shop speaks at the New Port Richey city council meeting on Tuesday.
NEW PORT RICHEY - Evening fell, and the Wiccans arrived at the appointed hour.
Wearing sundresses, jeans and pentagrams, they took their places. They and their fellow pagans pledged allegiance to the U.S. flag, heard the proclamation of June as hurricane awareness month, and listened to a shout-out to the garden club for its dedication to the planter at Main and Bank streets.
And then, one by one Tuesday night, they approached the New Port Richey City Council and spoke of constitutional rights and diversity, admonishing the mayor for his questioning of Wiccan Teresa Gurnell last month.
"Your comments to me were very inappropriate, " Gurnell told Mayor Dan Tipton.
Last month, Gurnell appeared before the council to request approval for her to offer "spiritual counseling" and classes at her New Age gift shop, the Dragon Den.
City code says nothing about whether such services can be located in the downtown, so the council had to decide whether to allow such services as a "conditional use."
Gurnell faced tough questioning from Tipton last month. He wanted to know whether the counseling included witchcraft and whether she planned on trying to visit the dead.
Gurnell was frank: "Deceased people come to give me messages for people."
So was Tipton: "Okay, I'm not going to support this."
Her request passed that night, 3-2. But she needed a second, final hearing. She put out the word in the pagan community, through word-of-mouth and pagan Internet sites. About 50 or so showed up, some of them saying they wanted the mayor to know they aren't all that different from other people.
"I live in a gated community. I'm a Republican, " said New Port Richey resident Michelle Flood, who is a Wiccan, before the meeting. "And I vote."
Regalia was kept to a minimum. Two shamans arrived in heavy black robes, looked around and thought better of it. They returned to their car and came back in black jeans and T-shirts.
They spoke for nearly an hour. A "medicine man" who lives on Meadow Lane, the reverend of a Druid grove and others, including a man who said Gurnell had given him bad advice in the past.
Even former deputy mayor Bob Langford admonished Tipton. "I think the Constitution of the United States protects this very thing, " he said.
Then the council prepared to vote again. Tipton thanked everyone for turning out but said none of them had changed his mind.
Nor did council member Bob Consalvo, who said nearly all the correspondence he had received from residents was against the spiritual counseling classes.
The measure passed, 3-2. The council moved on to an amendment to a building code ordinance and the crowd moved outside, with less spiritual plans.
"Hey, Michelle, " one called out. "What's the name of that restaurant on 19?"