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Web site puts face on pagan religions

Misunderstanding runs rampant, the site's founder says. His online magazine aims to spread understanding and help people meet each other.

By CHASE SQUIRES

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2001


DADE CITY -- When Mike Rodgers heard about a Port Richey couple who ran into resistance trying to build a retreat for their ancient pagan religions, he knew just how they felt.

As a lifelong follower of such religions, Rodgers said he knows the isolation someone who follows a lesser-known path can feel in a country dominated by much larger religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

So he helps publish an Internet magazine from Dade City that strives to unite pagans and spread understanding.

Reading last month about the case of New Port Richey residents Dottye Anderson and Jim Blake, who ran into opposition while trying to build a retreat called Dragon Star Grove, Rodgers said he was glad he was doing something to bring together followers of an often misunderstood religion.

In the case of Dragon Star Grove, neighbors of the proposed site have said that althoughthe pagan religious nature of the development doesn't bother them, the prospect of more traffic on their rural road does.

But no matter how that fight turns out, Rodgers said he knows what it's like to be a pagan and to feel like the world is against him.

Rodgers is a 37-year-old practicing druid. He also has a worldwide voice as webmaster of an Internet magazine dedicated to all things pagan.

"A lot of pagans haven't come out of the broom closet," Rodgers said. "They feel alone and they feel threatened."

The "broom closet" is the way pagans add some levity to the isolation of practicing in secret. The broom is a reference to some practitioners of pagan religions who classify themselves as witches, followers of Wicca and related pagan sects.

Anderson and Blake said their east Pasco project is moving along, now that some confusion with the county's permit office have been cleared up. They both are open about their religion, and Anderson is a published author on the subject. But they both said they applaud the role some Web sites provide for those uncomfortable with going public.

"Most of them seem to offer some good information," Anderson said. "Either information, or a good way for people to get in touch with each other."

The couple said they have been in touch with Rodgers and discussed doing an online interview with his magazine. They also are supporters of another pagan Web site, Clearwater-based The Witches' Voice (http://www.witchvox.com) which boasts 1.6-million "hits" this year and includes an extensive collection of person-to-person ads for practitioners looking to meet others with the same beliefs. Four of the ads are for Dade City residents; another two are from Zephyrhills.

For Rodgers, an online support network is important.

"There's so much misunderstanding out there," Rodgers said. "Some people just can't be open about their religion in their community or at their jobs or even with their families."

Promoting a sense of community among pagans, while opening the religions to the public, is the goal of the online magazine, Ancient Heritage, that Rodgers -- a disabled Army veteran -- volunteers for full time.

"It humanizes us," he said. "One of the first things you do in war is dehumanize your enemy.

"We're just everyday Joes. Your next door neighbor might be a druid," he said. "We're not anything bad or out to harm anyone."

Growing up pagan was a challenge, Rodgers said.

Joining the Army was another.

"When I was in the Army, I just tried to be totally open," he said. "I tried to be open and explain the things I was involved in so that others would understand them."

Among misconceptions, he said, is a persistent belief by some that pagans worship the devil. In fact, he said, the religion has no personification of evil. Satan, he said, is a creation of other religions.

But being open is not the same as actively recruiting new members to pagan religions.

Rodgers said he has never tried to persuade anyone to share his beliefs.

"I don't care how somebody else views their creator, as long as they strive to have a one-on-one relationship with their creator," he said. "We don't push our views on anyone."

The editors of Ancient Heritage Magazine, at http://www.ancient-heritage-magazine.com, define a broad mission on their opening page.

"Embracing the spirit of Paganism, the e-zine offers various sections such as but not limited to parenting, rituals, poetry, politics, art, and crafts," the welcome reads. "Ancient Heritage Magazine is dedicated to exploring the many paths and aspects of Paganism, including Wicca, Druidism, Strega, Native Spirituality, Celtic Spirituality, Shamanism, and countless others."

Inside, the magazine's dozen or so regular contributors, plus many freelancers, offer a range of articles, including editorials on President Bush's proposed faith-based charity support, "The Internet's First Pagan Soap Opera," pagan history, spells and recipes.

Members can use online search engines for pagan study, or set up an e-mail account through the site.

"It's basically a family magazine that is published by pagans," Rodgers said.

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