Pagan priestess celebrates Halloween, discusses prejudice

By Alex Stradford – Contributor – astradfo@unca.edu

Young divorced mother of two, Angela Pippinger cringes looking at the calendar. Nasty letters remind her of the angst she will receive in a few weeks now that the holiday approaches. It’s her favorite time of the year, though for many different reasons from others.

This year, Pippinger did not receive the customary hate mail, though she usually does around this time of year.

“I used to get emails every year asking us if we really ate babies at Halloween. I’m not kidding you,” Pippinger said.

As a priestess for one of the local non-Christian churches in Asheville, it’s common to receive letters and emails this time of year, but it continues all year long. Pippinger currently works at Mother Grove Goddess Temple and progresses into her fourth year as one of three female priests.

“My official title would be pagan eclectic witch, mostly because I pull in from different religions,” Pippinger said. “I’m very much pagan in terms of the Earth religion.”

But Pippinger accepted paganism recently. It wasn’t until 20 years ago she felt comfortable coming to terms with this newfound religion.

“My father’s atheist and my mother’s Southern Baptist, who didn’t attend church, so I was kind of free to roam,” Pippinger said. “I spent years looking at Christianity, because that was what I was surrounded by.”

When Pippinger moved to Asheville from Baltimore, Md., she joined a local church and eventually baptized herself Catholic. After her own baptizing Pippinger decided she wanted to baptize her oldest daughter. She immediately talked to one of the priests to begin preparing, but was strongly urged against it.

“Eventually I did leave the Catholic church I was attending because they wouldn’t allow me to baptize my child in front of the congregation. Since she was born out of wedlock, the priest said they would be mean to her,” Pippinger said.

But that wasn’t the only dissention she encountered as a Christian. As Pippinger walked to Mass one Sunday, a local street preacher yelled, ‘You’re going to hell’ as she walked to the Basilica of St. Lawrence.

Shocked, Pippinger finally realized she couldn’t escape religious dissention even if she committed to Christianity, but it didn’t stop and it wouldn’t ever stop.

Once she quit Catholicism, she began reading further into Earth religions. She explored the idea, but didn’t commit herself to deeper exploration until she found herself in Asheville. When Pippinger moved to this eclectic city, she felt comfortable enough to explore paganism further.

People in Asheville understand the idea of the holistic and naturalistic, and even if they aren’t pagan they see the connection to the Earth and respect it a lot more than other places, Pippinger said.

“There is no dogma. There is no telling people what they have to do. They are able to tap into what works best for the individual,” Pippinger said. “It’s highly personal, and you don’t have to worry about interpreting a holy book wrong.”

For Halloween, Pippinger celebrates the feminine divine and her ancestors. She places alters in her home and the temple in order to celebrate these spirits. Though Mother Grove Goddess Temple celebrates the feminine divine, they welcome those of every religious background.

“We are open to anyone who honors the feminine divine. So that could be Buddhist, that could be taoist, it could even be Christians,” Pippinger said. “As long as everyone is respectful of each other’s beliefs, anyone is welcomed to worship at the temple.”

Misconceptions about paganism continue because many remain unaware of the foundations of its beliefs. Many people believe pagans worship the devil, which is untrue. Pagans would never associate with something so incredibly evil, according to Pippinger. Many people also believe pagans are hardcore feminists.

“Though many of us are feminists, you won’t see us burning bras in the parking lot,” Pippinger said.

With Halloween approaching, Pippinger will increase her use of magic to communicate with her ancestral spirits.

“When you make a wish before you blow out a candle, that’s witchcraft,” Pippinger said. “That’s the simplest form of it. It’s just setting out a wish with intent and putting it out there to see what happens.”

A negative connotation remains associated with the word and use of magic, which can be traced back to the witch trials dating to the 15th century, said religious studies professor Rodger Payne.

Witchcraft continues to be a widely used ritual among pagans just as any other religion practices their own traditions and rituals.

“Just because it’s not what somebody else believes, doesn’t mean it’s not real,” said Eric Owens, 19-year-old pagan and UNCA student. “Everybody has different spiritual beliefs, and they all connect in different ways, but that doesn’t make one any less than the other.”

Owens also found solace in Asheville to practice paganism.

“It wasn’t until I came here that I felt comfortable to explore further,” Owens said.

The youngest of the group, Owens participates in Pagan’s Night Out weekly meetings, which allow pagans to speak freely of their beliefs among those with common interests.

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