MURRAY Gretchen Faulk is, as she says, "not in the broom closet." This is a bit of pagan irony about witch stereotyping, but it's also the truth. Unlike some people who are witches, Faulk isn't afraid to be public about her beliefs.
Faulk is a Wiccan and founder of The Order of Our Lady of Salt, one of three Wiccan churches that participated in the fifth annual Pagan Pride Festival on Saturday at Murray Park. The festival drew Wiccans, druids, pre-Viking Asatrus and other groups that fall under the umbrella of pagan.
It was cold and occasionally gloomy, but the atmosphere was cheerful as pagans held workshops on color divination, rune magic and shamanic healing. In the early afternoon, there was a Norse ritual led by Eagles Kindred of Utah and Hart's Hearth Clan.
"I give you the blessing of Frey," Kelly Richan of Ogden said as he walked around the large circle of festivalgoers and anointed each person with a pine bough dipped in apple juice.
Paganism, explained Aisling DreamRange, includes "people who practice earth-centered spirituality and people who practice non-soteriological religions" in other words, those that don't believe humanity is in need of salvation or a savior. Pagans don't believe people need "third parties" to intercede with gods, added DreamRange, regional coordinator of Pagan Pride.
"I'll tell you my beliefs," she added while sitting next to the festival's "interactive deity altar" featuring gods, goddesses and artifacts from more than 30 "indigenous traditions."
"I believe in God, as Christians believe in God. I just don't believe he's the only god," she said.
Some pagans are also members of other religions.
"There's one woman who is Mormon and Wiccan," DreamRange said. "She calls herself a Morwic."
Pagans also believe humans are a part of nature, "not the top of the food chain," DreamRange added.
According to Halley Vaughan, who bills herself as "the story witch," there are several hundred pagan families in the Salt Lake area. There is also a Scouting program called Spiral Scouts.
At the Church of the Sacred Circle booth at Saturday's festival, Wiccan Tara Sudweeks Willgues, also known as Rev. Heron, talked about Project Ares, which makes small kits for pagan soldiers serving in the U.S. military in Iraq and other countries. The kits, which fit inside a converted Altoids tin, include prayers to various gods and goddesses, a military pagan blessing, a vial of protective oil, salt, incense, a stone and a sea shell.
"It's our answer to pocket Bibles for soldiers," said Rev. Heron.
Faulk, who grew up Protestant, said she was drawn to paganism because of its goddesses.
"I think I really needed that motherliness in my life, that idea of being cared for and loved that I hadn't found in any other religion," she said.
From the Inquisition to Hollywood, there has been no end to the portrayals of witches as evil, said festival coordinator Lisa Gift. "When you assign your worst fears to an entire group of people, that's giving them way too much credit," she said.Gift said there have never been any protests against the Pagan Pride Festival. Utahns, she said, "don't believe in being rude." Besides, she said, "Mormons believe that every belief system has an element of truth."