Witches Against Religious Discrimination -
Louisiana Chapter
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Wiccans at Work
Alternative spirituality comes out of the dark

Even today, many Wiccans, pagans, and others who subscribe to nature-based religions are not quite out of the office broom closet.

Witchcraft and its modern form, Wicca, have their roots in seasonal, pre-monotheistic folkways. Pagans, such as Druids, adhere to earth-based beliefs. Though different, Wiccans often refer to themselves as pagans to avoid explaining a rather complex belief system. All Christians aren't Southern Baptist or Catholic, and neither are all pagans Wiccan or Witches. Though difficult to get an accurate count, most estimates put the pagan community in the United States at one million.

New Diversity
Many Wiccans or pagans find their co-workers to be receptive to their spirituality. Alison Szul, a practicing Wiccan for seven years, lives on Long Island and is a customer service trainer for a cable company. At first, Alison didn't reveal her beliefs because she wondered how others would react. Over the past three years, however, this has changed. "Usually they are inquisitive and shocked," Szul says. "But after I explain, they are fine with it."

Management asked her to perform a banishing ritual to rid the establishment of negative energy.

Andrea Diamond is a Brooklyn-based massage therapist who has been a practicing Wiccan since 1994. Whenever interviewing for a job, she would keep her pentagram--silver with a moonstone in the center--hidden. But at the spa where she now works, her religion seems to be an asset. Not only was she asked to teach aromatherapy rituals to her co-workers, but spa management also asked her to perform a banishing ritual to rid the establishment of negative energy. She says of her co-workers, "they're very down to earth and spiritual. They have been very understanding."

Diamond knows, however, that many fellow pagans have had different experiences. "I know a lot of Wiccans who don't tell their co-workers," she says, "for fear that people won't react well."

Old Prejudices
The same fear keeps "Maria" (who asked that her real name not be used) from revealing her spirituality at work. Maria is a human resources assistant for a financial service firm in Manhattan. She has been a practicing pagan for seven years. "I work in a relatively conservative environment," she admits. "I have a good job with good benefits and I don't want to blow it. I know they couldn't fire me legally, but people might treat me differently. I could get a bad performance review, and then who knows?"

In a previous position, also in human resources, Maria was heavily involved in the interview process. One day, another interviewer jokingly said of an applicant, "maybe she's a Wiccan." Maria felt scared--and angry.

"I said to the person, how do you know that any of us aren't Wiccan?" Maria has seldom spoken to her co-workers about her religion. But, she admits, in the rare instance when she confided to a colleague the nature of her spirituality, she was met with not with hostility, but with curiosity.

Legal Remedies
Darla Wynne, assistant national director for Witches Against Religious Discrimination (ward-hq.com), says that most pagans are not comfortable discussing their spirituality at work. Those who do are the exception. Headquartered in Great Falls, SC, with regional offices in 42 states nationwide, Wynne's organization receives as many as 620 inquiries per year from pagans who allege religious discrimination.

Pagans who make no secret of their religion are frequently harassed. WARD recommends that they follow their employment guidelines for filing a grievance. Furthermore, WARD may contact the state human rights commission on their behalf, or the EEOC, and help them find a pagan-friendly attorney. "I talk to their bosses, try to find out what the real problem is," says Wynne. "The majority of the time, it's the other employees who feel the need to push Christianity on their co-workers."

But WARD cannot always help a pagan who has experienced discrimination in the workplace. "Instead of fighting it or standing up, most will move on quietly to another job," she says. This is due, primarily, to the negative connotations still associated with paganism and witchcraft. "It's amazing how easy these things can be blown out of proportion. The local TV news reporter gets wind of it and the next thing you know," Wynne says, "your face is plastered across the TV."

Though Wynne does not advocate discussing religion on the job, she does encourage Wiccans to be honest and open about their spirituality. "Once people find out what you're about, they're a lot more understanding and respectful," she says.

So, wear your pentagram openly and proudly. If someone has a question or concern, discuss it outside work.

Lisa Smith has covered venture capital, pre-IPO companies, biotechnology issues, and minority entrepreneurs for print and Web media. Originally from Austin, TX, she now makes her home in New York City.

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