When you think of faith, do you think of Islam? Buddhism? Judaism? Christianity? Do you ever consider the Nature Religions, the Contemporary Pagan faiths that include (but are not limited to) Wiccan, Druid, Heathen, Pantheists and those who understand Nature as their religion?
Too often, the paths of Pagan faiths are dismissed or ignored. This month I work toward learning more of Contemporary Pagan religions. I owe a great debt to the leaders and practitioners interviewed below. They span the spectrum from the self-defined “baby witch,” Megan Cascio (she/they), to Raven Fabal (she/her) who practices her faith and gives care to individuals who contact her through social media, to Reverend Selena Fox (she/her) senior minister, High Priestess, and founder (in 1974!) of Circle Sanctuary near Barneveld. Each of these people speaks of their queer identity as connected to their religious faith.
To be clear, people who follow Wiccan paths and other paths of Contemporary Paganism are too often attacked by majority culture and people from other faith traditions. Just as for queer people, Contemporary Pagans may feel the need to hide their identity to be safe. To help protect and uplift, Rev. Fox’s activist work includes serving as the Executive Director of the Lady Liberty League, a Pagan civil rights and religious freedom network sponsored by Circle Sanctuary.
Megan, Raven, and Selena were each born into Christian faiths and have varying relations with those traditions. Interestingly, none expressed disdain for those who believe differently than them, accepting all, as long as their faith is rooted in true, encompassing, inclusive love. Imagine if all faith leaders felt the same?
In their journeys, both Raven and Megan speak of their great wonder of the Divine and Rev. Fox also speaks of the call to faith leadership from an early age. But all were shut down by exclusivist interpretations of Christian faith.
For all, wonder was, and is, at their core. Megan’s wonder led her to “so many questions!” Raven told me that she was kicked out of Bible study for asking too many questions, and, if you spend time with her, you hear her ask many questions—questions that are discerning, honest and always filled with the joy of learning.
Selena felt the call of nature religion all of her life, feeling a special relationship with nature and the Spirit, but she followed her parents’ practice of Southern Baptist Christianity. For Rev. Fox, a moment of change came in 1967 when she was a senior in high school. She had the unusual opportunity for a girl in a strict, patriarchal faith, to give a youth sermon along with two male classmates. She decided to bring social justice into the space, speaking to a purpose in developing interfaith ministry to the immigrants in her community who “were impoverished and needed support.” The sermon did not go over well and Rev. Fox got the distinct impression that the “interfaith ministry I was proposing shocked people.” That’s when she realized that she needed to leave that Baptist church. After that experience, she explored a variety of different paths before discovering Paganism.
This search for faith resonates across all the stories I’ve heard from Wiccan and other Contemporary Pagan believers. Experiences of exclusion and limits of love could have led them all away from faith, but instead, they each, in their own way, felt the call to search for faith that resonated. They searched through other Christian denominations, Buddhism, and Hinduism. In a world that dismissed Pagan faiths, it took a journey of uncovering to discover their path in Contemporary Paganism.
For Rev. Fox, the journey was brought into focus when she was an honors student at the College of William and Mary. In the desire to understand her courses in Classical Greek and Roman society, culture, and language better, Rev. Fox convinced her professors to hold a re-creation of a Pagan Rite of Spring. What she and some others gained “was not just a wonderful educational experience,” but spiritual transformation. Rev. Fox says that, “calling to the divine with some ancient names opened alignment within myself that began my journey as a Pagan priestess.”
For Megan, an unexpected gift brought them to Wicca. Their mother bought them a book called, to the best of Megan’s memory, What the Hell is Wicca. The book enthralled Megan and led them to study more from other books, websites, and conversations. They found that nature faiths gave them “that little joy that’s like, ‘Oh! That piece goes right there!’” They have grown in their learning of nature religions and Wicca, and love how much “our Mother Earth and the Gods and Goddesses have to offer us,” adding that what they feel in Wicca “can go for other religions” and what those religions’ understandings of “Divine power has provided them.” Megan says they can talk for hours about their faith and practice. Megan blossoms with the joy that in Wicca, “each person’s journey is their own,” and there are so many different branches to faith spinning out from the umbrella terms. Megan embraces how much the Divine of Nature has to offer, becoming a common ground for all faiths.
Raven found her path open up in a moment of distress. She was 18 when her brother outed her—he saw her kissing her girlfriend. Her mother threw her out of their home, and Raven says that moment resulted in “a hysterical fit as I ran out into a violent lightning storm” that “suited my mood.” In her exile, she found freedom with a friend, “John, the tri-sexual,” so named, “because he would ‘try’ anything,” who gave her the space where she “could be myself, be anything, do anything I wanted … it was wonderful, the freedom.” The affirmation of not being made to think she was bad gave her time to heal. It was during this time that a youthful interest in Contemporary Pagan paths started to give her the peace to open herself to faith and leadership.
Rev. Fox tells of her own moment of exposure, but for her it wasn’t just coming out of the closet, it was “coming out of the broom closet” as she says it. Though she was a public Contemporary Pagan minister and priestess in Madison, she had kept her faith and leadership from her Southern Baptist family. But in 1979, Time magazine sent reporters to cover a gathering of Contemporary Pagans. The reporters were particularly interested in a wedding that Rev. Fox officiated, a traditional hand-fasting. They even ran a photo of her holding the broom from the ceremony high overhead. She was outed nationally and internationally. But for Rev Fox, her family had raised her to understand that “love is a foundational concept,” and she sees that truth “across many world religions, probably all of them depending on who you talk with.” She also adds, “It isn’t so much that I have rejected Christianity, but I included a much wider circle of expression.” In fact, today Rev Fox sits on national interfaith organizations alongside people of many faiths and traditions and is active in interfaith work.
In each of their stories, Megan, Raven, and Selena, inhabit and create truly welcoming spaces for all who are marginalized, whether from racism or Queerphobias or any other forms that exclusion takes. The three faith leaders here, like so many of us, have experienced faith spaces that are not welcoming or worse—are actively hostile. Megan recognizes that harm can come from practitioners in Contemporary Pagan practice too, but they rarely encounter people like that in their life or practice. When they do, Megan takes the time to “to redirect them and inform them,” though not all are ready to listen. By far most of the people in Pagan faith Megan meets are welcoming and affirming.
Raven feels that the nature of Pagan faith is one that is “very accepting and a lot of ‘non-traditional’ people are drawn to it.” She states that she’s “seen everyone from full on flamboyant Queens to quiet gay couples and everything in between,” and all are “happily participating in Pagan rituals and ceremonies.” Raven also takes a stand that it is absolutely necessary that each person must practice welcome, stating, “We can’t be true to ourselves, we can’t have faith that’s all accepting, if we don’t practice that for ourselves.”
Rev. Fox notes that she cannot speak for all in Contemporary Pagan religions, and that the umbrella of paths is vast. But she does feel that most are growing and adapting, just as the world has been growing and adapting and that most are affirming of LGBTQIA+ people.
It is refreshing to speak with people in faith who have at their heart inclusion and true welcome for queer people. It is powerful that these leaders are queer themselves. In this world where transgender youth and adults are under renewed attacks, targeted for political gain, these three remind us that there are faith leaders who embrace love and speak toward justice. Rev. Fox spoke of her long work for LGBTQIA+ rights, and her acceptance, in particular, of transgender people. In the late 1970s, Rev. Fox was co-facilitating a women’s conference in which a transgender woman was participating. There were other women present who did not want the woman who was transgender to be there. Rev. Fox says that there are moments when you have to make some choices. She stood up for the transgender woman, which caused some of the other women to leave the group. More recently, in 2015 before marriage equality became law, Rev. Fox also participated in an interfaith ceremony affirming inclusive marriage rights of couples in gay or lesbian relationships. In that ceremony, she left the stage and went among the people for a hand-fasting ritual, a literal “tying the knot” of committed love.
Megan, Raven and Selena speak of the internal call, and the call from their faith, to be of aid to others, to do good, and to speak for justice.
Raven refers to her call as if it were, “a big, shiny, red injustice book. I absolutely abhor injustice, and I’ve always been the one who would stand up and advocate for someone who couldn’t speak for themselves. As I’ve grown older I know now that there are whole communities that are unable to properly speak for themselves.” Raven feels guidance from the goddesses Hecate and Erzuli in her call to justice. “Hecate,” she says, “helps people find their way,” and Erzuli “stands up for all women and stands up for anyone and everyone who needs to be aware of theirself.”
Megan speaks of care for others through channeling energy and reading Tarot pulls. Sometimes the messages she sees in her work are not what she, or the people she is reading for, want to hear, but she finds that honesty, even if it hurts, helps people find their paths.
And Selena’s long history of work in “activism is intertwined with my spirituality. It’s a way of putting love in action.” And she does put love in action with an impressively long list of actions, including anti-racism work and queer affirmation starting in the 60s, uplifting of the marginalized everywhere in her work through Circle Sanctuary, and as an active member of Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice now.
Ultimately, the queer truth that sits with Megan, Raven, and Rev. Fox is that we are all family, and in deep relationship with nature. We are all called to justice and to care for others—whether human or animal—and for all who cannot speak for themselves, or whose voices are silenced.
Vica-Etta Steel is a Vicar at St. John’s Lutheran where she preaches and does outreach. She also serves as a public chaplain at the Madison Farmers’ Market, at coffee shops, and on Tik-Tok. It is her joy to work with people across the spiritual spectrum who have returned to their queer family, Jewish, Pagan, Christian, to name a few, and the many atheist and agnostic people who taught her how to believe deeply in love, in community.