Intolerance of the Occult

The following is an article written by Louise Taylor (staff writter) for the Wednesday, July 25 2001 issue of HERALD-LEADER.
This article is reproduced without permisson.

Carol Davidson showed up at her shop last week to find a handwritten note stuffed in the front door.
``Your store and its items are straight from Satan and the pit of Hell,'' the unsigned letter said. ``Make your future business plans because thousands of Christians in this area of Lexington will be praying for God to cause this business to fail quickly!''
A curse? Well, maybe not technically, but it has a certain ring, considering it was affixed to the door of Personal Pathways, a new shop in Lexington that caters to those who follow occult religions. The store, which began promotions on the radio a month ago, has raised the hackles of some, including the letter writer and several anonymous callers.

In an in-your-face response to their critics, the owners are advertising that they are protected by the Constitution. Among mainstream Christians, talk of witchcraft has historically raised concerns in many communities, including Lexington. The Rev. Russell Howard, pastor of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, said he had not heard of the store, but that he does not approve of witchcraft nor does he approve of any threatening behavior toward the owners of Personal Pathways.

``Religious freedom is, ironically, a Baptist ideal,'' Howard said. ``We Baptists believe that allowing people to exercise what they believe tells us where the lost people are. It behooves us to show people outside of Christ that they are lost.''
As for Personal Pathways, the owners are not talking Satanism, but of religions that preceded Christianity or, in some cases, have grown out of new Asian or other religious movements.

Davidson, a former medical clerk and current witch and high priestess, shrugged off the fire-and-brimstone note. Calmly, she and co-owner Sheila Bilbrey, a Clark County deputy sheriff, said they decline to call the police about anonymous threats.
``I refuse unless they get physically violent,'' Davidson said. ``I am not going to give them the satisfaction of calling the cops. Plus, I trust the deities to take care of it.''

The deities? Most of Davidson's are the Old Norse gods you may have read about as a child. Thor, god of thunder and friend of humans. Tyr, the harsh god of justice. Odin, the father of all gods, the Norse equivalent of Zeus. Witches have been persecuted in this country since the 1692 Salem trials, but these days they've got rights, federally protected ones, just like Christians, Buddhists and Muslims. Pagan religions are protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution, courts have ruled several times. Wicca, an ancient religion based on nature, is officially recognized by chaplains in the U.S. armed forces, and Wiccan circles meet at some bases. Davidson and Bilbrey opened Personal Pathways on May 1. Their ads have brought more customers and more detractors. ``People automatically associate witchcraft with devil worship, and it is just not true,'' Davidson said. ``Instead of one god, we believe in many. We do healing work. We accept others; they should accept us.''
(The 17th century gave rise to that one meaning of ``witch'' as someone who had a pact with the devil, but the term had existed for centuries without the negative connotation.)

Bilbrey said some clients turn to witchcraft to solve their problems. ``We tell people to go through the proper channels first if you have a medical problem, go to a doctor,'' Bilbrey said. As tarot and rune reader Michael Haste sees it, a lot of the religion associated with ``neopaganism'' is like pop psychology's positive affirmation classes in essence, the power of positive thinking. ``You sit and visualize yourself having friends and after a while, you have friends,'' he said.

``No matter what anyone says, the supernatural doesn't exist. Everything is a manifestation of the real world.''
Personal Pathways sits back on Regency Road, tucked next to the Electrolux vacuum store. Davidson, Bilbrey and their friends say they are equal-opportunity occultists and merchants of religion; they even sell some Christian books and items. But their main thrust is the offbeat religions whose movements have been growing in the United States since the 1960s.
``There are a lot more pagans out there than people realize because we don't recruit, we don't proselytize,'' said Haste.
Davidson operated another store, Sixth Sense, on North Limestone for three years but decided to hook up with Bilbrey for a better location.

At Personal Pathways, for $25 a pop, you can take a gander at what the future holds from a crystal ball, tarot cards, your palm, or ancient Norse alphabetic runes. You can take classes in those subjects as well as Wicca, tai chi, Reiki or, if shaking it is your thing, belly dancing. You can buy oils as basic as sage or as complex as dragon's blood or ``Forget Him,'' a potion to get over that guy who hangs around you like a bad debt. Here you can find many a pentacle, those five-pointed stars representing spirit, earth, air, water and fire surrounded by the circle of life.

Walk past the racks of witches' clothing and into the book room and take a look. Books on Feng Shui and Reiki, a Japanese healing movement that has many followers worldwide. The I Ching, a pretty basic text for many Chinese. Books on stregheria, the ancient Italian form of witchcraft. Flying Without a Broom. The A to Z of Wicca. Books by Edgar Cayce, a devout Christian from Hopkinsville who remains, 56 years after his death, an acclaimed seer. The business is growing, especially since the radio ads started, Bilbrey said. Next month, expect TV ads along the same lines of ``Freedom of religion means any religion!''
But witchcraft, Bilbrey cautioned, doesn't turn its practitioners into inhuman beings out of fantasy novels. No flying brooms. No bubbling cauldrons of fo-fum blood of an Englishman.

Hey, they're human. ``I've actually had people grab a lighter and say, `Hey, let's see if you burn!''' Bilbrey said. ``And I'm like, `Hey, that's assault.'''

Reach Louise Taylor at (859) 231-3205 or at ltaylor@herald-leader.com
Shop catering to alternative religions, including Wicca, receives anonymous threats

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