Beliefnet
INDIANAPOLIS, Sept. 25 (AP)--Amid the swirling cigarette smoke in a downtown coffeehouse, the ancient pantheon of pagan deities comes alive, conjured up over coffee in the conversation at two adjoining tables. The Indiana Asatru Council, a group of modern pagans who worship old Norse deities and a smattering of other gods, has gathered for its weekly meeting.

Between drags off cigarettes, the talk meanders from Thor--the lightning-wielding god of thunder--to the mysteries of the universe and then to the internet, the medium that's helping this tiny religious community to grow.

Wiccans, Druids, shamans, goddess-worshippers, and people who revere members of the ancient lineup of Roman, Greek, Egyptian, and Celtic deities are showing up online and in public more often these days. Modeling their emergence after the gay pride movement, many pagans say they are "coming out of the broom closet"--a wry reference to the witches among them.

"The internet has given these minority religious movements a public forum."


"We're everywhere. We could be your neighbor or co-worker and you wouldn't even know it," said James McCoy of Kokomo, Ind., a computer software designer who spends hours online each day with fellow pagans.

Not long ago, most pagans preferred to keep their beliefs secret, fearful of the public's mistaken belief that they are devil-worshippers. There were no coffeehouse meetings for them.

Brenda Brasher, an assistant professor of religion at Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio, says the cyber-realm has allowed isolated believers to connect with like-minded individuals as never before. It also provides a way to wage an inexpensive public relations campaign to burnish their beliefs' reputations.

"The internet has given these minority religious movements a public forum to say, 'We don't do evil things, we don't cast spells and we are environmentally minded,'" Brasher said.

Going online also allows pagans to foster Pagan Pride events, such as last Friday's autumnal equinox. At such public gatherings, pagans gather in the full regalia of their particular groups, frequently eager to engage the general public.

Suzanne and Duke Egbert, an Indianapolis couple who serve as high priestess and high priest of a coven of about three dozen people, run an internet site that helps plan pride gatherings nationwide.

The Egberts, both 32, started the website in 1998, and that year they organized about 20 pride events. Last year, that rose to about 55; this year about 70 Pagan Pride events are slated in Canada and 36 states.

That includes Pagan Pride Day on Saturday in Indianapolis' Broad Ripple Park that's expected to attract hundreds. Admission is a can of nonperishable food that will be donated to a local food pantry.

The Egberts, who have two children, were both raised in traditional religions, she a Roman Catholic and he an Episcopalian. By their early 20s, both had found Christianity lacking in many areas, particularly tolerance, as their intrigue grew in pagans' reverence for nature and emphasis on the free will of the individual.

"Most religions will tell you that their beliefs are right and everyone else is wrong," said Duke Egbert, who goes by the pagan name Dagonet. "We believe we are right for ourselves. My religious path is exactly right for me. Other people's religious paths may be right for them. I can't judge that."

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