Beliefnet

LOS ANGELES--On a recent sunny afternoon in early October, Wiccans, Satanists, Druids and sorcerers gathered for the Second Annual Pagan Day Festival, an event in which the weird and unusual seem commonplace.

But in a community where members complain of frequent "witch wars" and many view Satanism as little more than a reaction to Catholicism, the festival provided an opportunity for pagan groups to learn more about each other and for the public to learn about them. "One of the greatest strengths of paganism is one of its problems: It is individualistic, but there is no unification," said Renie Payne, a 52-year-old practicing Wiccan and owner of the Dragon Song Store.

Propped comfortably in a wheelchair, Payne tended to customers who studied her assortment of gargoyle candlesticks and herbal aromas. Payne said she's been practicing witchcraft since she was 12. "My mother was a Catholic, my Dad a Mormon, and I was raised Baptist. How else was I supposed to turn out?" she said.

Several dozen vendors, musicians and authors gathered under the shady trees on Oct. 7 in West Hollywood Park for the festival. Young Wiccan mothers strolled by holding their infants while a few punk-rocker types with pierced noses and spiked hair gravitated to the booth selling satanic literature. Another booth advertised a Pagan 12 Step program as a method for recovery. In the background, the voice of Frank Sinatra sang "Witchcraft" and "Old Devil Moon."

The festival was sponsored by Panpipes Magickal Marketplace, a Hollywood-based occult supply shop. Panpipes managers and co-owners Jymie Darling and Vicky Adams are the festival's organizers. "The entire idea of the festival is to promote tolerance outside and inside the pagan community," Darling said. "There's always been a dividing line between these groups and it's ridiculous."

In keeping with their theme of community spirit, Darling also invited Panpipes' Hollywood neighbors, the Church of Scientology. "They turned us down cold," she said.

For those groups who did attend the festival, many say that it's important to be visible as a community. "I think, overall, the community is more supportive of each other than divided. We're not a small collection of isolated individuals. We're proud of who we are," said Todd Covert, national administrator for the neo-pagan Druid organization Arn Draiocht Fein (pronounced arn ree-uckt fayn).

Covert, who wore a colorful shirt with "Born again Druid" printed on it, relaxed in his shaded booth with fellow Druids. He said the pagan community is really like any other religious community: There's support along with tension. "I'd like there to be more community and less backstabbing," Covert added.

Tension did seep into the festival when Panpipes co-owner Darling discovered an angry circular distributed by the store's former managing consultant. Apparently, the two are in the midst of a contract dispute, and Darling responded by publicly addressing the handout.

But despite the brief discord, the festival continued as if nothing had happened. "I thought it was handled correctly by the fact that she went to the mike and opened it up to everybody," said Del Howison, co-owner of Dark Delicacies, a store that sells books and souvenirs for horror fans. "She was saying, `This was no secret, deal with it as you may.' It stops the cliquishness and the gossip," Howison added. Inside his booth, customers thumbed through copies of "Creepy Little Bedtime Stories," an illustrated book for young children.

When asked if the festival's idea of pagan unity might only be temporary, Howison balked. "Everything is temporary. We go to war and we know it's not forever. If permanence qualifies for success, then nothing is a success," he said.

Meanwhile, a large group of curious males gathered around Panpipes Occult-a-Go-Go Dancers. The performers were two females scantily clad in black bikinilike costumes who jiggled to the music of DJ Dingo Babynibbler.

At the booth hosting the Syndicate of the Five Points, members answered questions about Satanism. Do Satanists worship the devil? No, they reply, Satanists do not worship any sort of anthropomorphic deity. Do Satanists engage in criminal behavior? No, they say, Satanists believe in social responsibility.

Nearby, a muscular, bare-chested young man named Robert thrusted a sword into the air and posed. He sported numerous tattoos and chains, black leather boots, and long, flowing brown hair. He wore spiked gauntlets around his wrists. As young women giggled, a photographer snapped pictures. "Robert's a perfect example (of how) you can be a Satanist and still be a nice person," said one female Syndicate member.

As the afternoon drew to a close, Renie Payne reflected on the festival's theme of pagan unity. Her only regret, she said, is that the festival didn't play up pagan support for the ongoing American effort to fight terrorism. "I really think that we should use (the festival) to show the world that we can come together. Look, we're Americans, too," she said.

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