An article in Sunday's Metro section incorrectly identified Charles Butler, a Wiccan priest and ordained pastor of Ecumenicon Fellowship in Beltsville. (Published 11/02/1999)
Carol Hollfelder rides in a wheelchair, not on a broomstick. When she wants speed, she climbs into a Ferrari and chases other cars around a racetrack. When she wants spiritual fulfillment, she prays to Father Sky and Mother Earth.
Hollfelder, 31, is a witch. But she's not the evil, black magic, Satan-worshiping practitioner many people associate with the term, the California office worker said yesterday morning during a ritualistic gathering of Pagans at the Lincoln Memorial.
Instead, Hollfelder follows ancient, earth-centered teachings that find divinity in trees, rocks, birds, animals and people--and find solace in the positive forces of the universe. "Witchcraft is a religion," said Hollfelder, who broke her back in a motorcycle accident 12 years ago. "It's not so much about spellcraft."
Hollfelder--also known by her Wiccan name, Arachne--joined about 200 other Pagans in Washington this Halloween weekend to share that message with tourists, senators, representatives and anyone else who wanted to listen.
"We are publicly displaying our rituals to show society who we are and what we really do," said Helen Roper, 44, a single mother of six and president of Gaithersburg-based Blessed Be Pagan Unity Inc., which organized the two-day event. "We want people to say, 'I met the witches and they are not what people think they are.' "
On Friday night, the Pagans gathered in a drumming ritual under a moonlit sky at the Jefferson Memorial. They chanted, danced and sang in honor of their ancestors. Then they observed three minutes of silence "to heal the Mother Earth."
Yesterday, they gathered on the hallowed ground of another presidential memorial, trying to gain attention amid the rush of hundreds of tourists traipsing up and down the monument's steps. The strategy drew few onlookers, in part because the announced 10 a.m. start was delayed an hour by what one organizer called "Pagan Standard Time."
But the daylong series of spiritual practices finally got underway: a Wiccan ritual for Samhain, the ancient Celtic name for Oct. 31; Tambor to Oggun, a Santeria service honoring Orisha, god of the forests and hard work; and the lively Radical Faeries ritual, performed by a gay men's group.
Many of the Pagans, or Wiccans or Druids as some prefer, had remained at their central gathering place, the Days Inn Gateway Hotel on New York Avenue NE. Some slept in after staying up until 3 a.m. Some went to workshops on Tarot, candle making, ethics, teenage witchcraft, raising pagan children and ritual design.
Others chose not to appear in public in daytime, protecting their anonymity for fear that exposure might bring reprisals on their jobs or at school, said Pombagira, a 38-year-old Washington freelance writer who asked to be called by her Pagan name.
The biggest misconceptions are that Wiccans are connected to Satanism and that witches are devil worshipers, she said. "Most pagans are not devil worshipers. The Devil is a Christian idea. It's not one of ours. We don't know about that guy. He has nothing to do with our reality."
One purpose for gatherings such as this weekend's, several pagans said, is to give private Pagans the courage to "come out of the broom closet."
"That time is past," said Jim Higginbotham, 40, a member of Blessed Be's organizing board and an aerospace engineer from St. Louis who works on Boeing F/A-18 fighter planes. "It's time to step out into the daylight and tell the public about who they are." He became an eclectic Pagan eight years ago after becoming disenchanted with organized Christianity.
Many are professionals--lawyers, accountants, doctors--or homemakers who practice one of many strands of "earth-centered traditions," Higginbotham said. According to a 1996 poll taken at conventions and festivals, there are more than 300,000 Pagans in the United States, he said.
And not all are "pagan" in the strictest sense of the word, said Charles Sullivan, a Wiccan priest who coordinated yesterday's rituals beside the Reflecting Pool. Sullivan also is an ordained pastor in Ecumenicon Fellowship, a national multifaith movement with member groups in Beltsville, Lanham and Baltimore. Another is forming in Falls Church.
Born in Brazil to Presbyterian missionaries, Sullivan says he is a Christian and attends Silver Spring Presbyterian Church, where the members accept his various religious pursuits.
"They know my journey is wide," he said, just minutes before leading a prayer circle invoking the divinity "by whatever name you call It" to be with the Pagans on this day. Behind the memorial, a partial moon hung in the bright blue sky.
CAPTION: Charles Butler, of Beltsville, conducts the Tambor to Oggun, part of a Santeria ritual, in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
CAPTION: A necklace seen at the Pagan gathering sports a pentacle, a symbol of spirituality and magic.