Several lawmakers came late to avoid her. One turned his back in protest.
While the rose-haired witch prayed for the Iowa House of Representatives on Thursday, others in the audience were praying for her soul.
Though there have been rabbis, imams, and priests, it was the first time anyone could remember a pagan witch delivering the morning blessing for legislators. Their reaction was decidedly mixed.
Wiccan priestess Deborah Maynard, from Cedar Rapids, called on “God,” but also “Goddess,” and “Universe.” She called on the four elements—air, earth, fire, and water—to lend wisdom and strength. She called on the fifth element, spirit, to help lawmakers “respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”
Rep. Liz Bennett (D) said she invited Maynard in an effort to show that Iowans are diverse and inclusive. Bennett had been asking all the spiritual leaders in her community—including a Lutheran pastor, a pastor from a gay-affirming church, a rabbi, and a Zen Buddhist.
She believes Thursday was the first time a Wiccan ever had the honor of leading the invocation. “But I had really expected it to be like any other day in the legislature,” Bennett said.
To her surprise and disappointment, there was something of a stir. That morning, more than half of representatives skipped the Wiccan prayer, according to the Des Moines Register.
Rep. Rob Taylor (R) attended, but turned his back during the blessing. This, he believes, is what Jesus would have done. “Jesus would be in the chamber, from my perspective. He would passively protest,” he told reporters.
Pastor Mike Demastus from the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ was in the audience balcony leading his own prayer for Maynard’s soul. “I was praying for her salvation. I was praying that she would come to know the one true God,” he told Radio Iowa.
“We feel that this is completely out of sync with the traditions of our state and our nation to seek guidance from the occult,” he said to the Register.
Michelle Gute came to pray so as to counteract Maynard’s Wiccan prayer. “I don’t want any demonic influences on the people who are making decisions on our behalf,” she said to the Cedar Rapids Gazette.
The Iowa House has been host a variety of religions. Just on Wednesday, an imam had given the blessing. “Oh most merciful Lord, instill affection and compassion in our hearts and set matters right between us so that we can live and work in peace and harmony,” said Mohammad Kahn from Mosque An-Noor in Des Moines.
Wicca is a pagan faith that stresses the interconnectedness of the cosmos and a spiritual relationship with nature. Maynard is apparently the third pagan in the nation to lead the opening prayer at a state house.
In 1999, Cleda Dawson delivered the invocation at the Oregon State Senate. While carving the air with a knife, she called on the power of water—its “quiet sensitivity, deep understanding, humane compassion, and sensuous pleasures“
In 2009, Reverend Selena Fox, the high priestess of Circle Sanctuary, gave the morning blessing at the Wisconsin Assembly. According to pagan Web site The Wild Hunt, Fox helped Maynard prepare her prayer for the Iowa House.
Bennett, a first-term representative, used to be an organizer for the marriage equality effort in Iowa. She said she wanted to show that Iowans welcome people in all their differences. This was a value she said she learned growing up in the Quad Cities on the Illinois border.
“I attended a Catholic school and one of the things that stuck with me is that we were taught to look around us and see if anyone was sitting alone at the lunch table,” she said. “I’ve always looked around me to see who might be left out.”
Full text of Maynard’s prayer:
“We call this morning to God, Goddess, Universe, that which is greater than ourselves to be here with us today.
By the earth that is in our bones and centers us: May all here remember our roots and those whom we are here to represent.
By the fire that gives us light and passion: May all here remain passionate about the work that must be done for the people of Iowa.
By the air that gives us breath and logic: May all here find thoughtful solutions to the problems that are presented.
By the water that flows through our blood and stirs our emotions: May all here draw on that emotional intelligence which helps us to see the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
We call this morning to spirit, which is ever present, to help us respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. Be with this legislative body and guide them to seek justice, equity, and compassion in the work that is before them today.
Blessed Be, Ah ho, and Amen.”