HOW HEALTHY IS RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY IN THE MONADNOCK REGION? Lyrion ApTower, Wiccan High Priestess The Granite Tower Strawberry Meadow Wilton, NH 03086 There is an infinite number of Spiritual Paths (religions) not only in the Monadnock Region but worldwide. It can therefore be construed that the diversity of faiths is very high and therefore healthy. However, each individual must have the core freedom to choose – or create - his/her own unique interpretation of Divinity. Like snowflakes, no two will be identical, but will be the souls’ beautiful yet indescribable expression of its connection. I would therefore change the principal question to address the more troubling issue of: How Healthy is Religious Tolerance in the Monadnock Region? In my opinion, to coerce another person into adopting a particular spiritual view is a grievous sin against the deeply intimate yearnings of the infringed soul. The invalidation (by “social control” in the form of ridicule or demonization) of another’s highly intimate relationship with Deity is one of the greatest crimes against humanity and is responsible for many of the world’s problems today. Prejudice against “Other” is still alive and kicking violently and makes the issue of the health of Spiritual diversity irrelevant but puts the wellbeing of Spiritual tolerance at the brink of death. In the tradition of Paganism that I, and many in New Hampshire practice, Wicca/Witchcraft, the Wiccaning Ritual does not dedicate the baby to a specific God or Goddess. That is seen as obliterating the child’s soul’s quest for its own unique Spiritual Path -- which may take the child’s entire lifetime to find. Instead, with the baby encircled by loving family and friends, appropriate Deities are asked to protect and bless the child in its journey but the soul of the child is not sold into spiritual bondage of any tradition. Religious conversion at sword point as a condition of life itself, citizenship, marriage, civic status, job opportunity, or education was perpetrated by, and suffered by, virtually every religion throughout history and sadly continues today. Wicca is one of the last to be accepted as a serious, positive, and uplifting experience of Gods and Goddesses. Today’s Witches valiantly try to find Deity reflected in every man and woman. How-ever, echoes of the fear and hatred spewed during the Witch Hunts of the mid-late 1600s in New England are never far from our minds and often make that recognition difficult. Even in September 2010, the workplace is not safe for many who wear the Pentacle around their necks. Schoolyards are particularly vicious areas for Pagan children who innocently talk of speaking with their dead grandmother at Samhain (Halloween) when we believe the veil between the worlds is thin. At this time of year, one need only to look at the ridicule and demonization of the Wise Women who used Nature’s healing herbs in their early New England communities. Intolerance and fear are still alive when those healers are now caricatured as ugly, warty creatures supposedly in league with the devil. Sadly, the practice of Witchcraft is a very common accusation hurled by divorcing couples and is frequently the deciding factor by an ill-informed judge or magistrate. In all fairness and honesty, there are high profile power-craving individuals who allegedly practice Witchcraft yet are so removed from its positive healing tenets and family values that they give the rest of us a fearsome reputation. Intolerance can no longer be viewed as something that happens “over there” to “those” people. It strengthens when gravestones are defaced, rocks or bombs hurled through church/temple windows, or a Pentacle is ripped from the neck of a schoolchild right here in the Monadnock Region. As we know too well, the swastika is no longer recognized as the symbol for life and good luck of ancient Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese and Native American cultures. It is spray painted on local synagogues threatening that the Nazi mindset of hatred and intolerance is alive and nearby. The inverted pentacle is a common sight found on cement walls in squalid underpasses. Intolerance is endemic and virulent everywhere – Peterborough, Temple, Jaffrey, Troy, Dublin, upper New Hampshire and across all state boundaries. The need of many lonely, disenfranchised and angry people to be on a winning “team” perverts the higher principles of a nurturing, inclusive Spiritual Community into a manifesto of coercion and bullying. Ask yourself, do your Deities care who “wins” or is it you, your Minister, Elder, Imam, Pastor, Priest, Priestess, or Rabbi who is keeping score of the largest congregation? Is there righteousness merely in numbers alone? And where, in all this winning and losing is there time for cherishing and nurturing the human Spirit? There is an incredible richness and joyous treasure to be had by participating in, or observing with an open heart the celebration of infinite ways all souls connect to Deity(ies) -- through pageantry, colors, smells, foods, dances, chants, silence, meditation, history, lore, tradition, music, and costumes. So long as the Spiritual Path uplifts and ennobles its practitioner, strengthening him/her to bring the light of compassion and healing to others, even outside their own faith, then no matter the name of the Path, how recent or ancient its lineage or numerous its adherents, it is valid and deserving not merely of tolerance, but celebration. But perhaps I hope for too much from that last word “celebration”. History may record that instead of celebrating the myriad Spiritual connections, fear and intolerance finally killed off “Other” in the name(s) of its own Deity(ies). And from the Heavens will come the sound of great weeping.