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South Neighborhoods
200 gather in South Park for Pagan Pride Day

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

By Linda Wilson Fuoco, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Some of the women wore long, flowing dresses and flowers in their hair. A few of the men wore robes. Many had pentagrams -- five-pointed stars -- on their T-shirts, necklaces or earrings.

The scent of incense and dried herbs wafted through the air.

"Many don't understand that we are kind, gentle, loving people," Lady Feywen Morgan said, while attending the first Greater Pittsburgh Pagan Pride Day Sunday in South Park. (Joyce Mendelsohn, Post-Gazette)

Men and women held hands and danced to drum beats as children frolicked in the sunlit South Park picnic grove.

There was chanting and praying and chatting and socializing as approximately 200 people gathered at the first Greater Pittsburgh Pagan Pride Day on Sunday at 100 Acre House on 100 Acre Drive.

Some women at the Pagan picnic proudly identified themselves as witches. Others said they practiced Wicca, the "Old Religion" based on pre-Christian religious practices of the Irish, English, French or Italians. Some Pagans base their beliefs on the practices of Druids and ancient Celtic-based beliefs.

"Pagan" covers a wide swatch of religious beliefs that predate the time of Jesus Christ. Pagans tolerate and encourage a wide array of religious beliefs within their own ranks and advocate tolerance for all beliefs.

The event program's welcome statement explained the day's mission: "We are proud to be a part of this international celebration of the harvest -- promoting awareness, tolerance and understanding for earth religions of all paths and traditions."

All over the world, Pagans were celebrating last weekend -- on or near the autumn equinox, which is also "the second harvest holiday," said Amy Mokricky of Mt. Lebanon. She handled publicity for the event and was one of the vendors.

Her booth contained jewelry, books, candles, oils, tarot cards and other items sold in her Dormont store, Moonstones, which she describes as a "metaphysical haven."

Heather Bernd of Crafton is a college student who works as a social worker and as a certified herbalist. Sunday was her first time as a vendor, and she was doing a brisk business selling healing herbs, oils and soap.

No one was doing magic in South Park, although some Pagans practice what they call Magick, to differentiate from the magic tricks and sleight of hand practiced on stages.

There were several psychics available to do readings.

The were no black cats or broomsticks. There were no bloody rituals or animal sacrifices.

The only blood in evidence was the 23 units of blood donated to the Central Blood Bank, which sent its staff and van.

Did Blood Bank personnel show any surprise about being invited to a Pagan event?

"I think they thought we were bikers, and that didn't seem to faze them," said one of the Pagans who donated blood.

"What could possibly be more symbolic of our kinship with all living things?" said Shari Baughman of Oakmont, local coordinator for Greater Pittsburgh Pagan Pride.

Local Pagans also donated 500 pounds of food to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

"Pagan Pride events around the world incorporate food drives," Baughman said. Nonperishable food items was the admission cost for the picnic.

About $61 in cash and pet food and other items including bowls, collars and leashes, were donated to the Animal Friends shelter in the Strip District and to the Planned Ferrethood, a local group that finds new homes for ferrets whose owners are unwilling or unable to care for them.

"Many of us are ferret owners," Baughman said.

She was one of the many Pagans who wore regular clothes to the picnic -- jeans, shorts and shirts such as you'd see anywhere.

She also earns a living "in sales in the beauty industry" but asked that the company for which she works not be named.

"My boss knows I'm a Pagan and he's OK with that," Baughman said. "I do get teased a lot. People say things like 'watch what you say to her -- she'll turn you into a toad.' "

Although many of the Pagans wore black clothing, there was no devil worshipping or Satanic rites.

"We don't even believe in Satan," said Lady Morgan.

"Satan is a tenet of Christian religions," said Baughman.

Pressed for her legal name, Lady Morgan said, "You could say Lady F. Morgan. The 'F' stands for Feywen, which means 'child of the fairies' in Welsh."

Lady Morgan owns and operates a shop called Innervision on the South Side. "It's an eclectic emporium with unique gifts for any occasion," she said.

Her merchandise, which she sold at a booth last Sunday, includes incense, oils, metaphysical supplies and vintage clothing.

The Lady herself was wearing a long black gown with chiffon sleeves. Her red hair was curled and topped with a garland of leaves. Her eye shadow was glittery silver.

She's a psychic adviser who has visions and reads tarot cards. She worked in the past as a paralegal and has a college degree in sociology.

"I have a psychic gift, and I believe in using it to help people," Lady Morgan said.

She's also available for parties and corporate functions, "and I recently did a psychic pool party."

"I am Wiccan, and you do get crap all the time. People come in to my shop screaming and quoting the Bible. Many don't understand that we are kind, gentle, loving people."

Though educating the public was one of the goals of the picnic, Pagan Day organizers had procedures in place to protect the Pagans who attended.

Photographs could not be taken during the Main Ritual at 5 p.m. because the religious beliefs of some Pagans prohibit that.

Some do not use their legal names because of prejudice that can cause problems with employees, landlords and relatives. Some of the speakers listed in the program had names like Boudica, Echo and Iris Dragonfly.

Organizers steered the media toward Pagans wearing red ribbons that signified their willingness to talk to the media.

The musical backdrop for the daylong activities included a lot of music on drums, which have religious significance to Wicca and other religions.

The best drumming was provided by Kwasi Jayourba of Point Breeze. His business cards read, "Dr. Kwasi Percussion." He makes and sells drums and does many speaking engagements at schools and other functions.

The Ivy League-educated musician also performs extensively with groups that play jazz, Latin or "Jimmy Buffett-style" music, he said. Groups that he currently plays with include Dr. Kwasi and the Islanders, The Dixie Cups and John MacDonald and the Mango Men.

Speaking on the topic "Percussion in Earth Religions," Jayourba explained the background and significance of drums in Africa and South America, where he has traveled extensively.

During the question and answer session one Pagan asked, "Do you have to use animal skins to make your drums? Couldn't you use a substitute material?"

Only animal skins produce the proper sound, said Jayourba, adding, "if there was another way, I would do it. I am a vegan."

Pagan picnickers warily eyed a group of about 20 people who pulled into a picnic field across the street from 100 Acre House. The people stood in a group at the edge of the road and stared at the Pagans, who thought they had arrived to protest.

When a reporter and photographer crossed the road to speak to them, the people quickly got into cars and trucks and drove away.

A short time later, two Allegheny County Police officers appeared at the Pagan picnic, saying they received a complaint that there was drug paraphernalia at Pagan Pride Day.

The officers said they found the complaint to be unfounded, and apologized for having to check out all complaints.

"We prayed for them and they prayed for us," one of the Pagans told police and a reporter.

Plans are already under way for the second annual Greater Pittsburgh Pagan Pride Day. Further information about Pagans can be found at http://www.pittsburghpaganpride.org. This year's program includes a list of groups that can be contacted for regular meetings and discussion groups, some of which are held at the Friends' Meeting House in Oakland.

One of the next events is the third annual Witches' Ball on Oct. 19 at the Friends' Meeting House.

Linda Wilson Fuoco can be reached at lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1512.

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