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Matt Alderton

Making Magic: Parenting the Pagan Way
Mother Unites Pagan Youth for Entertainment, Education

She is a paralegal, a Pagan and, above all else, a parent: an odd combination in most people’s books.

Lori Dake is a 27-year-old parent of one: a son, 10, named Ryan. She considers herself a Pagan and a witch, but everything about her tells you that the role she plays best is that of a mother. As head of a social group for Pagan families in Chicago, called Chicago Pagan Parents, and the organizer of a scout troupe for Pagan and Wiccan children, the Spiral Scouts, Dake is a dedicated and loving parent.

She is dressed all in black and has a tattoo of a small star that seems to mimic a permanent sparkle beneath her left eye. A pentacle hangs around her neck and her wedding ring, a tattoo of a thorny vine, weaves its way around her left ring finger. She is amiable and unassuming. To her, good parenting means providing children with answers and the freedom to explore their own ideas.

"I let him have his own beliefs," Dake said of her son. "I totally encourage him to find his own way."

Dake’s style of parenting is based on the firm conviction that parents ought to guide their children’s lives, not dictate them. "Parents should," she said, "be able to answer their kid’s questions about life and death rationally and truthfully, teaching them ethics and happiness."

"Everything has to have a reason why," she said.

Dake was raised a Catholic, but abandoned Catholicism for agnosticism when she was 14 because she felt that it did not provide her with any adequate answers to life’s questions and because she disagreed with the spirit of the church.

"Faith is supposed to lift you up, not drag you down," she said.

Dake became interested in the Pagan religion when she was in college and committed herself to it when she met her Pagan husband at age 21. He showed her some basic spellwork and taught her the foundation of the Pagan religion.

"At first I was like, ‘Oooh, look at these scary, creepy people," she said.

It didn’t take long, however, for her to change her tone. Paganism, she said, has given her a newfound sense of confidence and independence.

"I decided, ‘I don’t want to be a sheep.’"

While many Pagans have different sets of beliefs, Dake’s include a polytheistic system of deities, faith in magic and reverence for nature and the earth. Her son is monotheistic while many other Pagans and Wiccans believe in both a God and a Goddess of equal power and status.

While her Paganism is a large part of her life, Dake is insistent that it is not her entire life. Before being Pagan she is a parent, and there are basic fundamentals that go into being a good parent, regardless of your religious beliefs, she said.

"I think that anyone who takes anything too seriously becomes too imbalanced."

Dake started Chicago Pagan Parents in 2000 as a way for her son to make new friends and meet other people who share his upbringing and beliefs. The group, which is composed of approximately 40 families, started as an Internet-based chat group and caught on from there, meeting in person for the first time in December of 2000.

The group meets several times a year to celebrate Pagan holidays and rituals with fun activities for the kids. The most successful of these was an egg hunt that drew a crowd of 30 people, an event that the group is looking forward to repeating again this year.

"I couldn’t believe how many people came," she said. "After that, I said, ‘This is definitely worth it.’"

In late January the group met for a candle-making party to celebrate Imbolc, a Pagan holiday that takes place on Feb. 2 to celebrate the coming of Spring.

While Chicago Pagan Parents is a social group, the Spiral Scouts troupe is more about Pagan education. It is a national organization for Pagan youth that, according to its mission statement, tries to teach kids "inclusivity, the balance of gender energies, tolerance for differences of belief and other useful cultural customs and values, and the Pagan worldview."

Dake founded the Chicago chapter of the Spiral Scouts in September of 2001 with five official members, ranging from 3 to 12 years old. The troupe takes regular field trips to places such as the planetarium, the nature center and the zoo to teach kids to value animals and the environment. One such field trip took the kids to a fire station where the firemen gave a 45-minute presentation geared toward candle safety.

Many people are critical of Paganism and the attempt by people such as Dake to integrate it with family values. Dake’s own family, she said, is slightly uncomfortable with her beliefs.

"My dad just thinks that I’m weird," she said. "He thinks that one day I’ll grow out of it."

Dake said that, while many people may criticize her faith and her liberal approach to parenting, she thinks conventional religions support just as many head-turning rituals as Paganism does.

"When you consider that many people raise their kids to run around with a cross around their neck with a dead guy on it, you have to take a step back and say, ‘This is kind of barbaric.’"

Chicago is a liberal city, however, Dake said, and is pretty accepting of the Pagan and Wiccan community.

"I am fortunate enough to live in an urban environment," she said. "But I know some people down in Texas and Alabama and they’ve got some really bad issues. I feel sorry for them."

The biggest problem facing Chicago’s Pagan community, Dake said, is what she calls witch wars.

"There’s basically a lot of people trying to be the Pope," she said, explaining that different groups of Pagans, called covens, have had a problem getting along, each claiming supremacy over the others.

"I highly doubt we’ll ever have a spokesperson," she said.

With or without a spokesperson, Paganism is one of the fastest growing religions in the United States. According to a poll conducted by Covenant of the Goddess, a national organization for the advancement and awareness of Paganism, there are approximately 768,400 Pagans and Wiccans in the United States. Some estimates place the number even higher, near 1 million.

Pagans in Chicago and throughout the United States are a diverse group of people. They are white and black, professional and blue-collar, men and women. And yes, they are parents and children too.

"We’re just trying to tell the rest of the world that we’re normal people," Dake said.