By Bill Sheets Herald Writer
INDEX — In the late 1970s, Pete Davis was living in Seattle and practicing Wicca on his own.
He wanted to create a community of people seeking to strengthen their spiritual connection with the Earth. In 1979, he bought some property near the small town of Index in the Cascades and founded the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, the only organized Wiccan church in Snohomish County.
“It’s a lot easier to be a nature worshipper out here than it is at Third and Pike,” said the Rev. Davis, 75.
“I had wanted to establish a place that the pagan and Wiccan people in the greater Seattle area could go for worship without having the neighbors get excited because they had candles or were wearing robes or were chanting in the backyard.”
The church, named for the age of Aquarius, draws people from all over the state and sometimes beyond. Davis also has made a mark by lending the church’s name to nearly 50 other Wiccan groups around the world.
Modern-day Wicca was founded by Gerald Gardner in England in the 1940s. It’s an amalgam of gods and practices from indigenous cultures in different parts of the world, primarily Celtic but also Greek and others. There are several variations.
“When people ask me what the basic belief system is, I explain to them it’s essentially the European equivalent of Native American,” Davis said. “It’s based on the belief system of the indigenous people of northern Europe before the Roman conquest, which of course brought with it Christianity.”
The Index church property has shrines to Pan, the hooved Greek god of the wild, and Hecate, an ancient goddess of the Earth, sea and sky. There’s also a small stone circle.
The church usually meets on the Saturdays closest to the new and full moons, and the solstices, equinoxes, and mid-season holidays of Samhain (fall), Imbolc (winter), Beltaine (spring) and Lughnasadh (summer).
“There are many smaller Wiccan groups but they like to come (to the Index church) on major holidays and celebrate together,” Davis said. “We consider anybody who comes here more than two or three times to be a church member.”
Usually, anywhere from 10 to 50 people will show up for a service, he said. For many of the holidays, the church holds large gatherings at state parks that sometimes draw more than 200 worshippers.
Many different types of ceremonies are held.
“Basically, we start out by consecrating the spot, by calling the quarters (directions) and casting a circle,” Davis said.
One ceremony is a recreation of a parade to the sea that’s part of the Greek mysteries.
“We go down to the water’s edge and priestesses throw flowers in the water,” he said. “The Greeks’ custom was to sacrifice a piglet in order to purify themselves. So we make little pig-shaped cookies out of flour and salt and throw them in the water.”
That’s as close as Wiccans come to a sacrifice, Davis said.
Wicca has sometimes been confused with Satan worship. Some horned gods are honored in Wicca, including Pan and Cernunnos, a Celtic stag-like deity. People who associate Wicca with Satanism are often mixing up their horned gods, said Robert Anderson, who runs Edge of the Circle Books in Seattle. The store has Wiccans among its customers.
“With the idea of a horned god, immediately people think of Satanism,” he said. “Since the (Wiccan) theology is not part of the Christian belief system, there’s no devil to worship in Wicca.”
Wiccans are mentioned by some in the same breath with the term “witch.” It’s a loaded word, Davis said.
“I think the word has always used at the point of a finger and it’s always been a pejorative,” he said.
Davis said Wiccans have a simple moral code: “Do as you will, but harm no one, and that includes not harming yourself.”
Davis has played a large part in growing Wicca and legitimizing it in the faith community.
He lent the name “Aquarian Tabernacle” to Wiccans in other parts of the country to help them attain tax-exempt church status. The same has been done for groups in other countries including Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa, Davis said.
In the early 1990s, Davis represented Wicca on the Interfaith Council of Washington in Seattle (now called the Interfaith Network). At the Index church hangs a photo of several Seattle-area religious leaders, including Davis, meeting with the Dalai Lama at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle in 1993.
“Pete has been the mastermind behind being able to work with the existing system,” Anderson said.
At the interfaith council, Davis said, “I explained what Wicca was and explained that basically we’re all trying to do the same thing and it doesn’t matter a whole lot to whomever our maker may happen to be how we do it. The fact that we do it is important.
“This religion is as boring as anybody’s,” he said. “What we teach people is if this part of religious philosophy works for you, that’s great, and if there are pieces of some other philosophy, be it Buddhist or Native American or Zoroastrian or whatever, if that works for you, feel free.
“If that helps you get through the rough spots in life, then that’s great.”
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.