I assume at least some of you have read or at least heard about this little decision out of Canada regarding providing Wiccan and witch prison inmates with spiritual council. Essentially what happened was the federal prison system agency posted a job opening for a Wiccan priest or priestess to set up a chapel and offer spiritual guidance. When the decision reached the desk of the public safety minister, he pulled the plug on the process, stating that his office had not been noticed of the posting and that they needed to review whether hiring a Wiccan priestess would be a wise use of taxpayer dollars.

Several bloggers in my sphere have already touched briefly on this, but I wanted to tackle it as well. I want to preface the discussion by saying that I’m not Canadian, and I’m not well versed about what’s happening socially and economically there. I am Wiccan though, so have a vested interest in anything related to the generic form of my faith.

So at this point in time, based on the information made available in the article, the corrections agency for the British Columbia, which is where the in-question prison is located, has several other demonization ministers on the payroll already. Each ministry’s time is broken down in terms of hours per week its people are there. Roman Catholic services average about five hours a week, Buddhist chaplaincy about 11.25, and—this is interesting—they lump Muslim and Sikh council together as averaging 14.46 hours a week. Now, I’m no expert on either Islam or Sikhism, but a quick search reveals that they are different religions. So before we even get into the details of what was proposed in terms of Wiccan guidance for prisoners, we’re already getting mixed messages about how they treat religion. Honestly, I wonder if this was just poor reporting (especially since the writer spelled Buddhist “Buddist” and Samhain “Sanheim”) but if we cannot even distinguish between two different organized religions in our reporting, how can we expect that anything accurate for a more personalized faith like Wicca will find its way to the light?

Now, the time proposed for Wiccan chaplaincy would average 16.66 hours a week. Did you guys do a double take too? Unbelievably, we Wiccans are still fighting the notion we are devil worshippers, and mainstream Christianity associates 666 with the devil. I believe this number was selected and publicized deliberately to play on that notion. And it worked. More than one of the commenters posted their observations—16.66 hours a week, not aligned with the devil, but using 666? Couldn’t be more clear to me. This just serves to stir up old ideas that should have been laid to rest well and firmly a long time ago. But it gets the public’s attention, gets people stirred up. Look, they’re trying to offer spiritual council to the devil worshippers in prison.

This leaves me with two questions. Was this entire thing some kind of publicity stunt, or is it the result of ignorance and irrational fear? Any one of us Wiccans reading the article can tell the journalist is ill-informed—she employs terms that makes Wicca sound like a fad organized religion. At one point, she throws in there that some of the inmates identified themselves as being Wiccans going back more than two decades, as if being Wiccan for an extended period of time is somehow abnormal.

The bigger question here is this—why are people still afraid of Wiccans? They judge us, condemn us in their god’s name, discriminate against us, and for what? We haven’t harmed them, haven’t shoved our religious convictions into their wombs or plastered images of our Mother across their media. Why do they feel the need to eradicate us, in our small quiet corners of the world?

There are a lot of reasons, but most of them come back to a lack of decency and mutual respect. Like racism, like sexism, this fear is about power. It’s a divide and conquer tactic. It’s us vs. them. We’re so busy fighting with each other that we’re not aware of the bigger picture.