In Dawson County last Sunday church members gathered to learn to make brooms. Wearing religious jewelry, the class gathered broom straw by hand, cleaned it of weeds and short scraps, then stopped for a cold drink in town before binding the straw to the broomsticks on a shady back deck. A diverse group of congregants, from different backgrounds, ethnicities and sexual orientations, they followed the instructor’s directions on how to tie and trim the brooms: an art she’d learned from her Christian grandmothers and aunts.
The matriarchs of her family also taught her how to tie-in love-knots and to be careful who makes your broom lest they tie-in matrimonial intentions for you to keep in your home. The instructor also mentioned that she had been taught that certain parts of broom-making were supposed to be done by men, and other parts by women, but explains “we’re not that prejudiced” as she taught both men and women to make their brooms from start to finish. This broom-magic lore from long-passed Christian women suits this church class just fine.
They’re Wiccans, members of House of Ravenstone Church and Seminary of the Old Religion and it’s daughter group, Grove of the Willow Wood. This happy synthesis of Pagan and Christian beliefs suits the current vibe between those religions in the northern half of the 400 corridor here in GA. Though Forsyth, Dawson and Lumpkin counties haven’t been known for diversity in the past they are currently home to a wide range of people of different backgrounds and religious persuasions, including many Pagans.
In Cumming, GA, Simple Strands is a new age/metaphysical shop that caters to Wiccans, Pagans, Buddhists, and Catholics. Marion, the shop owner explains, “I don’t carry Christian stuff because people can get that anywhere, but people don’t seem to like Catholics here so I carry things for them.” Most of her customers are thrilled she’s here but Marion says she has had some tension with Christians in the area. From her observations, most of her shoplifters are people who identify as Christian. “Pagans know better than to steal from my store” she explains.
Sometimes the interaction of the different belief systems is amusing. “A Christian woman asked me what the dragons mean” recalled Marion, referring to the display table of brightly colored fantasy dragon figurines by the door. “I told her they’re dragons, they don’t mean anything.” The woman persisted, wanting to know what it meant that one was labeled King of Dragonia. “It means he’s king of the little fantasy dragon world the figurines are from” Marion recounts with a look of exasperated amusement.
Simple Strands has a large iconic gargoyle nicknamed Josh that can be found dressed in silly costumes by the front door. “I wanted him in the parade dressed as Santa. I sponsor Toys for Tots and thought it would be cute. But they said no.” Marion just shrugs her shoulders.
At the broom-making class Southern sweet tea is passed around, and after the post-crafting meal has been blessed, the discussion turned to how the area has changed and on being open as a Pagan. Each person in the class is open about their faith to different degrees. One young woman states “I’ve been told you can’t be publicly Pagan in my town but, I mean, I don’t wear a lot of (Pagan) bling or anything but I’ve never had any problems.” One gentleman states he told his employer he needed a couple of days off for his ordination and they simply assumed he’s now a Christian minister. He decided it was probably best to just leave the assumption alone. Some Pagans in Georgia still have to remain closeted at work from fear of losing their jobs. There was some speculation around the table that perhaps the perception of intolerance for Pagan faiths outweighed the reality.
At the end of the day, each bearing fully-functional, albeit non-flying, brooms, the church members hugged each other and agreed they looked forward to seeing everyone at church next weekend. Plans to bring dishes to the potluck meal were discussed. It’s a scene that’s familiar to Dawson County, only the religion that brought people together in fellowship was a bit different than the norm. Along with the Saks 5th Avenue outlet store, Starbucks Coffee and morning traffic from people rushing into the Atlanta metro area for work, it’s just another sign of change in this growing county.
For information on Wicca.
For a partial listing of Pagan groups and events in Georgia.
**The names of the class members are withheld for privacy reasons as I did not receive express permission to print them.**