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From Isthmus, The Weekly Newspaper of Madison
October 6 - 12, 2000 Page 43
Reprinted with permission

Witch central

Goddess worship thrives in Madison.


I used to think I knew my neighborhood. Living behind the Crystal, on a high-density side street, I have a pretty good sense of who's zoomin' who, who's dealing dope, who's holding seances. After a year in the 'hood, I didn't think I'd overlooked anything.

So I was surprised to discover, just a block away, the international headquarters for the Re-formed Congregation of the Goddess. I'd walked past their bunker-like building on Baldwin Street many times, but I'd never noticed the little sign in the window, "RCG" sewn in cross-stitch.

"We're not a secret, we're just not in neon," Jade tells me, when I visit one afternoon out of sheer curiosity. Jade, and it's just Jade (like Cher, or Madonna), is the founder of the Re-formed Congregation of the Goddess, a legally incorporated and tax-exempt religion that combines Paganism and feminism. She is a hard-core feminist with graying hair and tinted round glasses — more Gloria Steinem than Angelica Houston — a witch in blue jeans.

"Paganism has lots of denominations. We are one denomination," Jade explains as we sit in her office, candles burning. As a priestess, she says, "I can legally marry, bury and get better parking." She laughs, but not very witchily.

The space RCG rents at 212 Baldwin St. houses a fairly extensive library and serves as the work space for the group's newspaper, Of a Like Mind, which comes out on the solar holidays. It's a down-homey shrine, paneled walls peppered with goddess posters, work tables, a copy machine. If you stumbled in unawares, you'd be hard-pressed to figure out you were among witches unless you took a close look at the shelves--A Century of Spells, No More "Nice Girl."

According to the Institute for the Study of Religion, Paganism is the eighth largest — and fastest growing — religion in the U.S. And Madison, in case you didn't know from all the "My other car is a broom" bumper stickers, is a much-recognized hub.

Jade, who moved to Madison from Kentucky in 1982, says she wanted to launch a movement, and she knew Madison was the spot. "There were three places that had large Pagan populations," she says, "the coasts and here."

If you check out, a state-by-state listing of pagan groups, you'll see what she means. From the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in Kenosha to the MoonShadow Coven in Nekoosa, Wisconsin is awash with eclectic groups drawing down the moon.

Note: If you think the word paganism is synonymous with Satanism, you are in the dark. Like RCG, most of these groups practice a modern interpretation of the pre-Christian goddess-centered religions that once dominated Europe and the Mediterranean. Among the amalgam of Wisco Pagans, you'll find eco-pagans, neo-pagan Wiccans and Druidic Fellowships. In Madison, there are about 15 such groups listed on the Internet.

Why is this area the tropic of Pagans? Even for Jade, it's a mystery. "I don't have an answer," she says. "Maybe it's the progressive atmosphere." More likely, I think, it's people like Jade, stirring up community, creating a niche for people who want religion sans patriarchy and pews.

"People are very open here," interjects a young woman named Tizzy, who is interning at RCG as part of a priestess training program, called Cella. Tizzy, who moved here from Des Moines, is working to start a campus-based Goddess spirituality group. She is also involved in organizing events, such as upcoming Hallows gathering. She's on the "ritual committee."

"We're not scary," she assures me. "At a typical event, we'll cast a circle, raise some energy, do an enactment of some kind." She is effusive and engaging as she describes the altars, the variety of people who attend. There is no mention of goats, babies. "Afterwards, we all go to Bluephies and have fun," she laughs.

Later, I meet Rain (and it's just "Rain") who left her executive position for Blue Cross Blue Shield when she completed her priestess training program through RCG. Like Jade and Tizzy, Rain moved to Madison (from Michigan) to find community.

"It's a really common thing for women to quit their corporate jobs once they become a priestess," Jade tells me. "It's all about creating your own place in the world, being willing to take risks."

Jade shows me a copy of her book, To Know: A Woman's Guide to Magic and Spirituality, then hands me a photocopy of a check-out card from the Beverly Hills Library. Mailed to her by a fan, the card is chock full of dates.

Jade doesn't say anything, but the message is clear: women are making magic everywhere.

For more information about RCG, call 257-9998 or check out their website at Office hours are from 1 pm to 5 pm, Tuesday thru Friday.

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