Do You Believe In Magick?

Terry and Amanda Rileys' new store in Jonesboro, Ark., had been open only two days when the landlord came to call. He was flanked by two ministers from the Wood Springs Church of the Nazarene--one of 75 churches and dozens of tiny independent congregations that serve Jonesboro, a town of about 46,000 people. (It's been nicknamed "Fort God.") The landlord, Steven Griffin, told the Rileys that their month-to-month lease would not be renewed. "If you left tomorrow, it would not be soon enough," Griffin added. The store closed last week. To the Rileys, the Magick Moon was simply a shop where people interested in witchcraft could buy books, incense, wands and caldrons. To some of their neighbors, it was a little shop of horrors.

The bumper sticker on the Rileys' car reads BORN AGAIN PAGAN. Terry, 38, is a Jonesboro native who grew up in the Nazarene Church. Five years ago, after a long period of what he calls "spiritual wandering," he converted to Wicca, or the Craft, a peaceful religion centered on nature and inspired by pre-Christian rites and folklore. An estimated 100,000 Americans practice Wicca. "We don't ride around on broomsticks and cast spells," says Terry. "That's all Hollywood stuff." Amanda, 29, who also grew up in Jonesboro, became a witch two years ago. At home the Rileys tend a small wooden altar that holds sacred objects including candles, chalices, a birch wand and a pentacle. When they saw how difficult it was to buy such objects locally, they decided to open a store. "All we were trying to do was make a couple extra bucks and help our fellow pagans in the area," says Terry.

Griffin says he ended the Rileys' lease for business reasons, not religious ones. But many people in town think he was pressured by church leaders. After he gave notice to the Rileys, five ministers made a televised appeal to local Christians, urging them not to rent store space to the couple. So far 32 prospective landlords have turned them down. "I'm glad that he doesn't have a place to rent," says the Rev. Gary Taylor, minister of the United Christian Church. "Those kinds of things do not belong in a Christian community." And the First Amendment? "I'm very patriotic and appreciate our freedom of religion," says Taylor. "I just don't believe this is a religion."

The Rileys plan to sue Griffin and the five ministers. Meanwhile the couple has been hitting the phones and tapping into pagan E-mail with word of their plight. Early this month about 75 witches, Druids and other pagans marched down Main Street shoulder to shoulder in T shirts proclaiming, SALEM REVISITED! THE GREAT JONESBORO WITCH HUNT. More than 2,000 spectators turned out, and scores of Christians shouting "Blasphemy!" and "You'll burn in hell!" had to be held back by 80 police officers.

The Rileys and their sympathizers believe that many townspeople equate Wicca with Satanism--a word much in the local news ever since last May, when three boys from nearby West Memphis, Ark., were found mutilated and murdered. "People believe that if it's not Christianity, it's satanic," says Robin Anderson, a history professor at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. "And that's a topic everybody gets all worked up about. They get irrational." Maybe that's why the best-selling item at the Magick Moon was a button reading, GOD, SAVE ME FROM YOUR FOLLOWERS.

Do You Believe In Magick? | News