02/18/2006 01:00 AM EST
BY FAYE B. ZUCKERMAN
Journal Staff Writer
Susan Asselin started James and Angela Gorin's wedding ceremony by using a broom to sweep away negativity.
"I do this so you can start a life together fresh and anew," said Asselin, as she swept around the couple at the Temple to Music at Roger Williams Park to encircle them in sacred or cleansed space.
As incense burned, the four bridesmaids put out their dominant hands and circled around. They created their own venerable space and welcomed the 30 guests.
The bridesmaids at this pagan wedding ceremony then performed a main staple known as "calling the corners." Angela Gorin, 31, described it as "each bridesmaid announces a direction: north, south, east and west." It's a symbolic asking of nature to be present, protect and bless what is taking place in the sacred space, Gorin added.
The Gorins' reunion reflected their religious beliefs. They consider themselves Wiccas, the most common of the pagan religions.
Paganism, the worship of nature and earth, has become a religion that "has sparked a lot of interest," said Grove Harris, the managing director of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University. The Pluralism Project, which collects statistics from a number of different sources, estimates that between 768,000 and 1 million people in the United States practice a form of it.
The recent spike in interest, Asselin said, has been, in part, a result of the best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code. The book puts forth the theory that Christianity is rooted in polytheism, the worship of many gods and goddesses. It characterizes paganism as benign. Asselin, 51, of North Providence, studied religion at Providence College and was ordained a minister in 2001 through the Universal Life Church in Modesto, Calif.
The church, formed in 1959, believes that every person has the right to determine what is right, so long as he or she acts peacefully. It offers on-line ordination through its Web site "for life, without cost, and without question of faith."
Asselin said she performs about four or five pagan wedding ceremonies per year and also oversees every kind of pagan life-cycle event. Last year, she blessed the Gorins' infant during a celebration of life.
"Wicca (which is rooted in beliefs popular in prehistoric Ireland, Wales and Scotland) has received a bad rap in Hollywood," Asselin added. "the emphasis is not on the ruination of enemies but on humanity, peace and prosperity. There is no Satan in the religion."
Rhode Island recognizes pagan ceremonies as legal marriages. According to Cynthia McKay of the Office of Vital Records at the state Department of Health, which oversees marriage licensing requirements, "Any minister in good standing can perform a wedding ceremony."
The Wicca wedding ceremony is steeped in rich colors and eye-catching rituals. The Gorins nuptials in 2004 delivered traditions that date back to the 1500s.
"Family members came away from this wedding realizing that the religion honors Earth, nature and peace," said Asselin. "People want to believe what they see on TV or the movies, which give a negative and skewed view of the pagan religions."
Throughout the service, Angela's mother, Joann Arnold, held a cell phone so James' mom on the other end in Texas could listen. Arnold, a Coventry resident and practicing Catholic, said that, though she was aware of her daughter's beliefs, she wasn't sure what to expect at the wedding.
"At the rehearsal, I thought, 'This is actually very nice,' " Arnold said. "I don't think anyone who attended had been to anything quite like it."
During the nuptials, Asselin tied Angela and James' left hands together with a long silk ribbon. The ritual is called "handfasting."
"The handfasting" said Angela Gorin, who was brought up Catholic and in her 20s converted to Wicca, "is a way of showing that you are binding together for life and into the next one."
Angela and James, a 32-year-old contractor, co-wrote their vows, which lasted about 10 minutes. The words were themed on "promising to always do your best and to be nice," Angela said. "We tried to include our (pagan) religious beliefs, which are earth and nature based."
Asselin ended the event by having the couple step over the broom she had used to create sacred space at the start of the ceremony. Called "jumping the broom," it's a mainstay of a pagan marriage celebration, and represents the first step into a new life together.
Integral to the nuptials is the broom, which the Gorins, who live in Coventry, created with wood from James Gorin's home state of Texas and hay from a horse field in Rhode Island. "The broom has a permanent place in our home," she said. "We have it on display."
Parts of the Gorins' nuptials did resemble a traditional American wedding. Angela wore a white wedding gown with a long veil and elbow-length satin gloves. James donned a tux.
She arrived at the Temple to Music at Roger Williams Park in a limousine. Her father and stepfather walked her down the aisle to the altar, where Asselin married them. They exchanged vows under a wire arch adorned with flowers and greenery.
"I use divine creator as a catch-all phrase during my services," she said. "This way you have a Wiccan sense but the grandmother can relate to it and feel comfortable."
"It was beautiful," Angela's mother Arnold noted. "I think all the guests enjoyed it and felt comfortable."
Angela Gorin said that she was pleased with her wedding, and has maintained a friendship with Asselin.
"Catholics pray to saints; pagans pray to gods and goddesses," she said. "The biggest misconception is that they are devil worshipers. That's absolutely not true.
Kellye, is this the article?