Source: Columbia News Service/The Modesto Bee
On the morning of Anna-Jeannine Kemper's wedding, she, like many brides, will fasten the corset of her lace and taffeta ballroom gown, pick up her silk pink orchid and rose bouquet, and re-count her Champagne flute favors.
But while some brides pace nervously before the ceremony, Kemper, 25,will be busy blessing the four corners of the courtyard where she and fiancÃ© Justin Herman will exchange vows with items that symbolize the four elements of nature: air, fire, water and earth. Later, the couple will bind their hands together with a cord, light unity candles and jump over a broom. The latter gesture is also a tradition in some African-American weddings, but in pagan weddings, it is embraced as a symbol of sweeping away the old and welcoming the new.
Supporters and critics of pagan weddings -- like Kemper's -- often describe the ceremonies as beautiful, mystical, bizarre and even evil, all descriptions Kemper has heard. But, according to some experts, there is one word they can no longer use: uncommon.
A 2001 survey by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York found that the number of followers of Wicca, one of the many religions that fall beneath the pagan umbrella, increased from 8,000 in 1990 to 134,000 in 2001, making it the fastest-growing religion in America in terms of percentage increase.
Marty Laubach, a sociology professor at Marshall University, says the number of followers of pagan religions is even higher now, citing a 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey that put the estimate at 1.2 million.