Local News

Local Ministers Say Pagan Often Misunderstood Term

Posted February 4, 2003

— It's been two weeks since a Durham cellist was reported missing.

Police are now calling the Janine Sutphen case a murder investigation. A recent WRAL story on the case mentioned that Sutphen and her husband, Robert Petrick, are pagans.

After all the viewer e-mail the station received, WRAL decided to take a closer look at what is a commonly misunderstood religion.

Rev. Kara Mueller said a lot of people don't understand the religion. An interfaith minister, Mueller said her beliefs are pagan-based.

"They kind of look at you like: 'what does that mean?'" Mueller said.

The word "pagan" means country. It originally was used to describe villagers who lived far from city churches and were unable to attend services.

According to Mueller, pagan is hard to define. She looks at it as a classification, like the term Christian.

"It has a lot of different meanings to a lot of different people," she said.

One thing most pagans agree on is that their spirituality is earth-based.

"It follows the cycles of the year and appreciation for the earth and everything in it," Mueller said.

She said there are a lot of misconceptions.

"The most common one is that we're satanic," Mueller said, "and that we practice animal or child sacrifices like that."

Mueller acknowledged that there is a large pagan community in the Triangle and that it's growing.

While Sutphen and her husband are practicing pagans, they also have been regular members at the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship is all inclusive. It is not synonymous with pagan, although many Pagan worshippers have a home in the Unitarian Fellowship.

"We are a broad umbrella," Rev. Arvid Straube said. "Freedom of belief is our main tenant."

That freedom, Mueller said, is a right everyone should embrace.

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