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WytcheHaven retreat located near Salem

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Despite being a small Arkansas county tucked in the midst of the Bible Belt, Fulton County is also home to the state's largest gathering of pagan believers and interfaith worshippers.

Located along Highway 9 south about 10 miles past the Salem city limits is a piece of property owned by the I.S.I.S Foundation -- the Instructional Society for Interfaith Studies.

Fulton County Sheriff Walter Dillinger said area residents have contacted his office numerous times with questions regarding the organization. "We can't get in; it's all private land. But we haven't had any problems with them -- mostly people just wondering what's going on," Dillinger said.

According to the foundation's Web site, "I.S.I.S. is a non-profit religious corporation for those that tread a spiritual path."

Here people from all over the country gather to celebrate WytcheHaven Weekends, said one of the organization's ordained ministers.

She said the goal of the weekend retreats is to help people of all paths and faiths understand one another. "(WytcheHaven Weekends) are really good learning experiences for anyone with an open mind," she said. "We promote tolerance ... and we try to create an understanding and respect among different faiths and lifestyles."

During one of the weekend workshops, people from all across the country gather under the protection of a privately paid Arkansas Deputy Sheriff for a potluck dinner Friday evening, where people can sing, drum and dance. On Saturday and Sunday, individuals participate in classes and craft making.

The source said, throughout the I.S.I.S. classes, attendees can listen to speakers and authors of various faiths such as Neo-Pagan, Wiccan, Norse, Native American and Christian.

"Because most individuals from this area grew up in Christian homes, or are at least familiar with basic Christian beliefs, WytcheHaven offers these classes as a way for people to have a better understanding of differing faith systems and to form their own ideas regarding spiritual matters," she said.

The Neo-Pagan religion is a contemporary faith which has been recently reconstructed from beliefs, deities, symbols, practices and other elements of ancient religions, according to www. religioustolerance.org.

The Web site also describes Wiccans as believers who identify heavily with nature.

Though some Wiccans claim to be agnostic, many incorporate ancient gods and goddesses into their worship, and most acknowledge the presence of a universal creative force called "The One" or "The All."

The site stressed Wiccans do not worship or believe in any evil figure similar to Satan.

The Norse religion is the modern practice of the ancient tribal belief systems of the Northern European peoples-- Germanic, Scandinavian and Gothic, said the Web site www.wizardrealm.com.

The site said Norse believers are primarily concerned with reconstructing the ancient ways through studying lore and sagas and maintaining family and community.

Traditional Native American religious beliefs generally incorporate multiple gods and goddesses and are centered around nature, said www.religioustolerance.org.

Though believers who have attended the festival weekends have come from a wide variety of faiths, the exposure to different ways of thinking helps to promote the organization's main cause of acceptance, the minister said.

Currently the property where the festivals are held is gated, private land.

Though the property is only equipped for camping, they do plan to gradually install plumbing and electricity, the minister said.

"As long as you are open-minded, anyone is welcome to come," the minister said. "We just want acceptance. God blessed the whole world, no exceptions."

Those with questions can go online to www.wytchehaven.org or email the I.S.I.S. foundation at isisfoundation@earthlink.net.

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