ALVARADO, Texas –Rebecca Konnight has a problem, but it’s not the one that many of the people who know or have read about her think it is.
To administrators in her high school, it seems her problem is a reluctance to comply with the dress code. For the readers of an article about Konnight’s blue hair and lip piercings, it might appear that she has a very weak grasp on Wicca, or is just using it as an excuse to avoid the aforementioned dress code.
After an interview with her and her mother, Linda Mundt, the problem comes into focus. It is adults trying to do their jobs without allowing their assumptions about the world to be challenged.Konnight, 17, has a rare genetic condition called type 1 neurofibromatosis, in which individuals are born with, or develop, tumors in various parts of the body.
“She wasn’t supposed to live past nine,” said Mundt. However, partly due to chemotherapy to tackle a mass in her brain and another behind an eye, Konnight continues to buck the odds.
“The illness is terminal, but she can live a full productive life with many side effects.”
This medically incurable disease may have been what drove Konnight’s interest in alternative healing modalities. It is not difficult to see how the theology of Wicca, with an emphasis on magic and personal responsibility, can dovetail with a desire for real and permanent healing.
Mundt was unfamiliar with Wicca until her son married a practitioner, who introduced Konnight to the concepts. “That is what she is, and there’s no cutting it,” she said of her daughter, who took to it right away.
It’s the religion’s focus on nature that appeals most to her daughter, Mundt said, and that’s why they “moved out to the country,” from Arlington to Alvarado: Konnight found the stress of the urban environment very taxing.
That brings this story to the point at which it appeared Konnight was claiming that body piercings are a requirement of Wicca. The language used in a Cleburne Times-Review article made it difficult for readers to draw any another conclusion.
The article reads: “Mundt said her daughter practices Wicca, a form of modern Paganism, and the religion sometimes calls for followers to wear body piercings for various reasons.”
Both mother and daughter insist neither of them nade that claim.
As Konnight explained it to TWH, she wanted to wear silver for its healing properties, particularly around stabilizing emotions; the tumor in her brain has influenced how she processes emotions. Necklaces irritate her skin, and she was concerned about losing other jewelry.
In her research she discovered the concept of piercings with sacred intent, and convinced her mother to allow her to get her lip pierced because its proximity to the throat chakra would help. The piercings were solderized, intended not to be removed.
“She’s not doing it for cosmetic reasons or to make statement,” Mundt said. “She feels it has healing power.”
Konnight apparently also likes the color silver, because that’s what color she wanted to dye her hair. The fact that it ended up blue instead should have been relegated to hair disasters on Instragram, but that was just one more fact contributing to a storm of controversy.
The dress code in Konnight’s former school may have been more relaxed about hair, but in both districts the facial piercings are a no-no.
Using information about both Wicca and sacred body piercings she found online, Konnight received special dispensation to retain the face adornments, which she also uses to focus her energy during spell work. Showing up on the first day in Alvarado with piercings and blue hair, though, did not result in a warm welcome.
“The policy is the policy,” said the district’s public information officer, Tommy Brown. “The handbook doesn’t address particular religions.”
“They wouldn’t listen,” recalled Konnight, and dismissed evidence she produced from online sources as insufficient to bolster her claims of a sincerely-held religious belief.
Mundt was less charitable. “They basically said she’s full of it, and it’s not a religion.”
Brown, the district official, told the Cleburne Times-Review reporter, “Please know that it is not Alvarado ISD’s practice to dismiss a student’s medical or religious claim that was accompanied by appropriate evidence.”
According to Mundt, her daughter was pressed to produce a “church” of Wicca, or a revealed text, as “appropriate evidence.” “She spent six hours researching” to try to find a Wiccan or Pagan congregation in the area, to no avail.
Both mother and daughter attempted to address inaccuracies in the original news report by posting comments. Part of their concern was that the reporter conflated questions of religion and health, such as when Konnight was described as having given school officials “a packet of information explaining her religion and why body piercings are important.”
The Associated Press style guide eliminates the serial comma, which would have clarified that wording. The Wild Hunt style guide largely mirrors AP, but does include serial, or Oxford, commas.
The result with school officials was that Konnight was told she was to be suspended from school if she showed up looking like that again.
Mundt asked for time to allow the hair color, which was already fading, to grow out. The request was declined.
Trying to bleach it out was disastrous. Clumps fell out, which Mundt attributes to Konnight’s body still recovering from chemotherapy. She originally asked for that extra time because she didn’t think her daughter’s hair could withstand another process. Now Konnight is now wearing a wig in school instead.
While was given the alternative to instead learn from home, Konnight wanted to attend school strongly enough that she used pliers to remove the piercings.
Mundt and Konnight agree that they live in an extremely Christian area, where assumptions about what constitutes religion are well set.
“I can’t count how many times people have asked me if I worship the devil,” said Konnight, and how explaining that this is a Christian concept doesn’t seem to help.
For now, she remains in school, and returns home to the two acres her mother calls “her own seventh heaven element,” seeking the peace of the Goddess that reinvigorates her Wiccan faith.