Wiccan Priestess to Give Invocation Before Iowa Legislature

DES MOINES, Iowa. — Wiccan priestess Deborah Maynard has been invited to give the opening invocation to the Iowa House of Representatives on April 9. Priestess Maynard is a Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagan (CUUPs) leader at the People’s Church Unitarian Universalist in Cedar Rapids.

This will be only the third time that a Pagan has been asked to give an invocation at a state legislature. The first time was when Cleda Dawson offered the opening prayer before the Oregon state senate on May 10, 1999. Text of the invocation can be found here.

Cleda Dawson leads an invocation at the Oregon State Senate, The Stateman Journal, May 10th, 1999 [credit Tigris, facebook]

Cleda Dawson in The Statesman Journal, May 10th, 1999 [Photo Credit Tigris Sky, Facebook]

The second time was on Oct 27, 2009, when Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary gave the opening invocation for a session of the Wisconsin State Assembly. In recent weeks, Rev. Fox has been assisting Maynard with rules and details associated with giving an invocation at a state legislative body, and Maynard said that she appreciates the assistance.

Rev. Selena Fox at Wisconsin Capitol 2009 [Courtesy of Circle Magazine]

Maynard was invited to give the invocation by Rep. Liz Bennett (D), her representative in the Iowa state legislature. Maynard said that she had previously met Rep. Bennett at a church fundraiser. Bennett remembered her and contacted her approximately a month ago to see if she was willing to provide a blessing.

When Rep. Bennett was reached for comment, she sent The Wild Hunt this statement:

Each morning, a local religious leader gives an inclusive prayer to the Iowa House. I believe that the Iowa House belongs to the people, and that all people should be welcome. As a State Representatives it is not our role to endorse one religion over another, rather to represent our constituents. Deborah is a constituent who is Wiccan, and an active member of a local Unitarian Universalist faith community. She is happy to join us and give an inclusive prayer from her faith tradition. Why should the House not be as open to her as it would be to anyone else?

Some people might ask why I would invite a non-Christian. I would ask them why we should exclude a non-Christian.

There is room for all Iowans under the dome of the Iowa House.

Maynard started out as an eclectic solitary Pagan, but then studied with a few teachers from Celtic traditions. Eleven years ago, she became the leader of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist PaganS (CUUPs) in Cedar Rapids. She now describes herself as a Cabot Witch, as she was initiated by Laurie Cabot’s coven a few years ago.

Priestess Deborah Maynard [photo from facebook profile]

Priestess Deborah Maynard [Photo facebook profile]

Maynard said that she’s excited about the opportunity, yet concerned about the response she’ll receive from the greater Pagan and Christian communities, “I know that I cannot please everyone, but in trying to represent our faith and be inclusive to the rules of the invocation, I know I will need to make compromises.”

She said that she hopes people understand that she’s not trying to make a political statement, but to promote tolerance and acceptance. “I’m hoping that the general public can learn tolerance, inclusion, and respect for other beliefs that are difference from their own. I want them to learn the UU principal of the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

Another concern is for her children. She said that, while the reaction to her upcoming invocation at the capitol has largely been positive, she worries what other kids will say to her children and how their parents will react.

Along with Maynard’s 11 year-old child, some members of the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids CUUPS groups and friends from Iowa Pagan Pride will be joining her at the capitol to hear the invocation. She added that some of her non-Pagan friends are also planning on attending.

The Wild Hunt will post a video of the invocation, as one becomes available.