Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I agree with your response to "Be-witched in Sacramento" -- up to a point. As a witch and Pagan priestess for more than 30 years, I can tell you that ceremonies such as handfastings (our term for a wedding) are not required to be held at midnight and that the parents of the bride and groom, if they're open-minded enough to attend, are usually honored.

It isn't customary to involve cowan (nonmembers) in ritual planning. The bride's family should not feel hurt by her failure to include them. Our customs are different from those of the greater community, and I don't blame any couple who prefer to just do it themselves rather than explain -- over and over -- what they're doing and why they're doing it that way. It can be very draining. But most couples, if they choose to have guests at all, have their handfasting at a time when those guests can attend.

The couple's decision to be handfasted under the full moon is particularly blessed and by our lights very romantic. However, if I were the priestess counseling them, I'd advise them to move up the ceremony a few hours and make sure the family members feel warmly welcomed. It takes a lot of love for a Christian to attend a Pagan ceremony. It should be honored and appreciated.

I must tell you I take deep issue with your denigrating comment, "I have no idea how serious her interest in witchcraft is or how long it will last ..." You imply that witchcraft is something the sister is likely to get over. That's what my family thought in 1970. You don't question the commitment of people married by Jewish, Christian or Buddhist (etc.) rites. It's inappropriate to question that of a Pagan.

Thank you and blessed be ... DANA CORBY, HPS, TACOMA, WASH.

DEAR DANA: Chalk it up to my ignorance, which is something that can be corrected. When I closed my eyes and tried to imagine a witch, what came to mind was a teenaged girl with black clothes, lipstick and nail polish going through a phase and trying to freak out her parents.

The literally hundreds of letters and e-mails I have received from Wiccans have proved me wrong. Wicca should not be confused with satanism. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: Paganism is a registered religion. We're as serious about it as a Catholic, Lutheran or Buddhist. Would you ask any of them how serious their interest in their religion is? Probably not! You also stated that the woman "appears to be in a world of her own." Not so. There are thousands of Pagans. You just don't see us because we look just like you. We are doctors, lawyers, truck drivers, etc.

Paganism has long been thought of as a wacky, temporary and insignificant religion. Your comments validated the ignorance that most people have about this amazing religion. -- WILLOW, A MINNESOTA WITCH

DEAR WILLOW: Speaking as both a fellow Minnesotan (it's the state where I was born), as well as someone who has occasionally been accused of being a "witch" (at least I think that's what was said), I can only say that in the past few weeks, I have learned more than I ever expected to about Paganism. Those who would like to learn more about this ancient religion should visit the Web site of Covenant of the Goddess, an international organization of Wiccan congregations at: www.cog.org. I'm sure it will be a revelation.

Abby shares more than 100 of her favorite recipes in two booklets: "Abby's Favorite Recipes" and "More Favorite Recipes by Dear Abby." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $10 (U.S. funds)

to: Dear Abby -- Cookbooklet Set, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in price.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, MO 64111; (816) 932-6600