NPR offered up its final segment regarding “New Religions” yesterday and featured coverage of the latest fashion in faith often called Neo-Paganism, categorized in this presentation under the heading “Wicca.”

Host Barbara Bradley Hagerty narrated what was billed as an exploration of “Teens and Wicca.”

Various teenagers, mostly girls, came out of the “broom closet” to discuss their fascination with witchcraft, which one expert said really took off through the popular movie “The Craft.”

But in the end it seemed that Hagerty let her own bias show a bit by giving fellow evangelicals largely the last word.

The NPR host reportedly is “on the board of directors for Knowing and Doing, the magazine of the C.S. Lewis Institute, which ‘endeavors to develop disciples who can articulate, defend and live faith in Christ through personal and public life.’”

One evangelical dryly observed on NPR that “playing with Wicca [is] dangerous,” but he failed to offer any specific examples. A “born-again” teen warned Wiccans had “sold [themselves] to Satan.”

According to a critical report about her professional conduct Hagerty “likes to say that God is her ‘employer and audience.’”

Does this mean the reporter does double duty for NPR and “God”?

The “cult apologists” Hagerty promoted through her first piece about “new religious movements” might not appreciate the sentiments expressed in her last one about Wicca.

And most of the public appears to agree that though Wiccans might appear weird they are benign, unlike the previous “cults” essentially given a free pass by Hagerty and NPR.

National Public Radio doesn’t seem to be in touch with its public through this recent programming.

But then again, maybe the only “audience” that concerns Ms. Hagerty is “God”?

Kenneth Hagin, the man often referred to as the “father” of the so-called “Word-Faith” movement (WFM), died yesterday at 86 reports KOTV in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Hagin moved to Tulsa from Texas in 1966 and eventually created a religious empire based upon controversial teachings many Christians call “heresy.”

The WFM teaches that Christians can essentially claim anything in the name of Jesus. This includes health and material wealth. It has often been called the “health” and “wealth” gospel and more derisively the “name it, claim it” or “blab it, grab it” doctrine.

Hagin’s Rhema Bible Training Center USA founded in 1974 reportedly produced 23,000 alumni and is often cited as the wellspring of the WFM.

Notorious and flamboyant TV preachers Robert Tilton and Benny Hinn are perhaps the two most visible promoters of the WFM. Though Hagin’s devoted disciple televangelist Kenneth Copeland may be his most readily identified theological proponent.

The Word-Faith doctrines have historically caused friction between its adherents and conservative or traditional Christians. Hagin was also a focus of controversy within Pentecostalism, which largely rejected his teachings.

Two critical books written about Kenneth Hagin denounced him as both a heretic and plagiarist; these books are A Different Gospel by D.R. McConnell and Christianity in Crisis by Hank Hanegraff

Another book, The Walking Wounded by Jeremy Reynalds, points out the causalities of the WFM.

Nevertheless Hagin delivered a popular message, telling many what they wanted to hear. That message was essentially you can have anything you want through faith, with an odd mix of proscribed and supposedly biblical incantations.

By the time of his death Hagin’s religious empire reportedly comprised training centers in 14 nations, with churches in more than a hundred countries. His legacy also includes the Rhema Prayer and Healing Center in Tulsa and two regular radio shows. A church Hagin founded in Tulsa now has 8,000 members.

Despite repeated allegations of willful plagiarism Hagin was a prolific and popular author who reputedly produced more than 65 million books through his Faith Library Publications. He also launched the monthly Word of Faith Magazine, which currently claims 400,000 readers.

Kenneth Hagin Jr., Executive Vice President of Kenneth Hagin Ministries runs the Tulsa mega-church started by Hagin Sr. and seems to be the shepherd of his father’s legacy.

The Harry Potter phenomenon continues at a breathless pace. The most recent addition to the series is now officially the fastest-selling book in history. More than three million copies were sold within the first 48 hours.

The preceding four installments of the Potter books written by J. K. Rowling have sold 192 million copies, 80 million in the US alone.

But the modest author whose estimated net worth is more than $400 million, can count some very nasty critics along with her fans reports Siffy News.

Accusations abound amongst fanatical religious types that Rowling’s books “promote witchcraft, occultism and Satanism.”

Some have even gone so far as to stage what they call “holy bonfires,” burning the alleged demonic tomes.

“God says in ‘Deuteronomy’ that witchcraft is an abomination. Whatever God hates, I hate,” advised one hellfire preacher.

However, other Christian clergy seem to see things quite differently according to a report aired on WHSV-TV3 of Virginia.

One clergyman claimed that the Potter books actually “possess…some good Judeo-Christian values like cooperation, like friendship, and honesty.”

“When you can get a kid, especially a teenager, an eighth grader…to sit down and read a book that’s 300-400, even 700 pages long, I say go for it,” added a schoolteacher.

It seems more like sour grapes rather than Satan is at the bottom of some the criticism directed against the Rowling books. The author has stated publicly that she doesn’t even believe in magic.

What’s next banning or burning the Wizard of Oz?

Perhaps her religious critics just don’t appreciate children’s fascination with something they don’t control. Or is it just their obsession with some bogeyman they hope to pose as protection from?

In New Jersey a woman is accused of leading a “cult” based upon “Palo Mayombe,” a religion with roots in West Africa, reports The New York Post.

The alleged “high priestess” was arrested in connection with human remains stolen from cemeteries, which are then supposedly used for rituals and incantations.

Sounds strange, but the courts are now involved. The “priestess” plead innocent and is now being held in jail pending $500,000.00 bail.

Certainly families of the deceased and the public want to be assured that the dead rest in peace. But let’s hope this doesn’t degenerate into a modern day witch-hunt and/or sensational Salem-like trial.

If the excessive bail set is any indicator, the matter may have already drawn a disproportionate amount of attention.

Certainly the alleged crime is distasteful and offensive, but no one has been charged with murder or a violent crime.

Sarah Michelle Geller, has decided to make this the last season for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” reports Associated Press.

Seven years is a long run and Geller knows that after only five syndication residuals start rolling in. Geller 25, was only a teenager when she started in her role as Buffy, which quickly made her a star.

The show will certainly have a lucrative afterlife though through re-runs.

No doubt Buffy’s demise will dissappoint the cult following of devoted fans that the series developed over the years.

Pundits and reviewers have regularly mused if there was some deeper significance to the show’s success, such as “girl power” and/or a fascination with “witchcraft.” This has even been a focus for academic research, reported the University of Warwick in Britain.

However, the success of the show was not unlike any other television series, largely it was about well-defined and likable characters. And the vivid special effects certainly didn’t hurt its ratings.

But now it’s time for Geller to hang up her stake and move on. She will probably always be remembered as Buffy, even if she eventually marries her real life “angel” and becomes Mrs. Freddie Prinze Jr.

One Santa Claus has confessed that he practices witchcraft. Bev Richardson plays Santa on Christmas, but really seems to prefer Halloween. He mixes potions, practices incantations and calls himself a “hedge witch.” He’s named his home “Castle Pook,” or is that “Kook”?

According to The Indian Express, Neo Pagans like Richardson are popping up everywhere on the Irish countryside.

The old “hedge witch” even held a conference at his castle recently. Richardson may be developing a cult following amongst the broomstick and wand set. Fifty assorted “wizards, ” “warlocks” and “witches” showed up.

Is there something magical about the British Isles? Or is this what the Irish would call “blarney”? Richardson emphasized that he and his friends are a “peace-loving community, not a bunch of lunatics.” Well, maybe harmless eccentrics and a bit odd.

A list of books that included the ever-popular Harry Potter were compared to “heroin” in Hartford by a group of irate parents, according to the Middletown Press.

The Connecticut group of concerned citizens insists that books, which include and/or mention magic and witchcraft, are a means “Satan” uses to get kids. One parent explained, “Witchcraft is of the devil, and the devil is very powerful.”

So it seems in Hartford the road to Hell has widened through children’s books.

The activist group said even books with specious titles should be banned such as “Cast no Spell,” which is actually only about spelling. Never mind they were rolling with an apparent “scorched earth” and “take no prisoners” strategy. Maybe a good old-fashioned book burning is just around the corner?

A prison inmate, who says he is a “Wiccan,” is suing the Wisconsin Department of Corrections because authorities did not let him wear a necklace, reported Associated Press. The AP reporter compared his neck ware to a “Catholic Rosary.”

However, prisoners are notorious for “running games.” That is, using whatever means possible to obtain special treatment and/or harass their jailers. Frivolous lawsuits filed by inmates are frequently little more than a tool used to play such games out.

A prisoner’s claim that a “religious right” is somehow being violated is a common ploy often used to obtain special diets or other privlidges. Supposed “Sikh” inmates (actually associated with the “cult group” 3HO) have used this strategy to grow long hair, or receive special diets. Another recent controversy involved alleged “Jewish” prisoners who want Kosher food.

Now it seems “New Age” religions may become yet another device used by some inmates in an attempt to play prison officials. The problem is differentiating between the convict who is a true believer, and the simple con.

In an article that repeats themes similar to many news stories that have appeared in recent years, writer Jim Baker of the Lawrence Journal draws distinctions between the beliefs of Wiccans, witches and the popular image of “Satanists.”

Generally, Wiccans, witches and/or Neo-Pagans may appear somewhat eccentric or unorthodox to most Americans, but are actually a rather benign lot. They typically don’t proselytize, “harm none” and mind their own business. But the claim often made by adherents, that their expression of Paganism or Wicca has a long and/or ancient history, has largely been historically dismissed.

Despite the television images of “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” or Samantha her sit-com predecessor from the 60s show “Bewitched,” modern witches seem to fit more within the subculture of “New Age” believers.