Washington Post Obituary
Rosemary Kooiman; Championed Witches’ Rights
By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 10, 2006; Page B07
Rosemary Kooiman, 77, a self-described witch who won the legal right to perform neopagan weddings in Virginia, died March 5 of a heart attack at her home in Laurel. She was a former Mitchellville resident.
Mrs. Kooiman, a retired government worker and the high priestess of a neopagan group in Mitchellville called the Nomadic Chantry of the Gramarye, sought to marry a Virginia couple in 1998 but was denied a clergy license after a Fairfax County judge ruled that Wicca did not qualify as a religious organization. A judge in Alexandria also denied her a license.
With assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union, she applied for the same license in Norfolk Circuit Court and received it by mail in September 1998, allowing her to officiate at weddings — known as “handfastings” among neopagans — anywhere in Virginia. She also performed wedding ceremonies in Maryland and Pennsylvania, which do not require clergy to have a license, and was licensed to conduct weddings in the District.
Rosemary Jeanette Kooiman was born in Grand Rapids, Mich. After attending college in Michigan, she became a ballet dancer in the Detroit area and operated a dance studio from 1947 to 1953. Her husband was a safety engineer, and the family moved frequently throughout Michigan. Mrs. Kooiman worked primarily as a homemaker and a bartender when the family was living in Muskegon, Mich. As her daughter noted, finding a job tending bar was easier than starting a new dance studio.
In the 1960s, she moved with her family to Houston, where she worked for General Electric, testing space suits for leaks at NASA. She also shook out moon dust from wrinkles in the suits.
The family moved back to Michigan, then, in the 1970s, to the Washington area, where Mrs. Kooiman worked as a safety and health officer for the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service. She retired in 1994.
She became involved in neopagan religious practices in Michigan in the 1970s, because she could not find a Christian group that met her needs. Through anthropology courses at a community college and two trips to Mexico, she became acquainted with paganism, which is rooted in nature and encompasses a range of polytheistic traditions, including druidism and Wicca. She turned her back on Christianity’s Father God and embraced paganism’s Mother Earth, she explained in later years.
When she moved to the Washington area, she and her husband founded the Nomadic Chantry of the Gramarye, primarily to give comfort and support to people involved in the Sports Car Club of America. Today, the Chantry has about 50 members. The Kooimans, car enthusiasts, were active SCCA members and spent most weekends at area tracks, where they helped out with SCCA events and held neopagan circles and celebrations.
Mrs. Kooiman was a member of Mensa, a group that celebrates high intelligence. She compiled a syllabus for a three-year course of study on neopagan beliefs in response to questions from fellow members. She also began teaching classes and holding full-moon circles and celebrations at her Mitchellville home.
Her husband, Abe Kooiman, died in 2002, and recently she had been working to get a pagan headstone for his grave in Arlington National Cemetery. Her effort was part of a campaign by pagan religious leaders to persuade the Pentagon to add the pagan pentacle to the list of symbols approved for Arlington headstones.
Survivors include three children, Kathleen Egbert of Laurel, Micaela Kooiman of Laurel and Dirk Jon Kooiman of Fredericksburg; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.