Drummers provide a “heartbeat” during opening ceremonies at Saturday’s pagan event at Appalachian State.
Photo by Scott Nicholson
Pagans Gather at ASU
By Scott Nicholson
A local pagan festival on Saturday drew a diverse group to Appalachian State University campus.
The gathering was sponsored by the ASU Pagan Student Association and representatives of the Boone High Country Pagan Pride Project. Pagan Pride Days are scheduled around the state by local groups, usually held in the fall. According to Carol Smith, a Boone pagan, six events are held to celebrate equinox and Thanksgiving, to reflect a time of giving back to the community.
Saturday’s event featured displays and rituals, with Smith conducting an opening ritual. Accompanied by three drummers, Smith burned some sage and waved feathers in different directions as a clarification ceremony.
Mychael Warsop, head of the ASU Pagan Student Association, said the group had about 20 members. He said the group serves an educational purpose as well as a social function by allowing pagans to meet. Since “pagan” is an umbrella term for a lot of different belief systems, the pagan association allows people to meet and discuss their viewpoints.
“The purpose is, ‘There are other pagans on campus, this is what they look like, here’s how to call them,’” Warsop said.
He said pagan religions are generally those that are nature-oriented. “It’s founded on the concept of self-responsibility,” he said. “To be a better person and be good toward other people.”
Warsop said his group had experienced no problems on campus, and said other student groups had been supportive. He said the Multi-Cultural Center and the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership had been supportive, and that Christian groups had also accepted them on campus.
“Everyone’s been very nice to us,” he said. “We’ve never had any problem with anybody in the community. Even if they disagreed, they were polite about it.”
The pagan club formed three years ago with eight members, then collected people from what Warsop termed “other minority religions.”
Warsop himself was raised a Lutheran, but said he discovered too many personal conflicts with it. At age 19, he began exploring a Norse religion. He was working as a plumber when he met some fellow pagans, and when he enrolled in school he helped launch the club.
Smith said pagans include Hindus, Taoists, Wiccans, Druids, Kabbalists, and those following Native American beliefs. She said each pagan finds their own spiritual path, and having pagan events and groups allows them some contact with like-minded people.
“Not all pagans have the same beliefs, and they don’t always practice the same way,” said Gryphon Rosemead, a Boone pagan who attended the event. She said most pagans follow an Earth-centered spirit.
“Most pagans see the God and Goddess in all things, such as ourselves, the trees, air, and sky,” she said. “We see the spirit within all things rather than directly worship nature.”
Rosemead was a Presbyterian, but she noticed that women weren’t allowed to be involved as deacons or church leaders. She was told “Women couldn’t be involved because God said so.”
“I thought, ‘That’s not really my God, so I think I’ll go look around,” Rosemead said.
Rosemead said the issue of gender equality appealed to her, though in some pagan beliefs females are considered stronger. “God is not separate (from the Earth),” Rosemead said. “It’s like separating the brain from the body. It’s all the same thing.”
“We do have our own path. I take from all the sources, whatever feels like mine.”
Rosemead said she has lived in Boone for two years and has not been welcomed by any church. She said the Unitarian Universalist Church of Boone is the only church that recognizes paganism as a religion, and allows the use of their facilities for meetings and services.
Smith said even though pagans may have different beliefs from each other, they respect their individual paths. “If you’re in a foreign country, people are doing things you don’t recognize and you don’t speak the language,” Smith said, saying pagans find kindred spirits in each other. “It’s good to know you’re not alone, whatever path you’re on.”
Smith’s opening ritual of “cleansing and charging” was designed to invoke peace and harmony over the event. She used sage as an aromatic herb because it is a native plant used by Native Americans in their spiritual ceremonies.
The event drew a variety of people. James Crew, who has been a practicing pagan for 14 years, came from Raleigh to attend the event. He will be enrolling at ASU in the fall and wanted to check out the local pagan scene. “This event created a little bit of a buzz in Raleigh,” he said.
Howard Weaver of Boone brought his five children to the gathering. He said his family members are “acclaimed Episcopalians” and brought his children to show them different and diverse cultures to his children. He is also a student at ASU and said other religious groups hadn’t taken an oppositional stance against pagans.
“They are either accepting or not noticing,” Weaver said. “The information is out there.”
Scott Nicholson may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.