Pagan group invites, trys to raise awarenessIn a region marginally dominated by Christianity, one Texas Tech student organization focuses on changing the traditional, stereotypical perceptions of Paganism.
A perhaps lesser-known religious group on campus, Tech Pagan Student Union often faces misconceptions about their beliefs from peers.
Like many student groups on campus, the group has weekly meetings, guest speakers, volunteer projects and social gatherings.
"We're not big scary witches with giant black cauldrons," said the group's president, Sarah Mann. "We're actual people out in the community and we're helping. We're people with faith, as many people are."
The organization has two discussions each month on metaphysical topics, generally at 7 p.m. the first and third Mondays of the month in the Student Union Building, said Mann, a senior psychology major from Houston.
They also hold a tarot card reading study group on campus, she said. This way, members seeking certification, in order to read in public places like psychic fairs, can pass the exams with ease.
Currently, the group has about 15 active members, Crystal Baker, the vice president and secretary of the organization, said.
"We formed to give a support group for people who identify themselves as pagans on campus," she said. "(The group is for) people who want to get together and express religious ideas and ideas about life in general from the viewpoint of someone who considers themselves a Pagan."
Pagan Student Union also has members who are agnostics and atheists but are spiritual, said Baker, a graduate student from Dallas studying mechanical engineering.
Baker described Paganism as a broad term for any nature-based religion, such as Wicca, Druid or some Native American belief systems.
"I'm personally agnostic now," Baker said. "Christianity never felt right for me. I found Wicca a little bit in high school and experimented with that. A lot made sense but didn't feel right. I liked Paganism…I liked the people I associated myself with around Paganism."
Aside from community service like the Adopt-a-Highway program and volunteering at the Haven no-kill animal shelter, Pagan Student Union participates in National Pagan Pride Day, said Baker. This year's celebration is from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Clapp Park, near the intersection of 46th Street and Avenue W.
"The goal (of Pagan Pride Day) is to encourage diversity and to eliminate prejudices and discrimination based off of religion," said Aaron Brocklehurst, program coordinator for quality service and professional development at Tech and the advisor for Pagan Student Union.
This year, the national event, Brocklehurst said, will feature presentations covering topics from collegiate Paganism through Slavic Paganism. He encourages students of all religious backgrounds to attend and experience something new.
"The best way to learn about a religion or a belief system that is different than yours is to come and talk about it, and we'll give you an idea of what it's about," Brocklehurst said. "It's held every September throughout the nation."
Pagan Pride Day opens with a traditional ritual and will also include a noon ritual and a greenman march.
The rituals are very elaborate and interesting, said Brocklehurst. Vendors will sell candles, incense, potions and homemade items.
Also available for sale will be books, herbs, cloaks, pendulums, crystal balls and anything else "associated with occult supply," Mann said.
One unique item for sale is the "spell kits" Mann said the organization sold for a fundraiser last year. They consist of a candle, a piece of charcoal, an herb mixture and a written spell for things like prosperity, relaxation and happiness.
But, Mann said, the spells do not necessarily come true after reciting them; the process is more of a first step to achieving a goal.
"Many people think, ‘If I buy this and do exactly as it says, it's going to happen,'" Mann said. "But it's a mental jump between thinking you want to take a step and taking the step with your foot. It's putting the will power behind it."
Pagan Pride Day is a free event, but attendants are asked to bring cans of non-perishable food to donate to South Plains Food Bank, Mann said.
"I would encourage people to come out because it's a fun event," Brocklehurst said. "You'll get to see a lot of cool things that you may not see every day in local stores. It's a good way to learn about other belief systems and religions and embrace diversity."