The Pagan Alliance connects to natureThe word Pagan comes from Latin; it means "country dweller." The term was used derogatorily during the Christian conversion period of ancient Rome to refer to the people in the countryside who still adhered to the old traditions of polytheism, said freshman Kassie Cressall, president of the USU Pagan Alliance president.
Cressall said the term today takes on a positive connotation of people connected to nature, an important source of spirituality and inspiration for Paganistic faiths.
The USU Pagan Alliance was officially recognized as a club by ASUSU this August.
"I started the group because when I moved from Colorado Springs, suddenly my tribe, my family, went away, the people who thought like me," Cressall said. "It was so important to have people that were on a similar wavelength, I felt that it needed to be started here in Utah in a way that lets people have their different beliefs while still creating a fellowship so they can feel brave about what they believe in and get to know themselves."
She said there are many myths about Paganism, according to Cressall.
"The main goal of the group is to educate people about what Paganism is and what it isn't while the other goal is to perform community service to show we are nice people and we do care," she said. "A lot of it will deal with the land, so we will be cleaning trails."
The Pagan Alliance will have a game booth at the National Coming Out Day celebration at USU partnering with the GLBTA. Also, the group will hold a Samhain Celebration, which is what America knows as Halloween. The event will take place at the Unitarian Universalist church on Halloween night from 6-10 p.m. All students and community members are welcome. There will be a $5 door charge to help pay for food and rental space.
Modern Halloween traditions such as trick-or-treating came from the tradition of going door to door asking for the spirits of the dead. Bobbing for apples was symbolic as well. Cressall said the water symbolized the underworld while the apples were the bounty of the land, meaning those who successfully bobbed an apple overcame the underworld to live another year.
"This Halloween date for numerous traditions has been, for many, many years, when you recognize your dead and honor them as well as the change of the year. We will hold a ritual that honors the dead and forces of nature, an ‘old woman winter' personification," Cressall said.
Pagans celebrate and follow the cycle of the seasons, or equinoxes.
"There is a wheel of the year that most pagans recognize in one form or another, though the name may be different, but they have the same changes of the seasons," Cressall said.
Paganism may seem ancient and foreign, but many Christians in the Western world celebrate Pagan holidays like Christmas, Halloween and the New Year. These holidays can be traced to Pagan traditions of the pre-Christian world, Cressall said.
In ancient Rome, the "country-dwellers" were allowed to keep their traditions, like Yule (now known as Christmas), if they converted to Christianity. Yule was a celebration of the return of the sun and son (of the goddess) and pine trees were decorated as a symbol of life because they remain green all year long, Cressall said.
Another myth about Paganism is that it is just one religion, Cressall said. Instead, it encompasses all non-Abrahamic religious traditions such as Wicca, Druidism or Celtic Reconstructionism and shamanism from cultures dating back hundreds and hundreds of years like Egyptian, Norse, Roman, American Indian and Irish.
"People say I've been Pagan my whole life, I just hadn't figured out how to articulate it right. I've been practicing Paganism for six years now," Cressall said.
Cressall follows Celtic Reconstructionism, which she said takes anthropological and historical evidence to reconstruct how her Welsh and Irish ancestors worshipped and lived, while making it applicable in the modern world.
"It doesn't mean we go build a hut and go on cattle raids," Cressall said.
Celtic reconstructionism is also known as Druidism, which Cressall said means "wisdom-keepers." Many modern off-shoots of Paganism are based in Celtic beliefs or traditional Western hermetic magic or ceremonial magic, Cressall said.
"While I know my family is Welsh and Irish, you don't have to be or know your ancestry to practice, it just helps me connect more, making things applicable to my life," Cressall said.
"Technically I am not Pagan, I am agnostic meaning I accept all religions, but I don't believe in a particular one. I am leaning towards Paganism due to certain experiences I've had," said senior Tein Millsap.
During a life-or-death experience a couple of years ago, Millsap said something powerful happened.
"Out of the darkness came a white tiger and called me an idiot and I woke up. It wasn't until I met Anya (Gibbons) and she told me about Paganism, that I realized it was a shamanistic experience, which I am still researching," Millsap said.
Anya Gibbons, a junior majoring in journalism and communication, said Shamanism deals with the power of animals, she said. The Shaman draws power from certain animal spirits, like spirit guides of the American Indians.
Cressall said, "Shamanism is known around the world, and Paganism is traced to shamanic traditions."
Gibbons said she has been Wiccan since she was 15.
"I am your official witch, but unlike Harry Potter, witches can be both male and female. Wizards and witches are different things, and we are never warlocks," Gibbons said.
Warlock is a derogatory term meaning rule-breaker, she said, and the word "witch" actually comes from an ancient word that means "holy".
"People think I am trying to control people's will with spells, but spells are more of just a prayer. My prayers are more flamboyant and accentuated, instead of kneeling by my bed to pray, I have candles and blow stuff into fires," Gibbons said.
Wicca started around 1965 in England and spread with the American hippie movement, Cressall said. However, she said, Hollywood has somewhat demonized Wiccans.
"There is no such thing as good or bad witch. That is like asking if you are a good or bad Christian. We are just people. We do not sacrifice animals or eat babies, but we do believe we have divinity in ourselves, the gods aren't above us," Gibbons said.
Gibbons said the followers believe in a god and goddess.
"I tend to lean towards the goddess now because I spent the first 15 years of my life worshipping the god, so I think I can now focus on just the goddesses for awhile," Gibbons said. "However, I think for god to really be what god is you need both the male and female together."
The god and goddess can have many names. Gibbons said a lot of people adopt names from ancient Greek mythology like Demeter for the goddess and Erebus for the god.
The theme of the god and goddess is found throughout many Pagan cultures, Cressall said.
"I love the connectivity of everything. The male and female deities are part of each other and nothing without each other," Gibbons said.
Cressall said, "We need these stories, myths and cycles as humans to make us better people. It is kind of like a kick in the pants to get going."
Follow the happenings of the USU Pagan Alliance, including the soon-to-be-scheduled Pagan movie night, at their blog, usustudentpaganalliance.wordpress.com.