Pagans Aren't Devil-Worshipers May 21, 2014 23:57:24 GMT -5
Post by Joanna on May 21, 2014 23:57:24 GMT -5
Pagan Unity Festival Brings 'Devil-worship' into the Light
Here’s what I learned about Paganism after spending a day at the Pagan Unity Festival in Burns, Tennessee: Defining Paganism is about as easy as driving 15 miles anywhere in our venerable city without passing a church, or spotting a Biblical bumper sticker — it’s doable, but difficult.
Tish Owen, a leader in the Nashville Pagan community and owner of Goddess and the Moon, the metaphysical store on Eighth Avenue South, organized the May 15-18 festival with Star Bustamonte, an aromatherapist and storage facility manager from Asheville, North Carolina. They tried to sketch out Paganism as a whole for me at the beginning of my visit. Qualifiers like “That’s not true for all of us,” or “Some of us, not all of us,” were never far behind.
“You get three Pagans in a room,” said Owen, “you’re gonna have three different opinions on how things are done.”
“That was the reason we started this [festival],” said Bustamonte. “So we can all learn and understand each other and try to get along without hexing the crap out of each other.”
Simply put, Paganism, like Christianity, is an umbrella term, with many different puddles of belief pooled beneath. There are Druids, who believe in the Celtic pantheon and have a deep reverence for the environment. There are Ásatrúar, whose pantheon consists of the Norse gods and whose beliefs emphasize ideals like honor, truth and discipline. There are Wiccans, who themselves can be divided into several different categories; some invoke pantheons ranging from Egyptian to Greco-Roman, while some Wiccans pay sole tribute to Diana. Then there are eclectic Pagans, who borrow elements from other Pagan sects to create their own personalized belief system.
But in spite of these differences, a common thread snaked through the stories I heard from the festival’s vendors and visitors. Sandy Bowne-Culberson, a 67-year-old from Columbia, Tenn., goes by the Pagan name SunCrow. Her business, Magick Happens, sells sarongs, incense, jewelry, candles and ceramics. Though she hopes to get a storefront sometime in the future, for now she sets up shop at festivals like PUF. She has also exhibited at flea markets, where she’s met her share of naysayers – people who tell her “The devil’s in here,” and, “You all believe in the devil.”
“We don’t believe in the devil,” SunCrow told me. “That’s what’s so ironic about it. I just look [the people saying these things] straight in the eye and say, ‘But that’s a Christian aspect. I’m not Christian, so why are you saying [this]? If you look at your history, your devil never came about until Christianity came along.' ”
Thom Herchenrader, a 39-year-old follower of Ásatrú from Louisville, said his Wiccan friends who wear a pentacle (an upright pentagram, often mistaken for its inverted, Satanic counterpart) also hear accusations of devil worship.
“A lot of people are quick to condemn you,” said Herchenrader, “without really getting to know you or ask questions to understand the path you follow. Unfortunately, I’ve met with that a lot. And the best way to combat it is with kindness. Don’t be snarky to them back. Be kind, and try to open their minds. Try to help them understand where you’re coming from and what’s good about it.”
Both Herchenrader and SunCrow grew up Christian and both embraced Paganism after embarking on a search for something more meaningful. The spiritual search also seemed to be a common story for those who weren’t brought up on any particular religious tradition, like Bustamonte, who went to a synagogue and tried to talk to a rabbi about Judaism at the tender age of eight. (“Does your mother know you’re here?” the rabbi asked her.)
Herchenrader calls his former religion a “valid spiritual path," but, he continues, “so many followers of Christianity count the bad as a way to keep you in line. ‘You’re gonna go to hell if you do this. You can’t do that.’ It becomes so much about the wrong you may do rather than the good you’re supposed to do, that I became very disillusioned with it.”
“It’s not that we don’t believe in God,” said SunCrow. “We do. We call it the ‘unknown God’ – same God [as the Christian one]. But below that we have the God and the Goddess, which we work with, all the time, and we have a lot of different pantheons for those. The Christian pantheon would be Mary and Joseph and Jesus – that’s their pantheon, but they only have a singular pantheon.”
PUF, which takes place every May in Montgomery Bell State Park, is a place where Pagans can take a break from all the misinterpretations and ignorance – except when there’s a nosey writer poking around – and enjoy being with like-minded people. This year, the four-day festival celebrated its 17th gathering and drew approximately 400 people. In addition to Goddess and the Moon, its sponsors included Serving Pagans in Religion and Life, a Nashville-based nonprofit for Pagans; Optimum Health Matters, a holistic health care provider in Nashville; and Gretchen’s Faery Farts, a tie-dye clothing retailer based in Kentucky.
The festival is family-friendly, with activities for both youth and adults. There are writing classes, movies, dancing, and s’mores and hot dogs for the younger participants. For the adults, events feature authors like thriller novelist M.R. Sellars and fantasy writer Alex Bledsoe, as well as Pagan historians and educators like River and Joyce Higgenbotham. Guests can also take a number of workshops, whose topics range from the fun (bellydancing) to the practical (real estate planning).
Other workshops fall somewhere in between, like the class I sat in on about spellcasting, taught by Judika Illes, an independent scholar and author of books such as The Encyclopedia of 5,000 Spells. As I listened to Illes discuss the nuances of casting a spell, like the effect on the process if your heart wants one thing and your head wants another, I admit I was dubious. Really? I thought. People really believe in this stuff?
But then I realized that casting a spell to get something you want is not that much different than praying for a miracle for the same reason, so I needed to take my skepticism and shove it.
Later, I stopped by the pavilion to check out the drum circle being led by Tuatha Dea, a rock band from Gatlinburg that mixes Celtic influences with African drumming. Lead vocalist Danny Mullikin led the group through a steady cadence, and as he directed different parts of the circle, counting off beats, the music got louder and faster. Louder. Faster. Louder. Faster. Louder and louder and faster and faster, until it all culminated with a final, dramatic boom.
When another round started, one of the those I’d interviewed earlier convinced me to drum a little myself. But even before that, I got the sense that drum circles, like the best concerts, create an instant camaraderie among people who barely know each other. There’s just something about a group of individuals, banging a lively, pulsing beat, collectively building a music so loud it drowns out thought, that has that effect.
To say my time at PUF was educational would be an understatement; my mind had been hung out to dry by all the information about Pagan sects I’d learned by the time I drove away – and I’d barely scratched the surface.
But drum circles, man – if you’ve never been a part of one, you should be.
Source: Angela Suico, Nashville Scene, May 20, 2014.