Elan displays a multitude of ways to predict the future. She watches the talisman and reads the directions it moves based on the questions she asks.

The Other Side of the Broomstick

 

After beginning the ritual by calling the directions, participants join hands while focusing on candles in the center to remove negative aspects of one’s life.

After beginning the ritual by calling the directions, participants join hands while focusing on candles in the center to remove negative aspects of one’s life.

“From Above to Below

As we return to where we stand at the Center.

We release our Souls, Each to Each to our Own Souls return

Thank you for your presence in our Circle

Stay if you will, go if you must

Hail and Farewell.”

[cap]T[/cap]he smell of burning wax and cinnamon fills the room. Elbows are bumped and robes swish together in a blur of purple and shimmered patterns. As the directions, (North, East, West, and South) and their according spirits (Earth, Air, Water, and Fire) are called and the candles are lit, the ritual begins. The followers turn in the appointed direction and raise their hands in praise. One voice breaks the silence and begins the prayer just loud enough for the group to hear.

The energy in the room lifts as the chanting begins; these are prayers to the Earth, acknowledging that everyone and everything is equal. There is no spilling of blood or sacrificing of animals at this ritual. They are Pagans, but they are not witches.

“We don’t have green skin, humped backs, and long warty noses,” says Elan, a practicing shaman for over twenty-three years and co-owner of Metamorphosis Gardens Pagan Shop, which has a community alter and healing rooms. The shop serves as a public front for Pagans and all who are curious to shop, pray, and ask questions.

“I’ve been out of the broom closet for twenty-five years, and I still have family members who choose to ignore my practices,” Elan says.

“I now have a restraining order against my neighbor because he once threatened to burn me at the stake. Everybody reacts differently, but when people are scared of Pagans, it’s usually because they don’t understand what we believe in.”

Pagan is a term derived from the Latin word pagani, which was used as a derogatory term that meant country dweller. Elan explains that it was the equivalent of calling someone a hick; a name used because many Pagans were farmers who lived among crops and saw the natural cycles of Earth.

After rubbing oils on the candles, Shale presses the candle between her palms in prayer.

After rubbing oils on the candles, Shale presses the candle between her palms in prayer.

“As a Pagan, I think it’s important to integrate my spirituality into everything that I do,” says Shale, co-owner of Metamorphosis Gardens Pagan Shop. “Yes, I’ve raised animals, and yes, I’ve slaughtered those animals. And while I prepare my food, I pray. It’s just good manners to thank the Earth for what it gives me.”

Unlike most religions that propose God is in the sky or above Earth, Pagans believe that Mother Earth is present in people, animals, and even the clouds. Although Paganism may seem drastically different than many religions, there are more similarities than most people realize.

Starhawk, an activist, feminist, and acclaimed author of ten books and numerous essays on Paganism, explains that Paganism is a religion focused on nature and one’s relationship to the Earth.

Little things, such as recycling or gardening, can become part of a Pagan’s spirituality. Starhawk asserts that anything that connects one to the Earth can be used as a ritual.

“My daily life isn’t that different than anyone else’s,” Starhawk says. “It’s just that sustainability, gardens, and preserving the Earth are all very much a part of my spiritual path.”

In her 2001 essay, Religion From Nature, Not Archaeology, Starhawk wrote about the importance of Pagan history for fellow believers.

“Our spirituality is based on experience—on a direct relationship with the cycles of birth, growth, death, and regeneration in nature and in human lives,” she says. “We see the complex interwoven web of life as sacred, which is to say, real and important, worth protecting, worth taking a stand for.”

This liberty is engrained into the beliefs of Paganism, and the religion prospers individualistically.

Oils, such as essence of rose, are rubbed onto colored candles in order to focus the energy in the room.

Oils, such as essence of rose, are rubbed onto colored candles in order to focus the energy in the room.

Although rituals are not the same for all Pagans, holidays are typically celebrated based on the seasons and the cycles of Mother Earth. Celebrations are divided into quarters and cross quarters. Yule, which is celebrated in late December, marks the rebirth of the sun and the start of a new year.

“Yule is kind of like Christmas – minus the dead guy and the cross,” Elan says.

Ostara, celebrated in March, is similar to Easter; eggs are a big part of this tradition. While some believe that the egg represents fertility, others believe that its shape represents continuity and the hopeful return of the harvest season. Pagans often throw eggs into the river to return to Mother Earth in order to thank her for a successful season.

Other holidays throughout the seasons include Lughnasadh (August first), Mabon (late September), and Samhain (November first). These celebrations highlight the summer season, the first harvest, and the ending of the harvest season, respectively. Many believe that Mabon is the only season when all crops prosper and are available for consumption. However, by Samhain, the crops are dying and the harvest is over. Any leftover crops are left for Mother Earth. For some, Samhain is celebrated as the day of the dead, which is similar to mainstream celebrations of Halloween.

With all of these rituals and beliefs, it is important to realize that there are many differences within the Pagan community.

“If you have ten Pagans in a room, you’ll have fifteen different pathways,” Shale says.

Once the ritual is over, Jake does a taro card reading.

Once the ritual is over, Jake does a taro card reading.

The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) is an active group built to support Pagans nationally and within the Eugene community. CUUPS explains that the differences among Pagans arise because there are no fixed scriptures. Rather, the development of Paganism has been more about the Earth and the individual’s relationship to Mother Earth.

“It’s funny that some people think we are so different,” Elan says. “So many of our beliefs and rituals are similar to Christianity. We just don’t have scriptures to show it.”

In her essays, Starhawk explains that Paganism is not a religion based on history and does not depend on written documents in order to prosper.

“The heart of my connection to the Goddess has less to do with what I believe happened five thousand years ago or five hundred years ago, and much more to do with what I notice when I step outside my door,” she explains. “Oak leaves fall to the ground, decay, and make fertile soil. Calling that process sacred means that I approach this everyday miracle with a sense of awe, and wonder, and gratitude.”

Waiting for a ritual to begin in the community room of Metamorphosis Gardens, Indigo delves into her views on Paganism. Indigo, a raised Wiccan (a similar religion to Paganism also involving witchcraft) and current Pagan, explains that being a Pagan doesn’t relate to Harry Potter or an ability to produce magic with the wave of a wand.

“We’re proactive, not reactive, ” Indigo says.

“For me, being a Pagan means finding magic in the ordinary. I try to live with an awareness that everything is special in its ordinariness.”

Elan agrees, adding, “Magic is changing consciousness at will. We have something that we want so we change our consciousness to bring it into our lives.”

Although Indigo lives her life dedicated to Paganism, she, like many Pagans, chooses to keep her beliefs out of the public eye. Choosing to stay neutral at work, she hopes to avoid repeating history.

When Indigo was seven years old, she attended a summer camp. Although it was not a religious camp, there were many Mormon kids there. One day, while the children were chatting about their religious activities, Indigo was forced to face the misconceptions about her religion.

“I made the mistake of saying that I was a Pagan,” Indigo says. “I was young and didn’t know the repercussions. When they learned that I was a Pagan, they threw me out of a window, spat on me, and beat me up. When they were done, they told me that the devil would soon take me.”

Despite the bad memories that she carries with her, Indigo makes it a point to mention that not everyone has an adverse reaction to her religion. She remembers speaking to a Mormon elder in the town she grew up in and being invited to give a presentation on Paganism.

“I don’t know if they were just trying to learn more about the people they were trying to convert, but to me, it was a sincere attempt to reach out and learn,” she says.

With pasts cluttered with anecdotes of pain and misunderstanding, it’s understandable why Indigo keeps her religious views a secret. However, she stresses that as a community, it is important for Pagans to have a public face.

“The public needs to have access to good information,” Indigo says.

Metamorphosis Gardens serves as this public front.

From baskets of religious symbols and racks of jewelry with Pagan markings on them, to shelves of spices and herbs with quick notes about the powers of each, the store serves the many needs of the religious followers.

Mistletoe wards off enemies and protects against love jinxes, while wild barberry heals a fever, sore throat, and can be used as a laxative. Cinnamon brings protection while valerian cures marital problems.

As a customer ducks into the store, he grabs a handful of candles and speaks to Elan in the back. When he leaves, he makes it a point to emphasize that he is not a witch. He simply thinks the store has a good selection of candles.

Elan displays a multitude of ways to predict the future. She watches the talisman and reads the directions it moves based on the questions she asks.

Elan displays a multitude of ways to predict the future. She watches the talisman and reads the directions it moves based on the questions she asks.

Elan explains that despite her comfort with being publicly Pagan, many people in the community are still choosing to hide their beliefs.

“If you have someone who is gay and Pagan, they are more likely to come out that they are gay than Pagan,” Elan notes. “It’s because of how society treats them. There are misconceptions that will take years and years to fight against.”

Starhawk agrees, explaining that reversing misconceptions is a slow process.

“Hopefully, through interfaith work and the educating of people, we can reverse the close-mindedness and ignorance,” Starhawk says. “ I find that when I’m confident and comfortable about what I’m talking about and who I am, people are more open. If they’re still uncomfortable, then it’s not my problem, it’s theirs.”

These misconceptions, according the CUUPS’s website, arose from the domination of Christianity. When Christianity spread through Europe hundreds of years ago, the Church believed that individuals who believed in a magic within themselves rather than in a higher being were to be labeled and hunted as witches.

“Some people believe that we sacrifice animals and spill blood during our rituals,” Elan says. “Most Pagans don’t even practice blood magic, and those who do tend to use the individual’s menstrual blood.”

CUUPS explains that today Paganism is very eclectic. The quarters and the cross quarters are a reminder of the Earth’s beauty rather than a forced ritual. Pagans do not see the world as split between good and evil. There is no God, and there is no devil. It’s a holistic religion that believes that all gods, humans, animals, and others are equal and should be shown the same value.

“We’re all priestesses, and we’re all students,” Indigo says. “We all have a little magic in us.”

Many Pagans choose to carry on their rituals at home, but CUUPS serves as a ground for all pathways to mingle and pray together.

“We kind of just say you believe in what you believe, and I’ll believe what I believe,” Shale says. “As long as we’re okay with our differences, we can pray together.”

Whenever there is a need, CUUPS, as well as the other Eugene Pagan groups, come together for their members. They light a candle and close their eyes, focusing on the energy in the room. The prayers are sincere and welcoming. As the ritual comes to an end, everyone seems more relaxed. The directions called at the beginning of the ritual are bid farewell, and the “witches” return home.

“From Above to Below

As we return to where we stand at the Center.

We release our Souls, Each to Each to our Own Souls return

Thank you for your presence in our Circle

Stay if you will, go if you must

Hail and Farewell.”

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