The Pagan Student Alliance has started hosting events that include the whole school and is focusing on educating students about what the Pagan religion is really about. PSA is growing in number, now consisting of five officers and about ten other members attending each meeting.
Past events this term have been a tarot card reading tutorial and making tarot cards. In the future, the club will teach students about candle dipping and making incense. All of the materials for the incense and the candle dipping are organic “because for a lot of us it’s our religion,” said junior Ashley Atkinson, president of PSA.
Freshman Emily Berarducci is the secretary for PSA and will host the candle dipping night, where students will use provided supplies to make organic candles completely from scratch. Candles can be an important part of the Pagan religion, but the candles are not just for that. The event is just for anyone that would like to make their own candles and learn a little about the pagan religion.
Sundee Rai Perkins, a sophomore member and PSA treasurer, ran the first tutorial on how to read tarot cards. There were about 15 people there, which is “the most we’ve had in a long time,” said Perkins. “It’s helping to give a more positive awareness of what paganism is.”
Attendees were taught the basics about what cards in the tarot deck mean and how to interpret them. Everyone was allowed the chance to try and read cards for each other.
Atkinson hosted the night where everyone made tarot cards. For this they had copies of the major cards in the deck called arcana. There are about 20 of these. The significance of each was explained and then attendees colored their cards. A full tarot deck and a book on how to read tarot cards were raffled off.
The last event of this term is hosted by the publicity chair, senior Michael Leon. This will teach people how to make incense and they will get to take their incense home with them. Leon has been researching the best way to create incense for some time. Leon said of what he has learned, “[Incense making] involves mixing different fragrance oils with a non-toxic chemical called DPG which helps the incense burn longer and smoke less. Basically after you mix the oil you dip unscented sticks in and then let them dry. The incense workshop is not only creating something natural that many pagans also use for ceremonial purposes, but it also draws attention to the fact that there are pagans on campus.”
Technically this is PSA’s third year of activity, but when Atkinson got here two years ago “it was basically defunct, there were only a few members.”
The real activity started last year, Atkinson’s first year as president. They had events such as a Halloween (Samhain) party, but this is the first time they have done large events that really involve the whole school. Meetings are always open to everyone, but PSA is not widely known. Improving awareness is part of their mission.
Next term, they plan to have a priestess from Chicago explain divination, host a dinner in conjunction with Students Against Sexism in Society (SASS) about women in religion, and work with Grinnell University and University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to get together for pagan holidays.
Students in the club stressed that they are not just interested in spiritual things. They host events so that people can also realize that they do not fall into the evil stereotype with which people identify them.
An example they used was Wikipedia, which defines paganism and witchcraft as “the use of certain kinds of supernatural or magical powers in order to inflict harm or damage upon members of a community or their property.”
Perkins said they have petitioned Wikipedia several times to change this to a more accurate description of their religion, but the editors will not listen.
Not everyone that attends PSA meetings identify themselves as Pagan.
“I would not call myself Pagan; I am definitely ‘Pagan friendly,’” said Leon. “I think environmentalism is extremely important, and that any religion that emphasizes this is worthy of great respect.”
Atkinson explained that paganism is used in custody cases as a reason to keep children away from a parent. Berarducci says, “A lot of members don’t tell [families] we are a safe place for them to be themselves.”
Leon said, “part of the purpose of engaging the campus in activities is to hopefully help people understand that Pagans are nothing like the colorfully painted ‘demon worshippers’ portrayed in the popular media, but rather real normal people whose religious principles simply center around Earth-based traditions.”
Their meetings are a place where pagans and people interested in paganism can discuss religion.
Atkinson said, “I wish people would be more informed, I want people to know we are out there, normal people and not doing whatever they think we are [doing].”