Sophomore Eli Hicks was interested in folklore, nature and magic long before they understood them as traditional aspects of pagan culture and practice.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I was always really into witches and fairies and things like that,” Hicks said. “And then you get older and everybody tells you it’s not real, and then you get a little bit older and you find out, okay, there’s a lot of truth to why there are so many stories out there about this sort of thing.”
Since joining Pagan Club, Knox’s largest interfaith organization, Hicks has had the opportunity to learn about various topics related to paganism through weekly workshops and dialogues. The discussion-based group provides a space for productive conversations about subjects like religion, ethics and cultural appropriation. Workshops highlight the diverse backgrounds, beliefs and skills of Pagan Club members. Past workshops include candle and soap making, tarot card reading, and environmentalist events to honor Earth Day.
“We have people that are more into history, some people who are into tarot, some people who have a really specific branch of Buddhism that they practice,” Hicks said. So we’re trying to have people teach their own specific lessons.”
In the future, the club hopes to expand its influence. Hicks would like to see more collaborative events with the Galesburg community and other religious organizations on campus.
While paganism has roots in different traditions, the club draws an important line between open and closed religions. The club hosts a discussion on cultural appropriation for new members at least once a year. East Asian and Native American influences are generally considered disrespectful to replicate.
“There have been cases of people being accepted into Native American tribes when you weren’t born into one,” Hicks explained. “But you can’t just say I like that and I’m going to practice these things when you haven’t been brought up with those same stories and the same ideals as the people practicing it.”
While pagan practices are unique to individuals, the club’s activities are interwoven with a culture of self-care. Practices can include using crystals to set positive intentions each morning, grounding techniques, regular meditation or performing tarot readings for others. Hicks’ practice, for example, primarily involves crystals.
“Throughout time, humans have assigned the same properties to specific crystals, which is really, really interesting,” they said. “Especially knowing that people come from different geographic areas, for them to kind of universally attribute those qualities to different, specific stones is really, really amazing.”
Crystals representing different properties can be worn as jewelry, used to create altar spaces or in cleansing ceremonies. Wearing or carrying crystals with particular attributes can have a balancing effect.
Since junior Meghan Gaynor joined Pagan Club last year, she has gained a greater sense of confidence and become more involved in the Knox community.
“I originally started exploring paganism as a way to cultivate a culture of self-love and healing within myself because I thought that was something that was really important for my personal growth,” she said.
Gaynor emphasized the importance of Pagan Club as a safe space for interfaith dialogue. The flexible nature of paganism and its roots in various traditions make it an ideal vehicle for religious discussion.
“It’s not suspending what you believe at the door, but kind of like leaving room to not judge people who see things differently than you. I think cultivating that space is something we’re really proud of,” Gaynor said.
Pagan Club also aims to promote discussions about the stigma surrounding paganism. It is often painted as “evil” or “barbaric,” when it centers on nature, healing and self-love. The pentacle, for example, which has negative associations with curses, is actually an important symbol of protection and the four elements.
Gaynor believes that the self-care inherent in many aspects of paganism makes it accessible and relatable for many people. She hopes that Pagan Club can help others feel more comfortable in their own skin.
“It kind of brought me out of my shell a little bit and allowed me to pursue things I wanted,” she said. “I started dancing [the year I joined] and I was just taking every opportunity I could to take care of myself. And I feel like it keeps coming back to [how] my practice is consistently a way that I take care of myself. I think having a culture like that in Pagan Club is really helpful.”