On the evening of Oct. 13, downtown Athens was not just filled with Georgia fans watching the Georgia vs LSU game but with Pagans and nonpagans alike relishing in all that Athens Pagan Pride Day had to offer.
In mainstream society, Paganism is a word that can be easily recognized but more difficult to define.
Paganism is any religion not part of the three Abrahamic religions, which include Christianity, Judaism and Islam, according to the article “Intro: Pagans, Heathens and Recons” on witchvox.com. The word Pagan is derived from the Latin word “paganus,” which means a country dweller.
At the commencement of the Athens Pagan Pride Day, the local coordinator of the event Lachele Foley led the opening ritual. The sound of the beating drum echoed to passersby and those meandering through the numerous vendors at the event on 100 College Ave.
Foley spoke on the importance of the event for the Athens community.
“First and foremost,” Foley said, “it lets people know that there is a lot of us. It helps people be more tolerant and communicate with each other.”
Athens Pagan Pride Day is held annually in the fall near the September Equinox to promote awareness and tolerance of paganism, according to the Athens Area Pagans website. Athens Pagan Pride Day is an affiliate of the Pagan Pride Project. The local event is produced by Athens Area Pagans, Inc in cooperation with the UGA Pagan Student Association.
Every year the event includes a food bank to support a local charity. This year donations will go to Project Safe, a nonprofit organization founded in Athens working to end domestic violence.
Angela Warren, the president of Athens Area Pagans, Inc., has been a part of the organization since 2010. Warren said Athens has been fairly open to the pagan community, saying the pride day helps remove the stigma around pagans.
“We are normal people. We are your neighbors. It helps with the stigma that we are not baby eaters,” Warren said.
Crystals, handmade jewelry, dream catchers, paintings, broomsticks, candles, pottery and tarot readings were some of the staple pieces for sale at the vendor booths. One of the vendors on display for attendees to marvel and communicate with was the University of Georgia’s Pagan Student Association.
The UGA PSA, founded in 1992, was represented by the current president, Chris Dial. The sixth year anthropology and archeology major from Athens is the only active member this semester. Dial’s Pagan affiliations include Celtic traditions, Druidry, Celtic reconstructionist, Scot/Irish Witchcraft and Heathenry.
Due to what he sees as misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding Paganism, Dial addressed his feelings on the matter.
“We are just people. We have our own struggles. I am just a person,” Dial said.
Dial said “No matter the different race, different sexual orientation or religion we are all people. It shouldn't be them versus us or me versus you.”
Dial, coming from a conservative Christian background, said Paganism is “freedom to think and do as I please.”
There is not one single doctrine or dogma of Paganism because of the numerous religious paths it encompasses, Dial said.
Due to the of the lack of members, the club is currently unregistered with the university. Despite the current status of the club, Dial said UGA doesn’t treat the association with any discrimination.
However, Dial said the association does not have the outpouring of resources and word of mouth as other religious student organizations.
When the club is active, meetings include a member researching a topic and presenting it at the meetings. After the presentation, a discussion over the topic will commence. Rituals are not done on campus but at a members’ private residences.
Another organization, the Circle of the Risen Phoenix, an Eclectic Wiccan coven, was present at Pagan Pride Day.
The founder of the Coven, Rev. Mandy Haecker, who received her Bachelor's degree in religious studies from Georgia State University, provided Tarot readings. She said Wicca, the modern religion of witchcraft, was the best fit for her.
Growing up in a Christian home, Haecker said her old Christian church still accepts her.
“[They] still love me as I am. They want me to come back, but they are supportive,” Haecker said.
Her mother, who is Christian, was present at her daughter’s vendor booth and sported the coven T-shirt and provided the knitted goods to sell.
Haecker describes her views on Wicca.
“Wicca is a faith of love. Don't paint all Christians with one brush, like they do to us,” Haecker said.
Haecker does not shy away from displaying her religion on Facebook.
“I am out of the broom closet” said Haecker.
Paganism and its role in Athens
Margot Adler, author of “Drawing Down the Moon,” discusses the emotional baggage associated with the word pagan.
“Negative associations with these words are the end result of centuries of political struggles during which the major prophetic religions, notably Christianity, won a victory over the older polytheistic religions,” Adler said.
Adler goes in depth into the definition of Paganism.
Pagan to mean a member of a polytheistic nature religion, such as the ancient Greek, Roman, or Egyptian religions, or, in anthropological terms, a member of one of the indigenous folk and tribal religions all over the world” Adler said in her book “Drawing Down the Moon.”
Common misconceptions about paganism include pagans worship the devil, everything is done in evil (such as curses) and pagans participate in human and animal sacrifices. President of UGA PSA, Dial, said these stereotypes are false.
Though Athens is a city located within the Bible Belt, it is home to Athens Area Pagans, Inc. The organization was started in the summer of 2005 and has conducted regular meetings ever since. AAP meets every Saturday, unless otherwise noted, at Hi-Lo Lounge at 5 pm.
In the email that is sent out to new members, it states “[AAP] was conceived as a social network for self-identified Pagans and as a clearing-house for information for the Pagan community.”
The new member email also addresses those who are welcome within the organization.
“The working definition from the beginning was that anyone who felt excluded by the Big Religions and was comfortable with the word ‘Pagan’ was invited,” it states. Meetings are described as usually informal.
Correction: In a previous version of this article, The Red & Black incorrectly identified the date of Athens Pagan Pride Day. The Red & Black regrets this error, and it has since been fixed.