Tonight I went to a meeting at the Interfaith Council of UMD. I wasn’t really planning on being there, but I knew that my old group PSU (Pagan Student Union) would be presenting, so I decided to tag along with some of the current members and see how it went.
I ended up talking, which had not been a part of the plan. I had just wanted to sit in the background and listen, but somehow or other a certain someone talked me into talking. The people at the council were very nice and friendly, and very welcoming. Most of them seemed to be genuinely interested in learning more about Paganism and some of what that means. We met no hint of outrage or resistance or condemnation—just open curiosity and a desire to learn and understand. The majority of the people were either Christian or Jewish, with one Muslim and one Hindu.
Most of the questions dealt with trying to define what Paganism is, why someone would identify as Pagan rather than monotheistic, and what Pagans do. Of course, some of those are very difficult questions to answer when you’re talking in generalizations and speaking about a very broad range of belief. In our group from PSU, there was an Asatru, two generic Pagans, and me, the lone Wiccan-identifying person. I got the lovely task, once it was known that I’m technically Wiccan, of trying to explain Wicca to everyone and how Wicca is different from the term “Pagan.” I did my best, and I think it worked. I had two very nice Jews come to me after the meeting with more questions.
That pair interested me a great deal, and I greatly enjoyed talking with them. I really have very little experience with the Jewish faith myself, beyond what a few friends have told me and what research I’ve been able to do. The worldview these two presented to me with their questions is so different from my own, yet we were able to find common ground when talking about science and energy and relationships. The girl was so fascinated and interested in understanding my worldview, and I found myself sharing far more than I had intended to tonight.
What impressed me the most about tonight is that there is a group like this that exists for young people to share ideas, beliefs, and knowledge. Questions about anything and everything are welcomed and encouraged in the spirit of learning. They encouraged me to feel safe sharing what information I wanted to share. They encouraged open communication and honest dialogue, and if someone didn’t understand something, they asked about it in a respectful manner. Granted, this is only the one meeting I’ve been to, and I can’t say for certain whether this holds true for all their meetings—but I suspect that it does. I came away from this group tonight very impressed and happy. I felt like something had been accomplished; there is some sense of helping others to understand a point of view that is different from their own and to help dispel some of the myths, prejudices, and misunderstandings about my own brand of spirituality.
I feel that there needs to be more of this kind of communication if people outside [the very broad umbrella] of Paganism are to understand what it is Pagans are about, at least in generic terms, and stop being afraid or stop believing what they see on TV and in movies. All four of us from PSU presented as fairly normal people. We didn’t dress up in anything scary—yes, I was in all black, but that’s because my work is business casual and I had chosen to wear a black dress—none of us wore ostentatious jewelry or looked as if we wanted to suck anyone’s blood. We looked like people you might see on the street and not think twice about, which is really no different from the reality. The Pagans I know only dress up in stereotypical Pagany dress on Halloween or RenFest days. I feel that tonight we really proved the point that Pagans aren’t much different from anyone else—we just have a different set of beliefs.