Heathens and herbs

Pagan Pride survives

By Lisa Bennett

Photo: A group joins hands in a ritual at Pagan Pride Day, this year at Taylorsville MetroPark Oct. 1
Their beliefs span thousands of years of history and dozens of traditions. Who are they? The intrepid souls, who continually forge ahead, undaunted by the turmoil of history are Pagans, folks who practice religions almost as old as time itself. Like many other religions, their spiritual practices wax and wane with the times, but their core beliefs and values have remained largely intact thanks in part to strong oral traditions, which have continually kept beliefs and practices alive.

The word “Pagan” comes from the Latin word “paganus,” which originally meant “villager” or “country dweller.” As Christianity grew and took control of larger regions, paganus came to represent more derogatory terms such as “heathen” or “savage,” implying people who adhered to their agricultural roots and/or old world religions were simple-minded and, therefore, an affront to the popular new religion.

Just as people who are technologically illiterate today are considered “old school,” so too were our ancestors relegated to the “old school” of religious thought. Those beliefs, however, were so ingrained in local indigenous cultures that people of the time had a tremendously difficult time letting go of the old to convert to the new. The answer to that was to demonize old world thinking, not only making it unpopular but downright evil.

Sadly today, much of that negative view remains, though once again, time is changing the way we think and view the world. What we call New Age today is actually a blend of old world knowledge and modern insight. Using herbs as natural remedies and reading cloud patterns and temperature to predict the weather, for example, once considered works of the devil, are again being recognized and even hailed for their inherent value. Now, astronomy, which was once considered heresy, is not only recognized as a true science, but we have actually gone so far as to send people into outer space and land on the moon. Imagine what folks would have thought about that back in the 11th  century!

Just as time has changed some of the ways in which we think, so too has it changed what it means to be Pagan. What was once a term that referred mainly to European villagers, is now an umbrella term that covers a wide variety of religious and neo-religious practices, including Druidism, Asatru, Wicca, Witchcraft, and a host of others.

“There’s a whole bunch of them that I can’t even think of,” Reverend Susan Bergeron says. To add to the confusion, some Pagan traditions still adhere to Christianity. “It’s predominantly non-Christian,” Bergeron says, “but there are still some it Witches who claim Christianity.”

And while it might sound confusing, Christianity and Paganism have a lot in common: prayer, belief in a higher power, recognition of death and rebirth, and even things such as the Christmas tree and Easter bunny, are common threads, according to the Witchvox.com community.

However, Hollywood and the media for example have done a fantastic job of misrepresenting Pagans and their beliefs, not because of any ill intentions but because of the recurring myths and inaccuracies that permeate modern culture. For example, claims of child sacrifice actually refer to offerings of incense, food, and mead – a way of giving thanks for a good harvest, survival of a harsh winter, and so on. What historians referred to as animal sacrifice was actually the practice of farmers (which is still done today in some parts of the world) of culling the herds in preparation for the winter. Rather than waste valuable food feeding sick animals, farmers would slaughter them and preserve the meat as food for the coming winter. The practice was considered a type of sacrifice, and the lives of the animals lost were honored in special ceremonies since they were considered sacred, according to Living the Country Life magazine.

So-called Pagan “spells” are actually modified prayers, and images of witches stirring pots and making potions refer to country women of yore who would make pots of soup in large kettles over a fire. Those potions you laugh about at Halloween? Medicines used to cure the sick and help heal the injured.

At any rate, we can learn a lot from history, but we can learn a lot more from each other; that’s one of the reasons Pagans come together to celebrate in the seventh annual Pagan Pride Day, hosted by Dayton Pagan Network. Not only are they celebrating their shared interest, but they’re celebrating traditions that have continued from times long past. According to organizer Katherine Kosey, this year is looking to be even better than last year. From special guest speakers including recording artist Kellianna, local author Patti Wigington, and self-proclaimed Witch and author Tish Owen  to a plethora of workshops and dozens of vendors and public rituals, the festival is shaping up to be one of the best in a long time.

Pagan Pride takes place Saturday, Oct. 1  at Taylorsville MetroPark, 2000 U.S. 40, in Vandalia. The event runs from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. For more information, please visit DaytonPaganNetwork.org/Dayton-Pagan-Pride-Day.

Reach DCP freelance writer Lisa Bennett at LisaBennett@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Lisa Bennett at LisaBennett@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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