Pagans come out in full force at week’s festival

Pagan groups across the D.C. area spent the past week celebrating their different traditions and trying to get the word out about their faith.

A week of events, including worship services, faith discussion sessions, drum circles, moon rituals and a healing and divination fair, culminated Saturday with the fifth annual Washington D.C. Pagan Pride Day celebration near Dupont Circle. Sponsored by the Open Hearth Foundation, a non-profit organization working to create a pagan community center in the D.C. area, the events throughout the week brought pagans of different traditions together and educated the public about the misconceptions surrounding paganism.

Paganism is defined as a group of individual modern faiths thathave been reconstructed from beliefs, deities, symbols, practices and other elements of an ancient religion. Some of its denominations include Wicca, which has been compared to witchcraft traditions and is based on the symbols, seasonal days of celebration, beliefs and deities of ancient Celtic society and Druidism, which focuses on divination, conversing with the ancestors, and prophesizing the future.

Sherry Marts, vice chair of the Open Hearth Foundation, said that Pagan Pride Day gives different denominational groups a chance to share their faith with others.

“Essentially it’s just an opportunity for the different pagan groups in the area to get together and talk to each other and also the public about what they do and what their practices are, what kinds of events they hold,” she said.

About 16 tents were set up in a grassy area of Rock Creek Park commonly referred to as P Street Beach. The tents were manned by representatives from a variety of Pagan groups from the D.C. area and as far as North Carolina.

The groups sponsoring tents ranged from the traditional denominational groups to social groups such as Pagan Night Out, an organization that plans monthly social activities for pagans in the D.C. area.

During the day, rituals were performed by three different pagan groups, occurring in the morning to open the day, at midday, and at the end of the day.

Just after the midday ritual, a drumming circle formed. About twelve people began a sort of “jam session” practicing a tradition with roots more in pagan culture than religion, according to participants.

“That’s one of the things that we’re trying to do; to show that we’re more similar than we are different,” Eric Eldritch, Pagan Pride Day coordinator, said.

Attendees also had the opportunity to walk a labyrinth, which is an archetypal symbol in Paganism similar to a maze that is used as meditative tool. Walking through the symbol, which was created in a nearby field using birch chips, is said to be calming.

Organizers of the event were very satisfied and said about one hundred people came to the event throughout the day and about two hundred to three hundred attended events during the week.

“It grows every year,” Marts said.

Paganism is in fact growing in the United States, according to experts, but the faith itself is still exceedingly misunderstood.

Dr. Terry Prewitt, professor of anthropology at the University of West Florida and expert in the anthropology of religion, said that there are a number of common misconceptions Americans have with Paganism.

“All pagans are ‘witches,’ that pagans participate in animal sacrifices, and especially that pagans are involved in demon or devil worship,” he said. “The misconceptions are sometimes wildly fanciful.”

Due to the private nature of Pagan practices and the stigma surrounding the religion, Eric Eldritch, coordinator for Pagan Pride Day, said Pagans had no real way of getting together and sharing ideas before festivals such as Pagan Pride began.

“We’re trying to provide a professional (angle) to it to bring people together and strengthen each other by knowing each other,” he said. “In the Christian community they often call it interfaith work. We call it inter-path work.”

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