Despite being a practicing pagan since she was 13 years old, it wasn’t until a few years ago that Angela Priest decided to out herself to people she knew.
“Most of the time I kept it to myself because I just didn’t want to have that …
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“Most of the time I kept it to myself because I just didn’t want to have that conversation with a lot of people I used to work with,” she said. “Now I tell people, including some of my old co-workers, what I’m doing and just let their own minds stir over that. I’m not going to give them an explanation or an apology.”
Priest, a resident of Golden Gate Canyon, is one of a small but devoted group of people who have been practicing some of the world’s oldest religions for years.
Paganism is a broad umbrella term for earth-based polytheistic religions — anything from Greek traditions to Nordic, Celtic and beyond. Unlike Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), pagans are devoted to many gods and goddesses and select their own paths of worship and study.
“I identify as pagan first, because ‘pagan’ is a broad term for many religions,” explained Thornton resident Amy Hall, in an email interview. “Most non-pagans don’t know the specific types of paganism, such as Wiccan, Druid, Heathen, etc., so it is just simpler to do as such. If someone knows what pagan is, I can specify Druid to them.”
Most contemporary pagan religions “are twentieth-century creations, beginning in the 1930s in parts of Eastern Europe and somewhat later in Western Europe and North America,” according to an article by Chas S. Clifton, professor at Colorado State University-Pueblo in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion.
“New Pagan religions represent both radical individualism and a hunger for communal identity,” said Clifton in the article. “They are often described as ‘post-,’ for example post-Christian, postmodern or post-Communist, yet virtually all are engaged in an archaeological mining of past practices, knowledge, attitudes, and lore. Today’s Pagan theologians often argue that the old gods have re-emerged on their own timetable, but it is also possible to see this reemergence in historical terms, as an expression of literary Romanticism and of the increasing emphasis on individual experience over communal tradition that has only grown for the past two hundred years.”
Priest, who now practices Wicca and witchcraft, was first drawn to paganism when she was young by a family friend who was a Native American medicine woman.
“I wanted something out of the norm,” she said. “At first I thought it was all fun and games, but I came to see this is a real religion and way of life.”
The pagan path is one Hall has been on for more than 20 years, after finding herself unsatisfied with her Christian upbringing.
“The Christian path just did not feel right for my personal ways of viewing the world,” she wrote. “I always felt very connected with nature, seeing myself as part of the natural world rather than having dominion over it.”
Both Priest and Hall are high priestesses who can perform rituals and teach new members, though the vast array of paths in paganism means there is no central body, doctrine or texts.
Most pagans honor the four major and four minor sabbats, which are called the Wheel of the Year. The sabbats are seasonal festivals based on solstices and equinoxes (of which there are two each) and the midpoints between the solstices and equinoxes. Every six weeks there is a holiday that honors the earth and human’s connection to it, Hall said.
How a pagan worships or prays depends on the individual, as well as if they are a member of a group — whether that is a coven, kindred, grove or other gathering. Some pagans elect to worship on their own, and like any other religion there are nonactive members who believe but do not attend rituals and ceremonies.
Pagans can meet and worship anywhere, including their homes. Priest is a member of the Jefferson Unitarian Church CUUPS (Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans), which meets at the Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden.
“Our goal is that we provide a safe place for solitary pagans to come and celebrate with us,” she said. “Some are done being by themselves and they want a family.”
The internet has made connection with other pagans easier and more readily available, and this has allowed for more inclusivity and community-building with different beliefs within paganism, Priest said. There are classes available, not only for members of the faith, but also those who are just curious.
“‘Open mind, open heart, all are welcome’ is our motto,” Priest said. “And our No. 1 rule is do what you will, so long as it harms no one.”
This inclusivity and education is important, since there are still many misconceptions about paganism, both Hall and Priest said. As with any religion there are bad apples, but they are the exception, not the rule.
Hall and Priest said many people still think pagans are evil, practice black magic or are devil worshippers.
“Pagans do not worship the Christian devil because we do not believe in the Christian devil,” Hall wrote. “When the early Christian church converted the ancient pagans, they described the pagan deities as the devil in order to get the pagans to worship their own monotheistic god instead. It was all about fear and control.”
That fear is still around, Priest said, and modern pagans are often discriminated against, subjected to violence and derision. Priest said pagan families have had their children taken by protective services out of fear and ignorance, and are often discriminated against in the workplace.
“Most of our members live in fear of being outed,” she said. “I outed myself because you have the right to be who you are. You cannot be discriminated against for your religion.”
Openness and acceptance are highlights of paganism for Hall and Priest, as is the focus on being a good person and celebrating the earth.
“I actually have found pagans to uphold their morals more so than many Christians, for our religion does not condone people for who they are or whom they love,” Hall wrote. “I wish people knew that the majority of pagans are very good and kind people, ones who are connected to the earth on a spiritual level and want to protect it.”
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