With the Salem Witch Hunts and the burning of witches during the Middle Ages, Pagans have been shunned throughout history, interdisciplinary studies professor James Welch IV said.
However, one new group on campus is working to educate the masses about Paganism and to provide a safe place to practice the religion.
The group formed when interdisciplinary studies junior Shalyse Wright-Bethea met Cody Needham, an English language freshman, and realized there was no Pagan organization on campus. So, with some help from Welch, The Meeting of Paths organization was born.
“We are a Pagan interest group for anyone who falls under the umbrella of Paganism and anyone who wants to learn,” Wright-Bethea said.
They started working on this group in November, and on April 15, they became an official group on campus.
While the group started as a place for Pagans, it has become a group of students also prepared to teach anyone who will listen.
“People can ask questions, and we will find somebody to answer them,” said Kel Walters, a political science and psychology freshman.
Walters is the group’s president and said the group has two functions. One is to oust religious ignorance.
“Intolerance comes from ignorance,” Walters said.
Welch said nothing has divided mankind more than religious intolerance.
The second function of the group is to be a place for Pagan students to celebrate their holidays. The first holiday they will celebrate as a group is Beltane at 6:30 p.m. Friday on the Architecture courtyard.
Beltane is the spring Pagan holiday of life and coming together. A common activity at Beltane is a binding ceremony known as handfasting. The ceremony consists of a high priest tying a couple’s hands together as they pledge themselves to each other.
“It is similar to when slaves would jump the broom,” Needham said.
The slaves of America heard tales of handfasting, which involved jumping over a broom, and adopted this ritual for their own marriages, despite not being allowed to marry, Needham said.
Another Beltane event is dancing around the maypole.
Needham said he hopes this group can help Pagan students not feel alone. He said he hopes to have students take the Tempest Smith pledge to help end religious intolerance. This pledge is named after Tempest Smith, a 12-year-old girl who committed suicide after years of bullying because of her Pagan faith. The pledge asks people to remain open minded about different beliefs.
Welch, who is the faculty adviser for the group, said he is excited to see a Pagan group developing on campus.
“We have a culture and religious diversity on campus,” said Welch.
All religions have the same underlying theme of being connected to something of greater belief that propels someone to be a good person, Welch said, and if people could see they are all looking at the same thing, then this group could be a great place to bring together tolerance for all religions.