Denton Pagan community welcomes diversity

Denton Pagan community welcomes diversity

Denton Pagan community welcomes diversity
January 31
14:58 2018

A poem was read, four candles were lit and an anvil was drummed in the chic hall of the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship on Saturday night. The Pagan parishioners shouted in unison, “Hail, and welcome,” to the four directional elements represented by candles on the walls. The guest being welcomed was Brigid, the Celtic goddess of poetry, music, smithcraft and most importantly, the coming of spring.

The Feast of Saint Brigid is Feb. 2, which coincides with Imbolc on the holiday calendar of the ancient Celts. According to Cynthia Talbot, treasurer at Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (DCUUPS), Imbolc is the Celtic fire festival that celebrates the transition point away from winter toward spring, and Brigid is a Celtic goddess as well as the patron saint of Ireland who heralds the returning of spring. These dates mark the first of eight seasonal celebrations of the Pagan year, which are organized by Denton CUUPS.

“Imbolc is especially important to us,” said Morgan Milburn, an education co-officer of DCUUPS and a drawing and painting senior. “It was our very first ritual, and it was our very first step to become Pagans two years ago.”

DCUUPS is a covenant group for Unitarian Universalists, Pagans and others with an interest in Pagan and nature-centered spirituality. Morgan Milburn worked with her sister Gabrielle to organize and perform the Imbolc ritual, which was the first service they have planned since joining DCUUPS.

“Technically this is a Pagan ritual,” said Gabrielle Milburn, communications officer of DCUUPS and a drawing and painting senior. “But we accept anybody of any backgrounds that comes in, as long as they are respectful.”

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The sisters consider Paganism to be a large umbrella term, which encompasses many different beliefs, generally outside of the Abrahamic religions.

“What appealed to me about being a Pagan was that there are no set rules to being a Pagan,” Morgan said. “It’s very much everyone does their own version of Paganism. They do their own rituals — whatever they feel is right, is right. There’s no set way of doing it.”

While many Pagans enjoy the religious freedoms of Paganism, the same freedoms present a unique challenge for organizers of the rituals and events. DCUUPS contains members who identify as everything from eclectic Pagan or Pagan atheist, to Wicca and Druidry, each consisting of different beliefs and practices.

“The biggest problem is trying to make sure that everyone’s needs are met,” said Hannah Nut, coordination officer of DCUUPS. “That’s not really easy. We have someone from just about every tradition or path that pops up somewhere. When we have a ritual like this, we try to make sure that while we are celebrating whatever the ritual is about, we’re also being open and welcoming to people who come in. It’s not as easy as it sounds.”

While the mixture of different belief systems in one spiritual service may present challenges, accepting those challenges is an important part of being Pagan for the members of DCUUPS.

“As a Unitarian Universalist Pagan, the big thing is that you follow the UU tenets,” Nut said. “The biggest one of those to me is treating everyone with respect. Every person is worthy of respect and finding their own way to truth. That is not always easy when you are Pagan to accept that every pantheon is equally valid … It doesn’t mean that you have to think they are necessarily true, but you need to respect that person’s belief and [give] the ability to have that belief.”

However, respect does not always flow both ways. Some of the members do not advertise they are Pagan in fear of being judged, discriminated against or alienated by friends and family.

“I still haven’t told my family,” Nut said. “They are also not very social media savvy, so I’m not as concerned. But a lot of people have families who would kick them out or have kicked them out. That’s one of the big things, most people think it is Satan worship or they think Aleister Crowley. They think we eat babies and drink blood or something, and even though that is not true, it’s still out there in the popular psyche.”

Discrimination and alienation are real concerns within the Pagan community, but that has not prevented an influx of new members to the packed events. While there is no “how-to” on becoming Pagan, according to Nut, she suggests that people who are curious should attend their next seasonal festival Ostara on March 17.

“That’s especially why we have these public rituals — to help inform people as to what they are about,” Gabrielle said. “It at least gives them an idea of what we do in the Pagan community.”

Featured Image: The Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship gathered on Saturday night to celebrate the Feast of Saint Brigid, the Ancient Celtic goddess of poetry and the coming of spring. This is one of the first seasonal celebrations on the pagan holiday calendar that is organized by Denton CUUPS. Kelsey Shoemaker

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Slade Meadows

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