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Denton Pagan Meetup creates social space for believers

Denton Pagan Meetup creates social space for believers

October 28
14:39 2017

When Jennifer Robinson held the first Denton Pagan Meetup, one person came. And it wasn’t fun.

“[The one person] basically said, ‘Good luck, this is Texas. Nobody’s going to admit that they’re a Pagan and it’s just going to be you,’” Robinson said. “But by the time I had left, we had around 400 members.”

Robinson is the founder of Denton Pagan Meetup, a group where Pagans in the Denton community gather to socialize, learn about the religion and talk about their experiences. She says she took initiative after seeing a lack of Pagan communities in the area.

“I moved from California, which has a thriving Pagan community with a very open practice,” Robinson said. “I came to Texas and there was one group and it wasn’t a very good fit for me.”

Now led by Bret M. Thomas, a Dentonite and self-proclaimed professional wizard, the group invites believers and nonbelievers alike to explore all that the religion has to offer.

“We don’t want to force you into the religion if it’s not right for you,” Thomas said. “That said, we also try to be open to people who, in a spiritual crisis, turn to us.”

Modern Paganism is an umbrella term for numerous ideologies, beliefs and traditions that can vary from person to person. According to the Pagan Federation, the Pagan outlook can be seen as threefold: a veneration of nature and its cycles, the feminine face of divinity and polytheism.

“Paganism is very fluid,” Thomas said. “There are lots of different types of us in the group itself. We have witches, druids, shamans [and more].”

Paganism includes a pantheon of gods and goddesses, ancestral deities and elements of magic that can be interpreted in multiple ways. Paganism has different branches of beliefs and identities that people identify with like Bards, Shamans, Wiccans, Hellenists and more.

“It is a very participatory religion,” John Beckett, Pagan author and Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans Coordinating Officer said. “It’s a religion that has a strong gender balance. There are gods and goddesses.”

For those who want to socialize or explore more of the religion, Thomas leads Cackling Caffeination, a monthly meeting that brings members and non-members together in a casual setting.

“We invite Pagans and non-Pagans alike because some people are curious and they don’t necessarily want to go to a high function,” Thomas said.

Thomas says the group does not perform rituals as much, but members still attend for the social aspect of it.

“Everyone is growing, and there are [many] new members,” member Jessica Rickards said. “That keeps things exciting and interesting, and the meetup has always been very welcoming of newcomers.”

As eclectic as the group may be, members say they feel comfortable in the accepting environment that the group creates.

“Whatever people want to bring is welcome and I miss having that amazing space where you could bring your true self and be loved,” Robinson said.

Members of the group say they discovered and began to follow the religion, often on their own.

“I grew up Methodist, but had been reading about other religions [like] Buddhism and Taoism,” member Danna Getske said. “Something about [Paganism] rang true and I have been a witch and Pagan ever since.”’

For many Pagans, the path is not something that is introduced to them early on. Rather, many eventually find their own way to the religion.

“Like many other Pagans, I just happened on the path,” Thomas said. “Very few of us are exposed to it from the get-go.”

Thomas says to him, Paganism affirmed a belief he had had since he was young.

“I’ve always believed in magic,” Thomas said. “It was a lifelong search for something that affirmed that belief. A lot of spiritual paths either frowned on it or didn’t acknowledge the idea of magic.”

Those who have found their way to the religion often have to battle a skewed perception of what Paganism is. Thomas says there are many assumptions people make about the religion that misrepresent their core beliefs.

“One of the biggest misconceptions is that we are Satanists,” Thomas said. “You kind of have to believe in the devil to worship it.”

In the near future, Thomas says he wants the group to become more actively involved in the Denton community. He has already taken community garden classes so members can hopefully cultivate a plot together.

“We honor nature and are very nature-oriented,” Thomas said. “We could have our own crop and grow our own food and donate to the homeless. I want to do more stream cleans and help clean up the messes because it’s sad to watch our earth struggling the way it is.

This is a goal that Thomas has set so that people in the community can look past the stereotype.

“I want to build the presence of our community,” Thomas said. “I want to destigmatize us. I want us to be seen as valid humans who have valid beliefs.”

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Amy Roh

Amy Roh

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