For Austin Pagans, the annual Pagan Pride Day is an opportunity to bring all worshipers together as well as educate the public on misconceptions about the spiritual polytheistic religion.
Hosted by the Pagan Pride Project and a myriad of sponsors, the festival at Zilker Park on Sept. 14 was filled with raffles, entertainment, rituals and workshops both for Pagans and visiting community members.
UT Austin senior Kaitlin White said this year’s festival was bigger and better than years past.
“We had more vendors, more people, and the attitude was that it was better organized than before,” White said. As part of The University of Texas at Austin’s Pagan Student Alliance, White has been involved in both Pagan events and community outreach.
“Paganism is a very peaceful spiritual path, and the students of the PSA are no exception,” White said. “I wish the Austin community would know that we are a legitimate spiritual path, and we want to be treated as such.”
Misconceptions surrounding Paganism are abundant in Western society, and White said while they are hard to hear, festivals like Pagan Pride Day provides a possibility to alleviate some ignorance.
“The biggest misconception is that we are devil-worshipers or Satanists and going to hell,” White said.
Chris Godwin, main organizer for Pagan Pride Day, said many who associate themselves as Pagan are constantly dealing with backlash from other religious groups, so this festival is a chance to celebrate being who they are.
“This festival is a chance for us to stand tall in our alternative religion,” Godwin said. “Other Pagan festivals have gotten picketed before, so we even set aside a booth space for protesters, should they have chosen to come.”
Godwin said the primary goal for volunteers and organizers is to give a space for Pagans to be themselves, but the secondary goal is to support religious tolerance in general.
“Only if we stand together do we stand a chance to keep our rights,” Goodwin said. “If we don’t exercise our rights, they can atrophy. But Austin is weird. Austin is cool. It’s other conservative towns that are hard to be a proud Pagan in.”
Just as there is a population of individuals who are “closeted” because they don’t feel safe to be open with their sexual orientation, Godwin said there are a population of Pagans in the “broom-closet” who hide their identity.
“Many Pagans are in the ‘broom-closet’ and don’t let their friends and family know what they practice,” Goodwin said. “They lead two different lives, and it is just as stressful as being a secret gay.”
UT associate professor Jennifer Ebbeler said she believes the way Pagans are treated now is due to a lack of stable meaning in its origin.
“It was basically a way of accusing someone of not being Christian enough,” said Ebbeler, who has taught a variety of Pagan-related courses such as Pagans and Christians in the Later Roman Empire.
“It was used all the time by one Christian against another, to claim that the speaker was somehow a better Christian,” White said. “Most people don’t know the history of the term from the Roman period, so they associate it with its Wiccan practice, hence the association with witches.”
While most of the general public is unfamiliar of the true meaning of Paganism, open Pagan Frances Osborne said she believes Paganism is slowly getting the necessary attention from the public and slowly becoming more accepted.
“More and more pagans can come out of that closet and not fear having their children taken away or losing their job,” Osborne said. “It’s the most positive and wonderful thing I can think of for our community.”