As Robert Warren sat at a table in Tate Plaza reading tarot cards and handing out baked goods last semester, an older woman approached the table. He offered her a cookie, but as she reached for one, she saw the Pagan Student Association banner below the table. She walked away without saying anything.
Warren, a second-year philosophy graduate student and member of the University’s Pagan Student Association, said this is not the reaction of most people to Paganism — but it highlights how little some University community members might know about the student organization that has been a religious group on campus for over 20 years.
He also said the group is open to anyone curious about Paganism or the interchange of religious ideas.
“[Paganism] is not only an umbrella term for various polytheistic faiths and more than the idea of there being many gods,” Warren said. “There’s the central premise that Pagans generally would agree with: that there are many ways to the divine, there are many ways to the deity, there are many ways of understanding what we hold to be sacred about our world.”
Easy to confuse with Neo-Paganism — a traditional Wiccan religion — the University’s PSA is a much broader organization and includes members with different beliefs. Above all, members promote discussion and the interchange of ideas during meetings.
“For the purpose of UGA PSA, we are basically a group of people who are interested in exploring various spiritual ideas,” said Martin Hogan, a cognitive science and psychology double major from Smyrna.
For other members like Clarke Central High School student Skyler Rowan, the group serves as more than a place for discussion, but also as a haven where she can express religious beliefs.
She tried to start a Pagan student organization at her high school, but said they were unable to find an adviser, since no teacher wanted to sponsor the club. After following them on Facebook, Rowan found the University’s PSA.
“My family, my grandfather’s Pagan, my mom’s Pagan and one of my aunt’s Pagan. I actually believe that there is more than one god out there. It’s just not for me that Jesus is all that there is out there,” Rowan said. “He wasn’t the one that shaped everything. More than one person helped create everything and that’s what I actually believe in. And separate people need separate things and that’s how everything came in to believing.”
Though not all members are polytheistic like Rowan — not all members are Pagan — the club welcomes anyone of any belief system.
“We’re an open group, we’re an accepting group, people don’t have to be Pagan to join. We have several members who aren’t Pagans,” Warren said. “We have several members who represent different places on the Pagan spectrum. It’s a group that’s open to all possibilities and all different viewpoints.”
Though most meetings consists of discussions and presentations on everything from philosophy to Yoga, they also celebrate several holidays. Warren said their Wheel of the Year includes eight holidays. They celebrate holidays such as Beltane or Mayday with Bardic circles at the Intramural Fields — where they sit around a fire pit, sing and facilitate discussions.
As the winter solstice approaches, they are looking forward to Yule, which Warren said is the origin of many Christmas traditions.
“There’s places where Christianity has borrowed from Pagan ideas, we have Yule coming up, which is the winter solstice and recognizably the same sort of traditions as Christmas,” he said. “Those are originally Germanic Pagan traditions that Christianity basically co-opted.”
Hogan said he compares Paganism to “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”
“Remember that old Greek dad who was like, ‘Tell me any word in English and I will explain to you how it comes from Greek?’” he said. “I feel like Pagans could do the same thing. Give me any holiday, it comes from Paganism.”
Hogan and Warren agree on more than holiday origins, they both want to encourage anyone interested to come out and talk to the group.
PSA meets on the first and third Wednesday of every month. More information is available on the UGA Pagan Student Association’s Facebook page.