By BIANCA LOPEZ
The thought of Halloween often provokes images of pumpkin patches, children in costumes and witches on broomsticks. For the members of the Pagan Student Organization (PSO), however, Halloween, or Samhain, means so much more. For these students, witches aren’t green with crooked noses and cauldrons—this season holds a spiritual value.
This year, PSO is working with Better Together for a Samhain event the week of Halloween, time and location to be determined. Halloween, among other Western holidays like Christmas, stems from Pagan and Wiccan origins.
A Pagan is defined as “a follower of a polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshipping religion,” according to paganfederation.org. In congruence with their nature-focus, Pagans link important dates and celebrations with the moon cycle and nature. Samhain, for instance, traditionally marked the end of harvest.
“I think one thing that’s really hard for people to wrap their heads around is that [Paganism is] such a broad term,” said Kimberly Grassett, vice president of PSO and junior marine biology major. “It is so individualized. It’s a call back to nature. It’s a respect for the natural order of things.”
PSO President Caroline Stadler, a junior public health major, founded the organization last fall. At the inaugural meeting, PSO gathered just four or five members, according to Grassett. This year, roughly 15 attendees gathered at PSO’s harvest meeting on Sept. 22.
“When I was first looking at universities, I was looking for an organization like [PSO] and disappointed that I couldn’t find one anywhere,” Stadler said. “So when I came to UT, I decided to create one because I’m sure there are other students out there like me looking for an organization like this.”
Stadler grew up in a Catholic household. She attended masses, participated in Sunday school and even completed her Confirmation. However, Stadler explained that she never truly felt a connection to the religion and that “it was just kind of a thing we did but no one in my family was really serious about it.”
She began exploring her spirituality as a way to connect to nature. In high school, Stadler discovered Paganism.
“It all just kind of clicked,” Stadler said. “I started reading as many books as I could and really delving myself into it right away and I haven’t gone back.”
For Grassett, even though she found herself “dabbling” in Christianity during her middle school years, Paganism was always a part of her life. In high school, she began to solidify her beliefs.
“My babysitter was a practicing Pagan — a believer,” Grassett said. “We were raised with the idea that ghosts were a normal thing; spirits were supposed to be in a house.”
Grassett’s individual Pagan practice relies heavily on crystals. She keeps crystals in her room and studies different classifications, focusing on their energy and chakra-balancing effects. In Grassett’s practice, Paganism is about peace and balance with the earth.
“I personally identify more closely with the new moon than the full moon,” Stadler said. “To me the new moon is the a new start, the next moon cycle, and a chance to really reflect on myself and life. The new moon is also sacred to my goddess. Usually for the new moon I make an offering and meditate.”
Stadler and Grassett often meet people that are unfamiliar with Paganism. Grassett explained that she has had negative encounters with past friends who did not understand her beliefs and would attempt to convert her to Christianity.
“[PSO] is important to me because the way I treat Paganism is that it’s the belief that everything is valid. It’s accepting other beliefs and seeing that there are a lot of intersecting points. It’s okay to have ideals that can clash,” Grassett said. “My dad would always tell me that the two things that cause war are religion and money. With the wars going on in the world, it’s important to be able to understand multiple people and multiple beliefs. Not that you have to believe in them all, but you have to understand.”
To Grassett, PSO is a place for people who are interested to get educational information about and try activities that are associated with Pagan and Wiccan beliefs.
“A lot of people that show up to the group say ‘I’m not sure if I believe in that,’ and that’s okay,” Grassett said.
Practicing Paganism truly varies from person to person. Some believers choose to set up altars, use candles, attend full-moon circles or even join covens. Some consider it a religion, while others classify it more as a spirituality that they incorporate into their daily lives. Some follow Wiccan rules. Some, definitely not all, fit into the stereotype by casting spells and making elixirs. Paganism is an individual practice.
“Anyone, no matter the background, can come and join in on our meetings and full-moon meditations,” Stadler said. “I didn’t only make this organization as a place for pagans, but also non-pagans wishing to learn more or are just curious as to what paganism is in general. I’m always open to questions and people are always welcome to our meetings.”
For more information on PSO and ceremony dates, contact email@example.com.
Bianca Lopez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org