‘What is Paganism?’: Pagan Pride Day gives visibility to religious beliefs in Eugene

Elan prepares to lead a workshop on building miniature altars. (Courtesy of Kit MacAvoy)

The Pagan community in Eugene includes a particularly spiritual individual named “Elan” who said there are a lot of people who have a lot of strange ideas about what being a Pagan is.

“There’s a lot of Pagans in Eugene. Whether you could call it a community or not, I think there are lots of little communities of Pagans. There are thousands of us,” Elan said.

On September 24, the Eugene area celebrated its second annual Pagan Pride Day. The event focuses on sharing Paganism with the public in order to quell the misconceptions that many have about Paganism. The event at Alton Baker Park included informational tables, workshops, vendors, a ritual for the Autumn Equinox, food and more. An estimated 250-300 people attended throughout the day.

Paganism is not a singular religion, but a conglomerate of many religious practices. Most are based in connectedness to the Earth. The term “Paganism” includes Witches, Polytheists, Occultists and hundreds more, according to the Huffington Post.

Elan has been a member of many different Pagan groups in Eugene, including Wiccans, Heathens, Druids and Shamans. As part of Pagan tradition, she does not use her full legal name publically. Professionally, she simply goes by “Elan.”

Elan has been involved in Pagan Pride days in Eugene and Portland. This year she taught a workshop at which attendees made their own herbal charms. Last year she taught attendees how to roll their own smudge sticks, wrapped herbs—commonly sage—used for rituals. For the last eight years, she has volunteered at local prisons, where she guides prisoners in Wicca and other Pagan religions.

She said that in the last two years, Pagan Pride has been by far the largest gathering of Pagans in the area. Pagans don’t often meet as a community, but rather in their respective subgroups, and many practice Paganism by themselves or even in secret.

“A lot of Pagans are solitary. They don’t want people to know. I’ve even worked with people [whose] kids don’t know. They don’t want their kids to know anything about it,” Elan said. She cited misconceptions and distrust towards Paganism as the reason that many choose to practice in private.

Elan said that many people associate Paganism with sinister witchcraft or the devil, but it’s more about feeling a strong connection to the Earth and spiritualism.

The festival was planned by Eugene Pagan Pride, which is lead by Joy Germack Dances. Eugene Pagan Pride is affiliated with the international organization Pagan Pride Project, and follows the guidelines established by the organization.

The guidelines for a Pride Day festival detailed on the Pagan Pride Project’s website are aimed at achieving a better image of Pagans to society. All events include an open ritual, a food drive for a local charitable organization, and press releases. These elements were  “designed to increase community goodwill and public relations towards Paganism,” wrote Dagonet Dewr, Executive Director of Pagan Pride Project.

“It’s about education. It’s a chance to get out there and be seen,” Elan said. “We’re pretty much just like anyone else.”