Close to 650 people, dressed in colourful clothes and carrying incense sticks, gathered in Las Cruces on October 4 to celebrate the start of the 7th annual Pagan Pride Day, to educate the public about paganism and dispel myths associated with it. After a trio of attendees presented their flags and the congregation called on its deities for protection, the festivities surrounding religious and spiritual freedom started, with those in attendance contributing to the day’s activities, which included comedy acts, musical performances, kids’ games, pet adoptions and stalls by 20 pagan-themed vendors.
While some assembled on Saturday to enjoy the fun-filled event, the primary purpose of the event was to educate the public about paganism and quash baseless misconceptions associated with pagans.
“We're trying to let people know that we're not to be feared. We aren't the movie witches. We're not going to cast spells on you, and we want to take away that stigma. We are your neighbors, your teachers, librarians, politicians, church members,” said Tina Priester, lead coordinator of Las Cruces Pagan Pride Day Council.
Not only Priester but also other members of the pagan community who met at Saturday’s event said they often feel ostracized by others for their personal beliefs.
Priester explained one of the most common misconceptions associated with pagans is that they are devil worshippers.
“There is no devil in the 'craft,'” she said. “We honor both sides, light and dark, because we know you can't have one without the other. So we treat them with mutual respect.”
Since most pagans fear being persecuted, Priester said, they usually choose to worship in private and stay closeted about their personal faith when it concerns the public.
“There's a lot of people who are in what we call the 'broom closet,'” Priester said. “Think of it like the LGBT community. They're in the closet until they come out to their family, but we often face more stigma than they do when we come out publicly.”
Dee Proctor, leader of Alamogordo Area Pagans Community, who helped organize Saturday’s event, shared Priester’s opinion, saying pagans would in fact appreciate a better understanding from people of other faiths.
“We just hope people understand that even though we are pagans, we aren't different from anyone else,” Proctor said. “We want to celebrate diversity, and we want people to open their hearts to understanding.”
Jay Hughey, who has attended the celebration before, said he likes being around like-minded people, who do not make him feel odd.
“We all have a connection to one another. I love that energy,” he said. “I'm here to dispel rumors about who and what we are. We don't worship Satan; you can't worship something you don't believe in.”
Those who attended the event on Saturday, did so free of cost though the organizers welcomed donations of canned foods for cats and dogs and other items like tents and sleeping bags. Priester said the donations would be handed over to Casa de Peregrinos, the Humane Society of Southern New Mexico and Camp Hope.
Photo Credits: Wikimedia