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Today is a day for dreams.  Today is the day a dream of mine became reality and it is the day that new dreams are to be born.  Today is the day that a circle of stones, dedicated to the religious gathering of Pagans, was created at Syracuse University.

Seven years ago I wasn’t the Pagan Chaplain at the University.  There was no Pagan Chaplain, but I was the religious advisor for the student Pagans on campus and at that time I had a vision where the students would have a place of their own.  It didn’t have to be exclusive, in fact I didn’t think it should be.  Rather it needed to be a stone circle where they could observe ritual, meet with friends or do whatever.  This needed to be a place where they could feel the energy of their gods and their beliefs – a place where they would be reminded that they did matter.

Seven years ago I requested a stone circle to be built on campus.  For seven years I would periodically bring the subject up to those that needed to be reminded that Pagans did not have a place of their own like other faiths.  For seven years energy was built to push a dream forward and for seven years the ancestors watched and waited.  After seven years the energy culminated and the ancestors were heard.  I was asked to resubmit the proposal and all agreed that a circle would be built.

What changed in that seven years?  My position changed from advisor to Chaplain and with that a voice formerly foreign at the religious table was now heard. A new Dean at the Chapel was introduced.  The previous Dean had welcomed Pagans to the Chapel but it was the current Dean that understood the need for place. What changed was Pagans became recognized as valuable members of the religious makeup of the University deserving the same respect as any other faith tradition.

Yes, today is a day of dreams.  The stone circle doesn’t look like the stone circles created so long ago.  There are no standing stones familiar to so many.  There are only four stones – a stone at each cardinal point creating a 20’ inner circle.  The stones are large and made of blue stone, imbedded in the ground laying flush with the earth.  They needed to be unobtrusive, reflective of landscape and useable.  They are altar stones and any tradition, Pagan or otherwise, will be able to use them.  The dream came to life today when four stones were laid.

However, the laying of these stones is not the end of the dreams.  It’s the beginning of dreams.  A place for the seeds of possibility to break through and find sunlight to help them grow.  For many the creation of this circle seemed like a natural process and in many ways it was. When the voice of the ancestors sang once again those ready to hear their story listened and all barriers became non-existent. This was the right thing to do, this was the right day to do it and on this Samhain the ancestors will be honored in their stone circle.

Today I am overwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed with both the awe that I feel when I realize what has happened but also at the thought of what will be the next dream to come to life.

Fire lit, food on the table, chairs set, drums laying about waiting to be played. It is time for ritual… ritual of a different kind.  Ritual that most of us aren’t use to and don’t partake in very often, but is as essential as any of the great days.  It is the ritual of sharing and learning.  This was my “backyard ritual” last Friday evening.

The evening had been conceived a while ago when I asked the administrative staff at the Chapel if they would be interested in a “paganism for the non-pagan” crash course.  They were interested and so we began to work through our summer vacations, festival weeks, and modified work hours to find time.  The navigation of our conflicting schedules wasn’t easy but we did succeed in finding a couple of hours one afternoon to sit and begin our conversation.

 The rules were simple, they could ask any question they wanted to and I would not be offended by anything they asked.  These two rules were essential to having an open dialog about paganism. We talked about spell casting and cauldrons, brooms and their representations.  We touched on the basic neo-pagan Great Days and how different traditions and paths have their own Great Days, rituals and celebrations.  I explained the difference between the umbrella term pagan and the specific term Wiccan.  In fact we explored a great deal in two hours and all done with laughter, surprise, and a dawning of enlightenment.  We ended only because one of the staff had an appointment to attend and we all agreed that we needed to continue on.  They were amazed at how little they understood about paganism and how wrong the information that they “knew” really was and so the promise was made that another gathering would take place.  That gathering was to be around a fire.

I also decided that I could not be the only voice they heard.  After all I am only one person who practices one particular path. I may be the Pagan Chaplain but I am not all people.  I could not address in-depth the questions about faith traditions, cosmologies, and practices that were outside of my own.  I have always held the philosophy that I don’t need to know it all – I just need to know others who do have the particular knowledge in question and help people make connections.  Grow a greater, stronger community in a way.  So the date was set.  People from a multitude of faith traditions and spiritual paths came to drum, eat, and share what they believe.  I told them all bring friends and people that they might know who could benefit from a “no holds barred” question and answer time.  The response was wonderful. Pagans and non-Pagans alike were coming.

Friday evening came and cars began to arrive – the pre-ritual hum was starting.  When I felt that everyone that was coming had arrived, I  relayed the rules again, but with an explanation.  The admin staff’s perception of paganism, I explained, was born out of a culture that taught about witches through Disney (think Snow White), Hallmark’s Halloween, Grimm fairy tales, the Wizard of Oz, and Church dogma.  With this, the ritual began – the ritual of sharing, learning, and walls being taken down.  There was a great deal of relaxing and laughter which lead to drums and dancing which lead to great conversations and revelations for everyone. 

At the end of the evening there was talking about getting together again and “just enjoying” each other’s company.  So much was shared on both sides of this fence that in the end I think the garden gate has been permanently propped open to allow free travel to each other’s worlds.  And so I put this challenge to anyone who reads this:

Create your own ritual of understanding and engage someone, a non-pagan, who has shown a curiosity of what it is you believe or “do.”  Remember where their reference points come from and that they have to work through centuries of indoctrination on the evils of anything outside of mainstream religion.  Share some music, a fire, a drink, or a meal, and allow the elements that lay within each one of those acts to help you show your spirit as well as to see theirs.

Oh, and have fun doing it!

When we work with others to help them find their path or to just discover who they are, there are certain things that you cannot pass on – no matter how hard you try.  I know this, most people who have done any type of teaching know this.  It is not a phenomenon exclusive to being pagan, being in an academic setting, or even from being older than those individuals you work with most.  No, it is a matter of people needing to learn things on their own. There comes a time when all the passing on of one’s knowledge is nothing more than chatter.  I’ve experienced this with every group of students that I have worked with.  It isn’t insulting, it just is.  But this last week I had a moment to chuckle and then say “see, you didn’t believe me before, but do you now understand what I was trying to say?” 

As she sat in my office I had a student tell me of her heart stopping moment.  She had an interview for an internship this summer.  The interview went well, but after it had “officially” ended the interviewer inquired if they could ask a personal question.  If it had been me I would have said yes but that I might decline to answer if it really had no bearing on the position.  But, as is the often times eagerness of youth, she said yes with no conditions.  Then came the question: “On your resume I see you have put down Student…”  She knew what was coming even though she didn’t hear the rest of the words.  The interviewer had seen on her resume that she was a member of the Student Pagan Association and was wondering what that was.  Heart in throat, stomach churning, she regained command of the English language and answered the question.  She told me the exchange that they had and in the end she felt that she had handled it well and that there was no harm done.  No harm done, interesting that this was the assessment.

I have always told the students that the world we live in as a whole is very different from the world of a college/university campus.  They are insulated and protected on campus.  At least much more so than in society in general.  We have all had those moments when the questions come and then the looks.  Sometimes there is acceptance and sometimes there is not, but the real issue is choosing when and where we allow others to see that aspect of our life.  Is it appropriate to put it on a resume?  Depends on where you are applying for a job.  For the most part I don’t feel that it is appropriate on a resume.  Then again I would say the same about any religious affiliation regardless of the religion.  Leave it at home, religion has no place in the office. 

I recently read an article about when to announce you are pagan and when not to.  The article was correct that we continually do this all our lives and each time we have to make a determination on what we hope the consequences will be and then chose whether we can live with those consequences or not.  Even for us older, slightly middle-aged pagans the answer is “not this time” the price isn’t worth paying.  Some day we will not have to worry about it, but for now we still do.  Interestingly enough every one of the Chaplains at the University feels the same way.  Each has been ridiculed for being “religious” by non-religious individuals.  Unfortunately we have the added burden of being ridiculed, mocked, feared, attacked, and persecuted by the other religious groups.  Where I am at I am fortunate; I don’t have to deal with these issues at the Chapel.  I deal with enough outside of the University so in a way it is also haven for me. 

So what was the outcome of the interview?  I don’t know; she doesn’t know.  What I do know was that she was taking that off of her resume when she got home so that type of moment never happens again.

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