Practicing paganism — it’s not hocus pocus

When Will Lewis strolls around campus dressed in a Scottish kilt and flowing cape, carrying an oversized walking stick, heads turn – and he likes it that way. Lewis’ unique style has caused him to be the subject of glaring eyes, hushed whispers and confused stares around campus. If students don’t know him by name, they definitely recognize him by sight.

But the sophomore English education major doesn’t mind the attention. In fact, he dresses in the manner he does in part to raise awareness about his religion – paganism.

“It gets people to ask me questions,” he said. “I like to combat ignorance. (Paganism) is really a faith like anything else.”

Although many pagans are not as easy to identify as Lewis, there are more practicing pagans in the United States than people might realize. A June 2001 study performed by the Graduate Center at the City University of New York showed that there is an estimated 140,000 pagans in America today.

It is commonly believed that the number is even larger since many pagans are still “closeted” about their faith in fear of being outcast and ridiculed by society. There’s even a small number of pagans at the College.

Lewis stressed that pagans are not evil devil worshippers and do not act like the characters in the popular movie, “The Craft.”

“This is not a faith that practices harm,” Lewis said. “It’s a loving faith; only instead of following a person’s life, it follows nature instead. The ultimate goal for a pagan is to seek a oneness and harmony with everyone and everything.”

Still, because many people hold such negative opinions of pagans, Lewis is always somewhat on edge when he tells people about his faith.

“It’s almost frightening to say you’re a pagan to people because you never know how they’ll react,” he said.

Paganism is one of the oldest forms of religion and, as a result, many offshoots of paganism have formed over the centuries.

“There are more ways you can practice paganism than there are denominations of Christianity,” Lewis said.

Lewis said the version of paganism he practices is pulled from both Celtic and Norse forms of paganism. “I use only what aspects of the pantheons work for me,” he said.

There is no common gathering place for pagans, like a church or temple, nor are there written rules or pillars of faith for the religion. As a result, each sect has different practices and traditions, according to Lewis.

However, most pagans follow the general philosophy of the Wiccan Rede, “Harm ye none, do what ye will,” and the Three Fold Law which states that everything he or she does will return to him or her three times over.

Lewis also said all pagans believe there are two main gods – one for the masculine aspects of the Earth and one for the feminine – as well as many minor gods and spirits.

Although Lewis has been a practicing pagan for six years, he was actually raised Catholic. Lewis turned to paganism after his faith was shaken when he was studying for his confirmation.

“There was something about (the beliefs of Christianity) that left me very uncomfortable,” Lewis said.

During that time, Lewis read “Teen Witch” by Silver Ravenwolf which convinced Lewis that paganism better matched his ideologies.

“I read the book and it all just clicked,” he said.

Even though Lewis’ mother remains Catholic, she is still supportive of the faith her son has chosen, Lewis said.

Brandon Pe?a, junior interactive multimedia major, converted to paganism a year ago after he too began to question his Christian faith.

“I was tired of the hell, fire and brimstone of Christianity,” Pe?a said. “I researched a lot of different religions and I found that paganism was be the best fit for me.”

Pe?a said paganism has helped him become more at peace with himself.

“I meditate a lot now and I think it makes me a better person because I’m less agitated and more calm,” Pe?a said. “It’s a very loving and relaxed religion, which I like.”

While Pe?a focuses his attentions on the meditative aspects of paganism, Lewis is most interested in faith’s healing practices. “I like helping people,” Lewis said.

Both Lewis and Pe?a said they do cast spells and read tarot cards; however, their spells are not like those depicted in popular culture.

“Spells are more about sending out a certain energy,” Pe?a said. “You never go against someone’s free will when you cast a spell.”

Although there tends to be a negative connotation connected to pagans, Lewis and Pe?a both said they haven’t run into any major conflicts with people regarding their faith.

One of the best places to learn more about paganism and meet other pagans is in New Hope, where many stores sell pagan literature and also post information about pagan groups, according to Lewis.

However, Lewis said he is interested in starting a group on campus for people interested in learning about paganism.