UB's Pagan SA brings old traditions to a new crowd
Club draws diverse body of students while wrestling misconceptions
Not many people know what Paganism is about.
Chelsea Carnahan, a junior German and linguistics major, said that is one of the reasons she started the Pagan Student Association.
Members and curious passersby gather in Norton 214 weekly to share stories, make new friends and draw nature- and religion-themed artwork.
When she transferred to UB, Carnahan was disappointed to find that the university's original Pagan group was defunct. After speaking to other students, she soon found that she wasn’t the only one feeling UB’s lack of a Pagan community.
“Quite a few people were disappointed about [the original club’s] disappearance,” Carnahan said.
So in January 2014, she revived the group “with the help of friends, mentors and local Pagan leaders.” She now serves as the club president.
One of the obstacles facing the Pagan community at UB is the prevalence of negative misconceptions about the Pagan religion.
“A lot of people assume Paganism is a dirty word, when it’s really the opposite,” Carnahan said. “We get a lot of dirty looks, scoffs and eye rolls when we table, because people see the pentacle [a religious symbol] and assume it’s devil worship or evil step-mother-witchcraft.”
This misconception is the entire reason for the club, Carnahan said.
The Pagan SA Facebook page says its mission is to “provide undergraduate students at the University at Buffalo with Pagan, spiritual, or metaphysical interests with a safe community to learn and grow, to educate about Paganism, and to expel negative misconceptions about Pagans.”
The Pagan SA is a temporary club, meaning that it is recognized by the university but must fulfill additional qualifications in order to attain permanent status and the funding that comes with it.
Past meetings have featured lectures and workshops led by mentors in the local Pagan community.
Many of those who attend Pagan SA meetings do not identify as Pagan, but describe a general interest in religious traditions.
Rev. Sam Boczarski, a freshman political science major, said that the association of Paganism with Satanism is one of the biggest misconceptions about the religion.
Boczarski is a minister in the Slavic Druid tradition, ordained through the Unitarian Church of California, which authorizes him to preside over the issuance of marriage certificates and, in limited instances, death certificates.
Pagan traditions can vary widely within different communities, Boczarski said.
He said Pagan tradition emphasizes that gods are a part of the world, rather than separate from tangible reality.
Carnahan defines Paganism as, “nature-based faiths that honor the Earth and environment.”
She said she was attracted to Paganism because of the emphasis on the self which is illustrated in the central rule of Paganism: Do what you want, but harm no one.
Vice President Erin Belile, a junior health and human services major, said she got involved in the Pagan club because of her interest in herbalism.
She said she admired the methodologies employed by Pagan religious groups for the herbal medicine and herbs in their practice.
Belile and Carnahan were the founding members of the Pagan SA.
“I think people don’t believe in a lot or have hope in a lot,” Belile said. “And I think this religion can give that to people.”
Luke Heuskin is a staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.