One of my most memorable experiences during My First 52 Weeks was when myself and a friend joined in a Wiccan festival in McHenry County Illinois.
I write about my anxiety in attending this worship service in an excerpt from the book:
The anxiety was not just that we would be experiencing Wicca, a worship tradition that some see as witchcraft at best. It was also that the coven would meet in a living room in McHenry, Illinois, a county about an hour and a half away from our homes in Chicago’s Cook County. I had never worshipped in someone’s living room, and felt apprehensive about going to a stranger’s home for any reason.
Let alone to hang out with some Wiccans.
On the day of the festival, my friend and I hemmed and hawed, left the city late, and then took a route that led us through road construction, which further delayed us. The conversation in the car was centered on whether or not the Universe was telling us that we should not, in fact, go to McHenry, Illinois, to experience an evening with the Wiccans.
We had been told that “Gather time” when everyone would show up, would be 4pm, and that the ritual would start at 5pm. We were also told that the ritual may start according to “Pagan time,” which apparently was the same kind of fluid type of time that Africans and African Americans laugh about – where an event that is supposed to start at one time may not start until much later due to a less-than-laser focus on starting events precisely at the start time.
But on the day of the ritual, we were just leaving downtown Chicago at 5pm, and realizing that a little self-sabotage (read: fear) was probably the reason, I decided to be courteous and call our hosts and let them know we were late and that we didn’t want to hold them up.
Whatever their response, we agreed, would be the final “communication from the Universe” about whether or not this experience was to be.
When I called, I asked for the coven priest, told him the situation, and he, in his heartiest and most welcoming tone, said, “No worries, we are just arriving, and we are waiting for you. We won’t start without you.”
So we went, and it was just as memorable as the other 60 places of worship that I visited. I learned alot, and the community of Wiccans that we spent the evening with embraced us, answered our questions, and allowed us to participate in their festival tradition.
I was reminded of this memorable experience when I read the following article about Vanderbilt University’s approach to adding Wiccan holidays to the class calendar:
Wiccan days part of Vanderbilt calendar
By Michael Cass | The Tennessean
August 17, 2011
Wiccan and pagan students at Vanderbilt University might get to take an excused day off from class to dance around the maypole.
Vanderbilt’s Office of Religious Life recently sent professors a calendar of 2011-12 “religious holy days and observances” and a related policy on student absences. The faith listed next to four of the days on the calendar is “Wicca/Pagan.”
Wicca, whose believers are called Wiccans or witches, is just one form of paganism, an umbrella term for beliefs in multiple gods and goddesses. Some religious believers consider paganism to be outside the mainstream because it bucks the monotheistic tradition of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
The Vanderbilt policy says students must be excused from classes and other academic activities on days when their religious traditions put restrictions on labor or forbid it outright, like Eid al Fitr for Muslims and Yom Kippur for Jews. It says professors, department chairs or deans can decide if absences will be excused for religious days that are not “work-restricted,” including the Wiccan and pagan days.
“This is a mechanism to let faculty be aware of these holidays, that there may be students approaching them, for example, to reschedule an exam, to make up a day of coursework or something like that because they are choosing to observe their religion on that day,” Vanderbilt spokeswoman Princine Lewis said Tuesday. “And that’s an agreement that would have to be worked out with the faculty member.”
Asked how professors would be able to know if students really planned to observe those holy days, Lewis said, “It’s on the honor system.”
Lewis said the Wiccan and pagan days are on the Vanderbilt calendar because it follows the BBC Interfaith Calendar. She said there was “no way of knowing” the Wiccan and pagan population on the campus of more than 12,000 students and 22,000 employees.
An email sent to an address listed on a Facebook page for the Vanderbilt Pagan Association bounced back to a reporter.
Variety of reactions
The news drew a variety of reactions on Twitter, where @jimvoorhies replied to a tweet seeking comments by poking fun at pagans. “Didn’t you mean on their unholy days? :)” Voorhies wrote.
But Justin Hunt, tweeting as @justinevan, wrote, “Cool … why should I care? Do other students not get that respect?”
The Wiccan and pagan holidays listed by Vanderbilt include Samhain-Beltane on Nov. 1 and Beltane-Samhain on May 1. Those spellings and dates match the ones on interfaithcalendar.org, on which Vanderbilt’s calendar is partially based. The BBC Interfaith Calendar lists Oct. 31 as the pagan holy day of Samhain, which marks the Feast of the Dead, and May 1 as Beltane.
“Pagans celebrate Beltane with maypole dances, symbolizing the mystery of the Sacred Marriage of Goddess and God,” the BBC calendar says.
The only religious days that are paid holidays for Vanderbilt employees are Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Lewis said university employees get two personal days a year along with vacation time.
Article reference: http://m.tennessean.com/localnews/article?a=2011308170097&f=560