Pagan and neopagan students at the 5Cs are forming a worship group with the help of the McAlister Center for Religious Activities. Students gathered to discuss the group Oct. 17 at an interest meeting initiated by Jacque Composanto PZ ’17.
“Since I’m a first-year student and I’m a pagan, I was just hoping to be able to meet other pagans in general and set up times for us to worship together,” Composanto said.
Rabbi Daveen Litwin, a McAlister chaplain, helped Composanto organize the meeting. Litwin wrote in an e-mail to TSL that there was previously a group called P.A.G.A.N (Prayers About Gods and Nature) that is no longer active.
Composanto said she went to McAlister because students are not allowed to use candles or incense, which are important to pagan rituals, in residence halls.
“There’s actually a fireplace there where I could use candles,” she said. “It just kind of grew into ‘Who else is out here and wants to worship more traditionally and meet other pagans and neopagans?’ McAlister is very supportive of us, and I feel very fortunate and blessed for that support.”
Paganism and neopaganism encompass a collection of agrarian-based beliefs.
“Pagans generally have certain pantheons, the Greek pantheons or the Nordic pantheons,” Composanto said of the symbols of worship. “Paganism is based off of beliefs and traditions of ancient times, and bringing those to your world today. Neopaganism is based off of more new-age thoughts.”
Composanto, who considers herself a neopagan, is a member of the Wiccan faith, which was introduced to England in 1954. Wiccans generally believe in a god symbolized as the sun and a goddess symbolized as the moon.
Wiccans can perform rituals anywhere, but must create a sacred space in which to do so.
“A lot of Wiccans will light a candle, have some salt and some water, and use that to invoke the goddess or god,” Composanto said. “There are also lots of different poetry and incantations that will relate to the celebration itself. Magic is more of an intention of mind, sort of like prayer. You say whatever your prayer intention magic piece is, thank the god and goddess, and close off the space.”
Composanto wrote in an e-mail to TSL that members of the group are “currently forming our own way to worship” by consulting books from Honnold/Mudd Library as well as books of their own.
The group held their first meeting yesterday at 5 p.m. in the Margaret Fowler Garden at Scripps College and plans to meet at the same time each week. They also hope to join a public event held Nov. 9 in Los Angeles to celebrate Samhain, an Irish festival that marks the end of the harvest season which many Celtic pagans and Wiccans celebrate.
Litwin wrote that the McAlister chaplains regularly help students start new worship groups. For example, they have helped students form Unitarian Universalist, Buddhist, and Quaker groups within the past few years.
She wrote that she became familiar with pagan beliefs by studying well-known pagan writers and working with students who identify as pagan at the 5Cs and other institutions.
“There is always more to learn and we are grateful to the students for sharing and teaching from their own ritual practices and beliefs,” Litwin wrote.
Composanto said she feels comfortable sharing her religious beliefs with students at the 5Cs.
“I feel like a lot of people here are just open to everything, whether it’s your sexual orientation or your religion,” she said. “Generally there are people who are totally cool with it, because they don’t care what another person believes, but there are other people who are very uncomfortable with it and any perception of the world that’s different from theirs. I’ve always tried to be very tolerant, but when you are the minority on the receiving end, you become so much more sensitive to the things people say.”
Composanto, who attended a Jesuit high school, was not raised a Wiccan.
“I came to it sort of in middle school, that’s when I learned about it first, and then last year, senior year of high school, I had a friend who was Wiccan,” she said. “I asked to read all her books, and I got into it.”
“When I learned about Wicca, I loved the emphasis on nature and I loved the duality of a god and a goddess because I’m a bit of a feminist,” she added. “Being in ritual just kind of calms me down.”