No brooms: Walnut Creek welcomes Wiccans

Where can you meet a mushroom expert, a belly dancer, and a wicca on the same afternoon?
Walnut Creek Park may not be the first place that comes to mind, but that’s where these people and many more like them plan to congregate on Sunday, September 7, for Charlottesville’s fifth annual Pagan Pride Day.
Wondering what belly-dancing has to do with paganism? That’s what the festival is ready to explain.
 “People have grown up with the word ‘Pagan’ and all its negative connotations without knowing where it comes from,” says organizer Lonnie Murray.
In fact, the Latin “paganus” means nothing more mysterious than “villager.” And for all the wonders of the Roman road, communications were such that Christianity was slower in spreading to the countryside than to the towns-– which is how “heathen” came to mean more than simply “living in the heath.”
Today, Murray says, a pagan is someone whose spirituality is centered on the earth. Some express their spirituality with dance, others with nature preservation. Pagans (or followers of “Earth-Centered Spirituality,” to use the more sanitized term) believe in an interdependent web in which every living thing is connected and everything we do affects everything else around us.
“There’s also the belief in magic,” Murray says, “the ability through intentional action to create a change in the world.”
Visitors may attend workshops on Holistic Breathing for Power and Energy, or on the mythology and spiritual beliefs behind ritual body art. Jenn Hawthorne will talk about magical and medicinal uses for herbs, while children can learn origami and pagan dances. There will be live music from the local Pagan rock band Revel Moon, and a plethora of things to buy, from ritual robes to bath salts. With the Autumnal Equinox a few weeks away, on September 23, seasonal cycles will also play a prominent role.
The festival begins and ends with a pagan ritual aimed at bringing a greater awareness of earth-centered spirituality to Charlottesville.
Paganism in Charlottesville? A place whose telephone book lists 275 churches? In fact, one of them, the Unitarian Universalist Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, serves as a spiritual home to the earth-centered group Nature Spirit. Paganism is entirely compatible with other religions, Murray says, and the group, which he founded three years ago, includes Christians and Hindus.
This year, Nature Spirit is hosting Pagan Pride Day, as part of an ongoing effort to focus outward. “In Charlottesville we are very centered on ourselves and on meeting our own needs,” Murray said.
“The reason I did all this was to make sure there was a place for me. Now we’ve created a community.”

The Fifth Annual Celebration of Pagan Pride Day takes place Sunday, September 7, rain or shine, at Walnut Creek Park, just south of Charlottesville, from 10am until shortly after 6pm. Entry is free, but an optional $5 “love donation” will go to support Virginia Forest Watch, the festival’s featured charity. Canned or prepackaged food will be accepted for the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church’s soup kitchen and volunteers will also be accepting donations of dried or canned food for local SPCAs.

Nature Spirit meets at 6:30pm on the first Sunday of every month (except September) at Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, 717 Rugby Road. 293 8179.

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