Columbia celebrates Pagan Pride Day

Attendees could browse local products and attend Paganism workshops.
Columbia resident Ashley Malorin performs an African dance with her dance troupe, the BoCoMo Drumheads, Sunday during Mid-Missouri Pagan Pride Day at Peace Park. The festival, which was open to people of all religions, focused on raising awareness of Pagan spiritual beliefs.

Chanting in a spirit circle as part of their opening ceremony, attendants of the Mid-Missouri Pagan Pride Day summoned the directions, the god and the goddess Sunday.

Outdoor rituals like this are typical of Paganism, a religion based on respect for the earth. These rituals were given some scientific backing by the School of Metaphysics. Paganism is not synonymous with Satanism, which derived from the Judeo-Christian belief in Satan.

"It's very earth-based," said Crystal Johnson, Ozark Avalon Church of Nature member. "We're open to anyone who is kind to each other and kind to the earth, and they can be any religion."

Ozark Avalon Church of Nature is a 186-acre land sanctuary in Boonville that welcomes Pagans and Wiccans. One effort of the church is to develop a green cemetery on its grounds.

Mid-Missouri Pagan Pride organized the event. The Center Project, a group that raises tolerance for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning community, helped fundraise for the event. The event was open to all, regardless of religious beliefs. Local artisans and vendors set up tents along Elm Street, selling everything from barbecue sauce to magical stones.

Throughout the afternoon, anyone interested could attend workshops on rituals, chanting techniques, pagan fiction works and paper pentagram making.

Music and dance groups kept attendants entertained.

One band, Elvendrums, dressed like elves, played drums, burped and sang harmonious tunes about the values of fairyhood. Other acts were Deva Dancers, The Bocomo Drumheads and West African Dancers, who encouraged audience members to join in the cavorting.

Hearthfires member Steven Galbreath, whose magic name is Uthyr SpiritBear, said people's perception of paganism is changing due to events such as this.

"We've been out here seven of the last eight years," SpiritBear said. "When I talk to people, a lot of times they recognize my pentagram now. Some people think it's a Jewish symbol, but most associate it with Wicca. Theirs has six points, ours has five."

Gender equality was a recurring theme at the festival, due to representation from groups, such as the Center Project and the National Organization for Women.

Pagans are seeing a growth in acceptance from the community.

"The Paganism movement used to be underground, but I think the purpose of that has faded," Pagan literature author Joyce Higginbotham said. "There are now books about Paganism in public libraries."

Missouri is home to a tight-knit community of Pagans that keeps enthusiasts coming back to events, such as Mid-Missouri Pagan Pride Day, Heartland Festival in Kansas City and Pagan Spirit Gathering in Salem.

"I moved to Florida, but I didn't feel very welcome as a Pagan," junior Lisa Kimble said. "I decided to move back to Missouri after about a year and help organize Mid-Missouri Pagan Pride Day."

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