Amanda Hyde admits it was the spells and rituals that drew her to paganism as a rebellious teenager. But more than a decade later, that shock value has long subsided.
“There are a lot of misconceptions,” she laughed.
For 10 years now, Hyde has organized Pagan Pride Day in Hamilton as a chance to celebrate their beliefs and give outsiders a glimpse into their lifestyle to dispel the myths.
“A lot of people think of pagan people as fringe folk. But you come here and you meet teachers, police officers, government workers…” she said of the volunteer-run event.
T-shirts and jeans outnumbered robes and staffs at Gage Park Sunday afternoon as 500 or so members of the pagan community strolled through a market of vendors straight out of a scene from Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley.
Amidst a hot dog stand and ice cream truck, artists and artisans had booths selling all kinds of specialized goods; animal skulls, crystals, incense. There was even a Wizard’s Shop.
The event’s newest vendor, MacFie’s Wizard’s Shop, sells handmade wooden goods, specializing in wands. Owner Danny McAfee said he gets a lot of dropped jaws when passerbys discover his store.
“It’s always ‘oh my god that is so cool’,” he laughed. “It’s fun.”
They’ve heard all the Harry Potter jokes, but while many are sold for movie props or Halloween accessories, Pagans are the shop’s bread and butter.
Paganism — an umbrella term for numerous non-mainstream religions including Wicca and Druid — has thousands of gods and a number of rituals. Whom and how one worships is a personal choice, Hyde said.
The root of many Pagan religions is nature and energy.
“Ritual is a weird word,” Hyde said. “I try to use ceremony.”
Even spells are misunderstood, she says. “Lot of (people)…if you think of something that you want hard enough, if you work hard enough, you will get it. You add a candle and suddenly it’s a spell. It’s about that energy flow. Rarely do I ever hear people say ‘I’m going to curse so-and-so.’”
A small number of group rituals were held Sunday in the park, including a self-empowerment ‘armouring ritual’. For this, the group places tools like staffs or drums on the altar, and focused their energy to it. The positive energy of the ritual is supposed to remain in that tool later to remind them of the ceremony.
Ceremonies for Pagan Pride take place around the world between August and October, around the time of the harvest. At all of them, charity is a major aspect. In Hamilton Sunday, they collected non-perishables for Hamilton Food Share.
Last year’s Pagan Pride Day raised just over $1,000 and more than 300 kilograms of food for the food bank.
Still, it is often the more controversial and elusive aspects of paganism that these believers are known for.
“From the big screen to the small screen, from Bewitched to Harry Potter, it’s taken on a life of its own. We all have a good giggle but really that is not what we do,” Drew Maddison, one of the organizers, said.
“I do think it’s important for more understanding in our society,” said fellow guest speaker Selena Fox, a priestess and writer.
“We’re not looking for converts, we’re just looking for equal human rights.”