By Sarah Smith | firstname.lastname@example.org
Everyone was gathered in a circle as a dark-haired man spoke surrounded by another man in a black robe to the left and a woman in a brown robe to the right. Both of the people at his sides were very tall– or at least had the appearance of tall by the long robes they wore.
The air smelled of sage and other incense as the two others came around to each member of the circle. One brought around a small wooden instrument that when struck sounded like a rusty bell. The other was anointing people’s foreheads with what looked like water.
When they came back to the dark-haired man they took a black and a brown candle and lit a candle of unity.
The main dark-haired man declared that there was only to be peace and acceptance at the festival and then just like that everyone went about their way into the air-conditioned building behind him.
Jacksonville Pagan Pride Day was held Sunday at the Garden Club of Jacksonville. Many people of all different beliefs were there to celebrate together and learn and share one another’s practices.
Charles Martell, owner of The Bodhi Tree was a vendor at the event and a big proponent of the festival. He said that the Festival was a way to raise awareness for what paganism actually is.
“There’s so much negative stigma and there’s so much myth and legend that is steeped within our culture because of the unfortunate choices of people of the past that being able to get a true glimpse of what it really is like and what it is to really be around people of this kind of culture is by far one of the most important things that can be emphasized by events such as this.”
The festival boasted numerous vendors—both inside and out—as well as performances, workshops, a craft section for children, and food trucks.
Sitting on the steps enjoying a snow cone. Rebecca Aresnault and Taylor Goranson said that they were just there to check out the festival as she has been curious about paganism in the past and to support some if their friends who are pagan.
“Both of us kind of think about it and have a little bit of belief in it so we kind of wanted to come and see what the culture was like,” Goranson said.
At the festival, there were workshop booths with different people teaching throughout the day.
One such person was Laurie Denman who described how pagans describe personality. “It’s like the pagan Myers-Briggs test,” she said laughing.
In her session, she described how her church’s belief was that a goddess made nine different versions of herself or “monads” and that became the nine different sections of personality.
The scene outside was bright and filled with color as different booths and people flooded the tents and food trucks.
The event also had a children’s speaker who handed out bubbles and a craft tent set up to give kids something fun to do.
Inside the volunteers and church leaders worked and enjoyed the event.
Dustin Goodall is the head of his tradition and is one of the organizers of the event. He was wearing a pagan pride day T-shirt, , a gray fedora, and a beaded Anubis necklace.
“If I get to sit for a second it’s great,” he said laughing and wiping the sweat from his brow.
Taking a minute, he explained paganism from his perspective.
“It’s my personal relationship with deity,” he said, “As pagan we follow pantheons so for me I work with a lot of Egyptian deities and death deities.”
He now worships Anubis and practices “reconstructionism” where he figures out how the ancient Egyptians worshiped and follows that.
“For me their mythology, the way they did things, really spoke to me and so I started practicing.”
He also said that he helps people who have died or are dying cross over.
He continued that the pagan community was very supportive of different views and they try to go to each other’s events even if they’re different ways of doing things.
At his booth for Sanctuary: Realms of Spiritual Growth, he talked to people about what his group members believe and what they do day to day.
Other booths boasted everything from trinkets to specially handcrafted boxes to other groups inviting newcomers.
Browsing those groups were a variety of people.
Lee Hutton was there with his family and said that he was there because he got the invite on Facebook after following pagan pages.
“About a year ago I chose to follow the Celtic path.”
He added that although he follows Celtic beliefs, his family each is following what feels right to them.
“Everyone has their own belief system,” He said, “My daughter follows more Shintoism, my wife hasn’t really chosen what path she wants to go on yet.”
He added that the two youngest were free to choose what they wanted to follow as they got older.
Some attendees had a looser definition of paganism, such as Rusty Withers.
He was there with his booth where him and his wife sold pagan children’s books and leatherworking. The former written by his wife and the latter made by him.
“My whole life it’s just felt right to me,” he said, “I started out just being a tree-hugging hippie and this is what it leads to, your faith and what you feel is right to you.”