Pagan it forward

Northern Nevada's Pagan community includes Wiccans, Greeks, Druids and Celts

Scott Reimers and Misty Grayknights of the Reno Magick Store.

Scott Reimers and Misty Grayknights of the Reno Magick Store.

Photo/Eric Marks

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If a satanic cult and blood sacrifices are all you expect from Paganism, the Earth-revering, Goddess-loving, blessing-performing Pagan community of Reno and Sparks will sorely disappoint you.

What exactly is paganism? It really depends on who you ask. Some individuals categorize pagans as anyone who doesn’t identify as a follower of the “big three” religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam, while others prefer a more specific definition that addresses those who worship pre-Christian deities and also have a reverence for the Earth and natural forces.

If the whole idea sounds hazy and ambiguous, it’s because it is.

Like the term “Christianity,” Paganism acts as an umbrella term that encompasses numerous directions or paths of worship, such as Wiccan, Greek, Druid and Celtic, and can also act as a term for those who prescribe to Paganism and don’t wish to isolate themselves on one specific denomination.

Several of the paths that fall under Paganism deal with casting spells, making potions and general magic (or magick). But the practice commonly deals with blessings, good health, and the like, rather than with levitating feathers, imitating someone else’s appearance and “obliviating” someone’s memory.

Unsurprisingly, like so many other subcultures, Paganism depicted in Hollywood is a product of misconceptions and vicious ignorance. From the bubbly, occasionally evil witch Willow on Joss Whedon’s television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the three spirit-stealing sorceresses from the 1993 cult-favorite Hocus Pocus, the storm of falsehoods has run rampant.

Though magic is a common instrument in Paganism, it isn’t a required one. The use of magic, as well as methods of worship, and motivation varies between different paths and individuals.

“Some do it for the magic, others the healing, and some people just like to get together and find fellowship,” says Shadow of the Nine Grays, a practicing Pagan.

Magick city

While many Pagans in the area prefer to worship alone, others gather to gain kinship.

The Northern Nevada Pagan Pride Day gives an opportunity for Pagans to meet others in the community and celebrate their culture together. But the event also does philanthropy, with a food and coat drive this year to benefit the We Care Volunteers, a charitable organization that provides meals and shelter to the homeless and working poor.

The annual Pagan pride event held in the fall is in conjunction with the Pagan Pride Project (often shortened to PPP), an association that assists in coordinating similar events internationally, within a specific time frame. PPP works to bring Pagans together with each other and with the rest of the general public. The festivities differ from place to place, but each one partakes in a public ritual and a food drive, to support the local citizens and give a more accurate depiction of Paganism to the masses. The 13th annual Reno and Sparks Pagan Pride Day event occurred on Sept. 6. While the turnout was modest, whatever it lacked in attendance was certainly compensated in spirit.

From the perspective of someone outside of the practicing Pagan populace in Reno, the pride festival was easily overwhelming, sparking sensory explosions from the wafting smells of incense, multiple symbols prevalent around the booths, and, notably, the good deal of people dressed in medieval attire.

But, if you were brave, you could venture to the main table, situated next to a stockade and surrounded by a band of pirates and find a warm welcome from Nancy Davidson, a member of the event’s planning committee who was armed with information and an eagerness to open up the world of Paganism to an uninitiated audience.

Sarah Serpa is a healer and high priestess.

Photo/Eric Marks

“Paganism has been a homecoming to me,” said Davidson. She began subscribing to Paganism in 2005. “It has taken my awareness in life one step further, by helping the planet to sustain itself and be a good force in the world, while realizing that there is something bigger than ourselves out there.”

The same attitude exuded throughout the rest of the crowd, a homogenous, open-minded mix of Pagans, Christians, witches, and those simply along to foster support for diversity.

Unfortunately, this progressive approach isn’t exactly the norm for Pagans in dealings with the general public.

From confronting individuals belittling Pagan beliefs of students in public schools to distributing a pamphlet at their own festival of a guide for employers with Pagans in the workplace, it’s clear that there is still a battle being fought to gain acceptance of Paganism in the Reno area. But that doesn’t mean that times haven’t improved.

A prime example of this comes from Sarah Serpa, who has found healing with unconventional techniques as a way to bridge the gap between Pagans and non-followers.

Serpa, a healer and third-degree high priestess, practices chi gong healing, a technique used to pinpoint and correct underlying disharmony, balance life energy, or chi, and improve health. Through her healings, she’s formed connections with a variety of people from different backgrounds.

One friend of Serpa’s who received treatment was Catholic, and began working with Serpa a few months ago to help alleviate issues with her pain and diabetes, much to the unsurprising disapproval of her Catholic relatives. However, once positive results became evident, her family gradually developed a much less judgmental, accepting attitude, breaking down barriers between convictions that were supposedly in direct opposition of each other.

Moreover, as Paganism has become farther-reaching and its principles more widely taught, the abrasive discord between its followers and their opponents has slowly started to dissipate.

“It’s not just the people who practice Paganism who are open to this stuff anymore, and it’s all becoming more and more accepted over time,” says Serpa.

If you’re interested in learning about Paganism, but a smaller, intimate setting is better suited to your style, Reno Magick Store offers a more personal format for a foray into the realm beyond traditional pantheons.

Misty Grayknights, a high priestess who practices witchcraft and shamanism, among other things has been a co-owner of Reno Magick Store for a little over a year. While she herself doesn’t identify with Paganism, her shop welcomes all, providing candles, herbs and any other accoutrements that one would need for spells, rituals or offerings.

Grayknights runs more than just a store. She also holds classes, devotionals and is a co-founder of a magickal group that bears the same name as her shop. Reno Magick is composed of “Wicca-flavored Pagans,” “Christian witches” and others, and performs rituals during the Sabbots, or full and new moons, as well as other gatherings.

Above all, Grayknights provides guidance for the clouded souls who wander through the door.

“A lot of people come in thinking, “OK, I’m not [Christian, Jewish or Muslim]. But what am I?” said Grayknights. “Then I help them work to find what path fits their beliefs. But with any path they choose, here, we want to help you feel like you belong."

Northern Nevada is home to a wide range of Pagan practitioners, from shamans to druids, wiccans to polytheists. Shattering clichéd renderings of wickedly deviant devil worship, mastery of cheap parlor magic, and conventions for naked treks through forests, the diverse Pagan population of Reno has broken down cockamamie notions of evil and established itself as a positive force.