Soul on fire

Sacred Earthwalk Spirit Lodge

Shaman Margie Ewen has been a practicing pagan for 20 years.

Shaman Margie Ewen has been a practicing pagan for 20 years.

Photo By Todd Upton

The Sacred Earthwalk Spirit Lodge, 17926 U.S. Highway 395 N. The group meets at various times throughout the year. Call 971-1483 for more information.

Sacred Earthwalk Spirit Lodge

17926 US Hwy. 395 N
Reno, NV 89508

(775) 971-1483

I felt a personal irony as I read the Associated Press story that said a scholar had linked the Basilica of St. Anastasia, where the first Christmas mass on Dec. 25 was celebrated, to an ancient pagan shrine dedicated to Romulus and Remus.

It was ironic because Hunter and I were preparing to go to our first pagan celebration of the winter solstice, or Yule. It was to be held at the Sacred Earthwalk Spirit Lodge north of Reno. It was led by Margie Ewen, who accepts the title “noaide,” which is sort of a medicine woman, a shaman of the Sami people in the Nordic countries, basically an intermediary between humanity and its gods. Ewen, 45, has been on the pagan path for 25 years. She was a high priestess of a Wiccan coven in Eugene, Ore., at the age of 20. She’s been practicing in Reno for nine years.

When Hunter and I arrived, it was pretty obvious that the group was family-based, with Ewen at the head. We arrived about an hour before sunset and entered the bustling household. There were photos on the walls, lots of pets (including a couple of lizards and a dog named Sage), lots of extra chairs for the guests. There were people of all ages talking and a couple of young people playing guitars. There were approximately 20 people in total; I’d guess about half were family. I noted little that would suggest there was anything particularly “pagan” about this group. There were even a few Christian symbols about including a Celtic-styled cross.

As the sun started to set, people began to prepare for the ceremony. Some were chosen to take certain roles: smoker, guardian, god and goddess. They donned robes of various colors. One was green with gold, another was predominately red with suns and flames and a dragon, another looked like it was tanned leather. Some were hooded.

We gathered outside in the fading light, and a circle was drawn, using a sprig of burning sage. Hunter and I elected to remain outside the circle, which occasionally put us at a bit of a disadvantage for watching the proceedings. The ceremony began with lighting a fire, a call for the presence of the ancestors: “I call the ancestors, those who have come and gone before us. You are welcome here tonight, come be with us.” Responses included “blessed be” and “so mote it be.” A toast was made to the ancestors, and a goblet was passed to each of the 16 people within the circle.

The ritual had several parts. At one point, an American flag was retired, while honoring a fallen pagan soldier in Iraq: “Blessed be our warriors. May the Valkyries speed your way to Valhalla.” Nearing the end of that part of the ceremony, Ewen offered the prayer: “For all those who’ve seen life, for all those who’ve come back whole, for all those who have never seen battle—may they never need to.”

The final part of the ceremony within the circle included each of the participants lighting candles to bring back the sun—I think they were to burn all night—and a precaution by Ewen to pay attention to that night’s dreams, as Yule dreams are the most important of the year.

After the circle was broken, the group headed in to begin the feast. Hunter and I elected to head home—a couple hours of spirituality was about all we could handle that day. I found this family-style paganism very interesting. I’m not exactly a student of the religion, but what little I know suggests this is how it was done in years deep into the misty ages: Small groups of believers led by the head of the family worshipping the powers of the universe in the old ways.