‘Connected to nature’: Pitt’s pagans reflect on spring and spirituality

Eliza Pacifico remembers floating above their bodies in high school. At first they thought they were dreaming.

“Always, at the end, I was looking at my body and, like, I was there. I could actually see myself sleeping in my bed in my bedroom,” Pacifico said. “Then I would fall back into my body. every time I did that, I would wake up and I felt like – like I really felt my stomach knot.

Pacifico, a young major nurse, is a member of the new Pagans in Pitt club. Founded last semester by psychology graduate Kaitlin Keslar, the club meets on Sundays at the Cathedral of Learning. About 10 people are active in the club, according to Keslar.

Kaitlin Kesslar, the president of Pagans at Pitt, writes “intentions” and plants seeds in earthen pots during the club’s celebration in Ostara to commemorate the vernal equinox in the Cathedral of Learning last Sunday.
(Clare Sheedy | Assistant Visual Editor)

Keslar said she decided to start the club after realizing there was no space for witches and pagans to meet on campus.

“I wanted an in-person community because sometimes I don’t feel like talking to people just online,” Keslar said. “I figured there must be more here in Pitt.”

Pacifico said they always felt “super connected to nature” growing up and had strong intuition – knowing what song was going to play on the radio next, or what episode was going to play next on their family TV. It wasn’t until they discovered communities of witches in high school that they “entered” into their spiritual practice.

“I was just like, that’s fine with me,” Pacifico said. “Then I started looking and researching.”

Maighread Southard-Wray, a second-year anthropology student and vice-president of the club, said they set a topic for discussion at each meeting. Sometimes, however, the members “hang out and chat,” according to Keslar.

While paganism is a religious practice, Southard-Wray said witchcraft is “secular.”

“You can have religious association and be a witch, or you can’t,” Southard-Wray said. “I know people who don’t have a spiritual or religious home, who are witches and who practice really fascinating forms of witchcraft.”

Maighread Southard-Wray, vice-president of Pagans at Pitt, chooses seeds to plant during their Ostara celebration to commemorate the vernal equinox in the Cathedral of Learning last Sunday.
(Clare Sheedy | Assistant Visual Editor)

Many club members use tarot cards, crystals and pendulums in their practice. During their Ostara celebration last week, club members wrote their intentions on pieces of paper which they then planted in the ground. Keslar wrote “good marks”.

“Part of the intent is that these aren’t just the goals we want to work on for ourselves,” Keslar said. “It’s like asking the universe for help in working on those goals, asking any deity or whatever to point us in the right direction. Help us.

Ostara is a pagan festival that celebrates the vernal equinox and the “return of light”, according to Keslar. Keslar said the holidays historically mark the time to start planting crops in farming communities. Although the holiday is linked to the pagan Germanic goddess Eostre, club members said it should not be celebrated in her name.

Zach Zecca, a young political science student, said “everyone sees things differently” and there is no one right way to practice witchcraft or paganism.

“Everyone is different, but I believe there is a universal energy,” Zecca said. “Something created the universe and I feel like you can tap into it.”

Maighread Southard-Wray, Vice President of Pagans at Pitt, gives a thumbs up to a club member during their Ostara celebration to commemorate the vernal equinox in the Cathedral of Learning last Sunday.
(Clare Sheedy | Assistant Visual Editor)

Many members of Pagans at Pitt are of Christian background, including Pacifico. They said they never thought Christianity was “practical enough” for them, and realized growing up that they wanted a more “active” and “self-directed” spiritual life.

Zecca also grew up in a Christian family. He said he “enjoyed” going to Sunday Mass with his family and attending Catholic Sunday School because it felt “active” to him – especially carrying the cross while serving at the altar. But as he grew up, he became uncomfortable with his relationship with the church.

“As I got older and being gay, I couldn’t be comfortable there anymore,” Zecca said.

Keslar, who decided to ‘go into’ witchcraft after her first high school breakup, said she swore to herself she would either become ‘a nun and swear men’ or go into witchcraft . She eventually chose witchcraft when she realized she was “too weird for Catholicism”.

Zecca said he often thinks about the relationship between homosexuality and witchcraft, which he says has “a lot to do with being rejected from where you were raised” and entering in a community of “more open-minded people”. Southard-Wray agreed, saying they believed witchcraft and paganism appealed to homosexuals.

“Part of the reason it’s so appealing to queer people is because it’s very liberating and very self-directed,” Southard-Wray said. “Coming to witchcraft and paganism was part of unlearning the things you grew up with. There really isn’t a wrong way to explore your practice.

Southard-Wray, whose ancestors came to America during the Irish Potato Famine, said they “work in many Celtic traditions”. They said they saw their sorcery as a way to “recover old things and old traditions”.

Like Southard-Wray, Keslar also has ancestral ties to her witchcraft – though she was unaware of it until taking a DNA test. Keslar said she always felt a special connection to Egyptian and Greek deities, but it wasn’t until she took a DNA test that she discovered she had Egyptian and Greek ancestry.

“I found out I was a bit Egyptian, and that was very weird for me,” Keslar said. “I also always thought my family was Italian, but it turns out they were Greek before they were Italian. When I found out about that, I was like, ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’ »

Although some members of the club, like Keslar, work with specific deities, not all do. Zecca said he views deities as “a kind of force that is given a name, a character, and a story”, adding that he doesn’t “see them as real people, just a way for people to process energy”.

Regardless of belief, Keslar said there is intrinsic magic in nature that everyone can appreciate.

“Even if you don’t believe in specific pagan gods or specific pantheons, nature is very tangible,” Keslar said. “You can hold a pot of soil, and, like, there’s magic in watching the plants grow.”

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