Pagans celebrate Beltane holiday

by Amy Hackbarth

Thursday evening, senior Mary Fingerholz will write a message of growth on a ribbon attached to a maypole in a St. Paul Park. She will weave her ribbon and those of other University Pagan Society members around the pole until it’s covered in an intricate design.

Then the group will burn the maypole, watching their messages waft into the evening sky.

The creation and destruction of the maypole celebrates Beltane, a pagan holiday. For Fingerholz and other pagans in the University and Twin Cities communities, it is a celebration of the renewal of spring and the earth’s fertility.

Brody Derks, a University freshman and Pagan Society member, said around 15 of the group’s 20 student members usually attend the rituals.

“It’s the coming of summer and its awakening in humans as a time to be fertile,” said Fingerholz, the society’s president.

Beltane’s origin can be found in Celtic myth, said Eric Lee, a pagan minister and Freedom of Religion Pagans president. It is the second-highest ranking pagan festival, he said, following Samhain, the pagan New Year celebrated near Halloween.

Maypoles are a common way to celebrate Beltane, Lee said. Other pagans wear bright colors and flowers to celebrate the earth’s renewal and rejuvenation.

Paganism is an umbrella term used to describe nature-oriented religions, Fingerholz said.

“It’s people seeking the divine in nature,” she said.

Two years ago, Hamline freshman Alison Nolan chose to
celebrate Beltane by dedicating herself to paganism.

“My mother had just accepted me as a pagan,” Nolan said. “So I thought this was a way to tell myself that this was what I believed in and I was going to follow through with it.”

Nolan is one of a growing population of younger pagans in the Twin Cities, which Lee credits to Minnesota’s abundance of natural resources.

“We have a lot of lakes and parks and trees that attract a lot of people,” he said.

The Internet also helps pagans express their beliefs in anonymity, Fingerholz said.

“A lot of pagans didn’t know it was all right to come out about their beliefs for fear of reprisals,” she said. “Now they’re able to organize in an anonymous information network.”

Although paganism is often misunderstood, most pagans don’t experience severe forms of discrimination, Derks said.

“It’s not that bad, usually,” Derks said. “We find the ‘U’ pretty open-minded.”

Still, Fingerholz said, occasionally they hear from people who don’t understand their beliefs, like at the group’s table during freshman orientations.

“People will come up to us and say, ‘We’ll be praying for your souls,'” she said. “And we’re like, ‘OK, that’s great. You go ahead and do that. It can’t hurt.'”

Cultural stereotypes often engender misconceptions of pagan beliefs, Lee said.

“People don’t know that what they’re being told about paganism by Hollywood and the Christian doctrine is not true,” he said. “We don’t turn little kids into frogs.”

The University Pagan Society tries to educate students about the fundamentals of paganism, Derks said. Instead of focusing on one tradition of paganism, such as Wiccan, Germanic or Celtic, the group discusses each one during its Thursday night meetings.

“We try to cater to all the traditions,” Derks said.

Amy Hackbarth welcomes comments at [email protected]