Apr. 5th, 2013

fireun: (Timey Wimey)
On Wednesday I volunteered at Onondaga Community College as part of their Human Library. For four hours I was their Pagan book. I was there for students to 'check out' and ask questions about what it is like to be a pagan, what is paganism, and anything on that topic they could develop questions on. We were prepped before hand that if any conversation became uncomfortable they we were to politely let the 'borrower' know that the conversation was done, and leave. So we had a way to back out of situations, but it was supposed to be an event to encourage tolerance and learning, so I did not expect to have to utilize the quick escape. Some instructors at the college assigned their students the event, so we had a lot of students from communications and psychology classes coming through. But we also had a lot of folks who just passed through the library, saw the event, and were interested to speak to one or more of the 'Books' we had on hand.

The first student I spoke to came prepared, with notes and questions, pencil in hand. He was open, excited and enthusiastic. He had some background in the concept of what it was to be pagan, but wanted to know more. We discussed  just what a pagan was, how it was a sort of a catch-all term. He wanted to know about the main groups of pagans existent today, their origins and core beliefs. We had a rousing good discussion on Heathenry.

My second student had no idea what a pagan was, which is why she had selected my book. We chatted, she was curious, and pleasant to speak with. The question I was most impressed with was an innocent 'why do you do this', meaning, why would I come to an event like this, declare myself a pagan, and wait to see what happens.

I did this because I had been scared to do something like this for too long. It is scary, walking into a room and slapping a label (in this case a pin saying Pagan) on. People will instantly start to think things. I have gotten to the point where I want them to. And then I want to have pleasant, intelligent conversation with them and watch some of those things start to change. I am open online about being a Pagan, might as well start being open in person about it.

The third student I spoke with introduced himself as an atheist, interested in learning as much about work religions as possible. He was looking for scholarly dialog, and we had a lovely discussion about history and culture and language and religion. He also wanted to know why I do this.

I asked him what he expected when he went to sit down with a pagan. He definitely expected something a little more Charmed and a lot less crass and caustic librarian. And that is why I wanted to do this. We are normal people with some cultural baggage. The baggage drives me particularly nuts much of the time, but it is why I specifically asked to be the Pagan book and not the Heathen.

My fourth 'reader' was an English instructor. We had a grand old time discussing why I choose to identify as Heathen as opposed to some of the other terms Heathens will go by, since Heathen has some linguistic negative connotations. Asatru and Odinist have some fascinatingly negative cultural associations, and don't always encompass what I am doing, thus I will take my Heathen hat and wear it happily.

My fifth reader was the only one I considered the get out of jail free break away with. I had finally landed someone who wanted to play pick on the pagan. He aggressively identified himself as a Catholic, started every sentence with "in my religion..." and when he asked about what I believe, interrupted me to ask about Jesus, and didn't he die for my sins. I politely informed him that, no, there was no Jesus in the Heathen story, and he rolled his eyes. When I was explaining the cosmology and the Gods, he snorted and said "isn't that a cult?" In this situation, nothing I could do but smile nod, and wait for him to run out of steam.

I also met with some of the other books who were interested in 'reading' me. One was the person working as the Spiritual Leader book. He was genuinely interested in my experiences as a Pagan. Polite and charming and a credit to his creed. Another was the Body Art book, who had been exploring Druidry and other earth- based religions and just wanted someone to talk to.

It was a fantastic event. If they do it again, I will be going back, and I will definitely be seeking out similar (if not trying to organize them myself) in the meantime.

March 2015

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