Pagan gatherings are scheduled for three parks in Southern West Virginia in coming weeks, but those considering attending the public events and expecting to see witchcraft in action or arcane rituals being observed may be disappointed.
“You won’t see any spell-casting or sacrifices,” Gwendolyn Blake of Clarksburg, said with a laugh. “But we do have a ceremony where we break bread and have a drink of something from nature, like water or wine.”
Blake’s Rowan Temple of Light Coven, in Clarksburg, is organizing Pagan gatherings at Kanawha State Forest on Aug. 17 and at Summersville Lake on Sept. 21. A Charleston Area Pagan Pride gathering is scheduled for Sept. 28 at Ordnance Park, in St. Albans. A Morgantown Pagan Pride Day, held July 27 at Mason-Dixon Historical Park at Core, in Monongahela County, drew about 300 attendees, according to Blake.
“We’re building a community and trying to let the public learn what being a Pagan is about,” Blake said of this year’s West Virginia events.
“There are so many of us out there who don’t know where we belong, spiritually,” she said. “For those who haven’t found homes yet and are still searching and questioning, we’re a nature-honoring community that is inclusive and welcoming.”
The gatherings, she said, give people “the chance to come and learn what we’re about.”
Most modern definitions of paganism cover a lot of ground, describing pagans as those who who hold beliefs other than those of the world’s main religions.
“That leaves a wide spectrum of beliefs to consider,” said Blake. “We welcome anyone — you can believe everything or nothing and be accepted.
She said many in her Clarksburg group work in health care fields and are interested in alternative healing methods.
“It’s kind of hard to both explain and understand what paganism is,” Blake said. “We get together and go out and do things as a group, preferably outdoors. We talk about what we’re thinking and about current events and what we can do to help the community.”
Blake said one park official in northern West Virginia asked the former supervisor of his park to describe those attending a pagan event there the previous year. “He was told, ‘They’re like hippies, only cleaner,’” Blake said.
She said she hopes West Virginians will come to the gatherings and understand that pagans are more than that.
“We’re hoping people will give us the chance to prove we’re good people,” she said.
Morgantown’s Pagan Pride gathering, held annually since 2009, is the oldest and largest in the state, drawing vendors and exhibitors and hundreds of people interested in paganism from across northern West Virginia and parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Next year, a statewide gathering is scheduled to take place Aug. 22 near the geographic center of West Virginia at Holly Gray Park, at Flatwoods in Braxton County.
The Aug. 17 Kanawha State Forest Gathering, expected to draw perhaps two dozen attendees, will take place between noon and 5 p.m. Those attending are asked to bring a non-perishable food item for donation to a food bank.