Pagans push for change at Berkeley festival

BERKELEY — People from all walks of life joined in the fun Saturday at the 7th Annual Pagan Festival and Parade.

It was a showing of acceptance and celebration across all ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations and faith traditions at the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park. The event, organized by the Pagan Alliance, brought out a large crowd under this year’s theme, “We are Change.” The mission of the Pagan Alliance is to promote acceptance of faith and to work for justice.

The aim of the event was to foster change, connect communities and promote spiritual diversity. Organizers said they also wanted to dispel common misconceptions that paganism is about devil worship.

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Paganism is an Earth-centered religion that includes practices such as Wicca, Shamanism, witchcraft, Druidism, and Native American spirituality.

“Paganism is a time-honored tradition,” said Pat Kavena Fili, a spokesperson for the Pagan Alliance. “We suffer discrimination and we want to educate people so we can overcome that. We want to create an atmosphere of change.”

The festival was filled with Druid storytelling, arts and crafts and witches dancing with broomsticks. Other activites incuded a procession and interfaith ritual, an authors circle and community altars.

Brett Shulls, 30, of Berkeley, came to the festival with his wife, Amanda, and their two children.

“We are a pagan family,” he said. “I think it’s cool that pagans get to have their own pride parade.”

Shulls and his family have attended the festival three years in a row. His parents were atheists and his grandparents were Christian, but Shulls says he prefers his own spiritual practice.

“It works for me, and I like the connection with nature,” he said. “It feels more real.”

Max Dashu was selected to be the Keeper of Light at the festival this year. Dashu is the founder of the Suppressed Histories Archives, a collection of international women’s history. She also is an expert on ancient female iconography and women shamans.

“I’m honored to represent the community about what kind of spiritual traditions we carry,” Dashu said.

On a warm and breezy afternoon in the park, vendors sold charms, books and pagan artifacts. There were also performances by musical artists.

Arlynne Camire, executive director of the Pagan Alliance, said she was glad to help organize such a unique event.

“It shows that the pagan community is alive,” she said, “and deserves a right to practice their religion with tolerance from the community at large.”

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