Many people would be surprised to learn that Tulsa has a vibrant pagan community. In fact, it came as a shock to me when, after reading a book about neo-paganism for a class, I googled “Tulsa Pagans” on a lark and discovered that not only are they around, there are quite a few of them. So many, in fact, that they hold monthly social events at Spaghetti Warehouse. Smelling a story, I contacted the Tulsa Pagan Pride Facebook page and secured myself an invitation.
The entire point of this column is personal growth through uncomfortable situations, and I can assure you, reader, that walking into a room full of complete strangers with plans to ask them deeply personal questions like “so when did you come to Odin?” and “how long have you been doing magic?” is an uncomfortable experience like no other.
I had been warned that some of the people there might be wary of a reporter being present, as they were not yet out of the “broom closet,” and for that reason I did not take a camera or a recorder to the event at Spaghetti Warehouse or to the ritual to which I was invited later. But I wish I had, if only to convince myself that the entire experience had been real. Not that it was a bad experience, but it was pretty overwhelming.
The back room of Spaghetti Warehouse was entirely packed with attendees, and I found myself at a table with three other men, all in their twenties. The guy sitting next to me was a “Heathen,” someone who follows the old Norse deities. He showed me three amulets he wore, one representing Thor for strength, and another representing Baldur, for light. A third, representing Odin, rounded out the trio. He explained that, for him, it was all about balance.
Both he and his husband, who was also at the table, practice magic. He explained to me that magic was about intention. When they perform magic rituals, they believe that they are projecting their will into the universe, influencing the web of causality.
The night went on much like that; me asking carefully worded questions about my tablemates’ faith and listening in on conversation.
At the end of the night, there was a raffle, with the winners walking away with several prizes, including a wand, handcrafted by my heathen tablemate.
It was then announced that some members of the community were sick, and, in what I was told was a first, the group performed a healing circle right there in Spaghetti Warehouse. We held hands in a circle, and Greg Barnes, who practices spiritual healing, placed hands on the ill. It felt very similar to Christian prayer circles I’ve seen, but everyone seemed to pointedly avoid any overlap in terminology.
I learned a lot from my first exposure to paganism. They’re a friendly bunch, and very accepting. Everyone had different beliefs, but there seemed to be a sense that everyone was tapping into some common spiritual wellspring through their respective deities and practices. I also met a gnome. Or at least a rather short man whom everyone called a gnome. He carried a didgeridoo as part of his spiritual path as a bard. Nice guy.
At the end of the evening I was told by Renee, one of the facilitators (the pagans in Tulsa avoid using words like ‘leader’ and tend to deny authority over each other) that a major pagan holiday, Ostara, was coming up and that I was welcome to join if I wished.
I should probably take this opportunity to do a little explaining. According to wikipedia, there are eight neopagan sabbats, one every six weeks. Ostara, the one I attended, celebrates the germanic goddess of the same name and is meant to usher in the spring. My hosts informed me that many of Ostara’s symbols overlap with those of Easter, such as rabbits and eggs. In fact, many believe that the name Easter was derived from her name. Additionally, a friend of the pagans had died recently, and this Ostara they were going to commemorate him with a lasagna dinner, his favorite food.
The night of the ritual was uncharacteristically cold for a holiday welcoming spring. We gathered at Renee’s house. Renee is a kitchen witch, meaning that her magical practice is focused on food and its preparation. Also present were Wiccans, a green witch (one who focuses on gardening and growing), and a Celtic pagan among others. Our facilitator, the one who led the ritual, was a “Follower of Dragons.” She would later explain to me that she was spiritually connected to other animals. “I follow the dragons, but the others follow me,” as she said.
We made our way into the back yard, where we lined up to enter the circle. When entering the circle, you are asked “how do you enter?” and are supposed to reply “in perfect love and perfect understanding.” I was the new guy, though, so I got a free pass.
We formed a circle around a table, and a few volunteers called on the spirits of the four directions before beginning the ritual. We were supposed to light candles and read litany, but it was cold and the candles kept going out, so we skipped to the part where we commemorated the pagans’ fallen friend by eating cookies and drinking pink lemonade while his friends shared their favorite memories. After that, a basket of painted Easter Ostara eggs filled with confetti was brought out and we broke the eggs, scattering the confetti to the night.
Finally, we passed around papers, pens and envelopes. We were instructed to write something we wanted to accomplish in the coming year, something we wanted to leave behind or overcome. We then sealed the paper in the envelopes, to be opened one year from today. After that, lasagna.
In summation, I would say that this was a positive experience. I myself am not a pagan, nor do I have plans to become one, but it was interesting to see how a community like that functions. The people were kind and accepting, and did their best to explain their various beliefs and practices. I may not understand paganism or the web of belief that covers it, but I do know that the Tulsa pagan community can be counted upon for good conversation and Italian food.