Halloween is fast approaching and old stories of ghosts and spirits inevitably leap into one’s mind.
Samhain, a pagan holiday observed in the fall, is the 2,000-year-old Celtic precursor to Halloween, according to Wake Forest University Press.
At the University of Alaska Anchorage, Alaska Pagans’ Thing is the UAA student club that jumps out with a nod to the often-supernatural fall spirit.
The club primarily focuses on spreading accurate information of pagan religions, while drawing people together under a common spiritual and cultural interest, according to club founder Jacob Ballard.
Pagan is a broad, often misunderstood word, and he founded the club to raise awareness and foster a religious community on campus, Ballard said.
“When I first started UAA, I only saw ten clubs, including many Christian faith groups. I started this club to raise positive awareness for pagans in Alaska,” Ballard said. “My purpose for creating Alaska Pagans’ Thing is to offer a safe, judge-free community for practicing and non-practicing pagans.”
There are a large variety of religions that fall under the branch labeled paganism, and pagans in Alaska differ on who and what they believe in.
Jacob Ballard considers himself to be a “non-practicing Heathen” who studies ancient Icelandic gods and culture, but the club’s focus also encompasses other pagan beliefs.
Morgan, an active club member who prefers not to disclose his last name, describes Paganism as a belief in gods who are “imperfect individuals who reflect our imperfect world.”
Ancient Heathen folklore “describe[s] an outlook that faces life squarely, ready to take on its challenges and savor its joys,” according to The Troth, an international heathen organization.
“[The Alaska Pagans’ Thing club] let me know that there were more of us out there,” Morgan said.
It’s a widespread belief that pagan holidays have gone hand-in-hand with Christian beliefs, and many modern-day festivals still incorporate ancient aspects associated with their Pagan counterparts.
Ancient Romans celebrated the winter solstice during the same time that was later recognized as the birth of Jesus Christ, according to CBS News.
Yule, the ancient Germanic winter solstice festival, was also celebrated during the time Christian calendars now recognize as Christmas, according to Seattle Weekly.
Alaska Pagans’ Thing is concerned with advancing their outreach efforts and would like to do more volunteer work in Anchorage to show that pagans can have a positive presence within their community, Ballard said.
The club’s plans include serving food at Beans Café or volunteering in clean-up efforts in Anchorage public parks, Ballard said.
The club hopes to bring a positive presence to set itself apart from controversial international organizations with self-expressed ties to Paganism.
Alaska Pagans’ Thing does not support any extremist views, nor does it perform any kind of ritual practice, Ballard said. The club is primarily concerned with providing a safe community for people to learn and grow within their respective religious interests.
“We are law-abiding citizens – we don’t run around with freshly, flayed goat hides whipping people,” Morgan said.
There is no unifying structure or rituals that are practiced by the club.
Modern rituals largely rely on archeological and mythological depictions that often lack fine details. Many pagans view the variation in practices as a grassroots style that encourages independent thought and community engagement, according to Ballard.
By all accounts, the Alaska Pagans’ Thing club is less concerned with demonic summoning and more concerned with having a positive community impact and providing a meeting place for all pagans.
“We like to be special and confusing,” Ballard said. “Look for the kilt around campus and feel free to say ‘hi’.”
The club will also be hosting a Samhain celebration this coming October. The next club meetings will be Sept. 26, Oct. 10 and Oct. 24.