Pagans on campus

Justin Law

International studies major Walker Byer is a witch. Resting upon his collar bone is a five-pointed star pendant encased within a circle. This is also known as a pentacle, an ancient symbol representing elemental harmony, spiritual unity, protection and the cycle of life.

Byer has had an interest in Wicca and witchcraft since his early childhood; first becoming familiar with the concept by watching episodes of Charmed, a supernatural drama about three sisters who use witchcraft to battle evil, at the age of eight.

“I learned that Wiccans tend to have more of a set belief system where witches are more spiritual; though my own personal observation of Wicca and witchcraft would be different from someone else’s,” Byer said. “I for one have more of an eastern philosophy to my magic but do not consider myself a Wiccan.”

Wicca is a duo-theistic earth-based religion which became popular in the mid 1950’s.

Byer is vice president of USI’s Pagan Student Union founded at the beginning of 2010 by the club’s current president Bill McCarel III.

“We ran into each other on campus and recognized our necklaces as pagan symbols,” Byer said.

Though there were other attempts to create a Pagan Student Union in the past by other students, this was the first time prospective founders were able to gather enough people to do so.

Unlike Byer, Bill McCarel III is a history major in his third semester at USI. He is also an Asatru, a follower of northern Germanic and Scandinavian ways of life.

“I created this group to provide a safe place for anyone of an alternative religious path to come and be themselves,” he said. “First and foremost this group is about tolerance, education and acceptance. One of the major stereotypes members run into as non-Christians is that Paganism involves devil worshiping, which is untrue.”

Before founding the USI chapter of the Pagan Student Union, McCarel was an active member of Ball State’s Society for Earth-Based Religions prior to transferring to USI last year.

The faculty adviser for the Pagan Student Union, English associate professor Elizabeth Passmore, credited McCarel’s strong connections to previous groups like the Society for earth-Based Religions as the chief force behind the group’s success.

Passmore was told about the union by Pattricia Aakhus, the International Studies program director at USI, and eventually agreed to serve as their adviser.

“There is a strong compatibility with the ideas of the Pagan Student Union and the concept of goddesses and gods of the earth; alternative forms of spirituality and a broad compatibility with certain aspects of medieval culture,” she said.

Passmore also teaches courses such as the history of the English language, literature of the middle ages and medieval world literature.

The Pagan Student Union encourages people of all faiths to attend meetings at 9 p.m. every Monday in UC 215.

USI will host the National League of Pagan Students, a workshop conference for groups such as the Pagan Student Union, later this spring.