Albuquerque Pagan Pride Day took over Baatan Park on Sunday to educate the public about pagan traditions, encourage community service and bring food to those in need during the harvest season, said Ramona Stipe, event coordinator and president of the board for Pagan Pride Day.
The event was one of 115 that took place nationwide over the past week, all of which were aimed at helping others in a loving way and spreading awareness, Stipe said.
“With TV and movies, there are a lot of negative things out there about paganism,” Stipe said. “But it’s basically just Earth-based spirituality.”
In order to enjoy the festivities, attendees were asked to donate non-perishable food items or cash, which will be given to the First Unitarian Church Food Pantry, she said.
Tracy Birtel holds a Grey Horned Owl at Sunday’s event. Birtel and her colleagues are part of Wildlife Rescue of New Mexico, which helps rescue and rehabilitate injured animals before returning them to the wild.
In 2013, PPD brought in more than 850 pounds of food for families in need, she said.
“They don’t get a lot of donations, but they serve 45 to 50 families a week,” Stipe said. “Families that wouldn’t be able to eat otherwise.”
Activities included belly dancing, workshops discussing various pagan traditions, a scavenger hunt designed to help educate attendees on those traditions, and an altar decorating contest, she said.
Aromatherapy massages, bands, children’s parades and Wildlife Rescue Inc. of New Mexico were also on hand for entertainment and education.
Erin Watson, president of the Pagan Student Guild of UNM, said she has been involved with PPD since 2010 and that the event has been steadily growing.
“I think that it’s growing more and I think that, with nurturing care and putting a lot of effort into it, it’s going to keep growing,” Watson said. “The word’s getting out there.”
This year’s event drew 51 vendors, including 11 non-profit organizations, representing various pagan traditions, such as Wicca and Druidism, she said.
Watson was the coordinator for non-profit organizations in this year’s event, and said she was happy to see such a large turnout because the organizations involved were warm and open to people of all religious backgrounds.
“The pagan community in Albuquerque is a very wonderful and helpful place. It’s very vibrant,” Watson said. “We have a lot of fantastic people involved.”
Christopher Kohut, owner of Coyote Tales Symbol Makers, who was the merchant coordinator for PPD this year, said most of the vendors were people who do not own businesses, but rather do their work out of passion, much like himself.
Kohut was initiated as a witch in 1971 and begin work as a silversmith about the same time, but in 1990 he began making medallions for metaphysical reasons and never looked back, he said.
“I like working magic in order to help people evolve and to help the planet evolve,” Kohut said. “For me, making my jewelry and working my magic is a way to focus and express my will or my desire toward what I would like to see happen in our planet.”
Several PPD attendees agreed with Kohut’s sentiments and said they do similar work on their own, making altars or designing staffs in order to connect themselves spiritually with the natural world.
For Kohut, his work is all about building community and spirituality through a homegrown, organic approach, he said.
“I have a connection in a personal way as far as how I honor the earth and how I honor the deities,” Kohut said. “I’m very much not into organized religions, so I consider that sort of stuff in more of a shamanic sense.”
Stipe and the volunteers have been working all year to put this event together, she said.
The team put on several fundraising events such as drum circles, full moon rituals, a pancake breakfast and an Italian dinner in order to raise money for the event, Stipe said.
She said all of the people who work for PPD are volunteers, so all the work she, Kohut, Watson, and many others put in was unpaid.
“We do this out of love,” Stipe said. “We do this in between our jobs and our regular lives.”
The Pagan Student Guild of UNM meets every other Thursday and can be contacted at UNMPSG@gmail.com and can be found on Facebook.
Daniel Montaño is a staff reporter for the Daily Lobo and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JournoByDaniel.