A group of slightly less than 30 people, some sporting rabbit ears, stood in a circle around a small wooden floor in the Davis-McCann Center in Murphysboro Saturday night, tracing the outline of their bodies with eggs.
The high priestess of the ceremony, Tara Nelsen, instructed the group that doing this would help pull the negativity out of their lives and breaking the eggs would completely remove it.
One by one they threw the eggs into a metal trashcan in the center of the circle, shattering them with a loud thump. As one zealous member of the circle vocalized as he threw his egg into the metal trashcan, Nelsen had words of her own.
“That’s pretty satisfying isn’t it?” she said.
The egg breaking was part of the Southern Illinois Pagan Alliance’s Ostara celebration. The light-hearted ritual celebrated the spring equinox, which Nelsen said is a time when the earth becomes fertile again, hence using eggs in the ceremony as a symbol of that fertility.
As part of the ritual, members not only broke eggs to rid their lives of negativity, but decorated hard-boiled eggs with their wills and desires to help them manifest. At the end of the ritual, the circle shared marshmallow Peeps from a basket.
Those participating were also asked to bring canned food to donate to the Good Samaritan House.
“SIPA tries to give back to the community as much as we can,” Nelsen said. “We live here, we work here, we go to school here, so we try to give back.”
Nelsen, a graduate student at SIUC studying health education, founded SIPA and has been a practicing pagan for about 18 years. She said the group has anywhere from 75 to 90 paid members, and usually have about 50 to 60 present for events. However, she also said the Ostara gathering was smaller than usual due to late notice.
SIPA, according to their mission statement, was formed in 1998 as a way for the pagan community to help educate the broader community, as well as promote networking, community building and service opportunities. The group also works to establish acceptance, unity and equality for all on different spiritual paths.
Nelsen said there is no specific belief system for pagans and there is no singular text they follow. She described the term pagan as an umbrella term, similar to how the term Christianity encompasses Baptists, Lutherans and Catholics, among others. She said one prevalent belief for pagans is in nature and balance, as well as believing that deities are accessible through everyone.
Nancy Pedersen, a board member for SIPA and participant in the Ostara celebration, said she had been following paganism for about five years after finding that the balance between all things, such as male and female, was what she was looking for from a religion.
“At the equinox, the days and the nights are the same length,” Pedersen said. “It’s all about balance and growth – going from cold to warm and dark to light.”
She also said pagans have eight seasonal celebrations throughout the year, each one led by a different person. Because of paganism’s broad nature, she said rituals often focus on different methods of worship, such as goddesses or Celtic traditions.
“I don’t believe any two people believe the same thing here,” she said.
Nelsen said there is no way to tell how many pagans are in the southern Illinois area because some practice secretly due to the fear that the surrounding community may not be accepting of that religious path.
“Sometimes paganism is misunderstood or feared or completely dismissed as false,” she said. “You know we’re not evil, we’re not scary. We’re normal people.”
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