Daily Egyptian

‘I do not have words’: Southern Illinois pagans experience eclipse

By Francois Gatimu

Away from the hordes of eclipse-watchers in Carbondale, the Southern Illinois Pagan Alliance gathered to celebrate nature at the remote Dancing Willow Farms in Makanda.

“I do not have words to know what to say about what that felt like and what that looked like,” said the group’s founder, Tara Nelsen, following the eclipse.

Nelsen said being surrounded by like-minded people, even ones who don’t necessarily identify as pagan, was a profoundly spiritual experience.

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During a ritual performed as the eclipse reached totality at 1:21 p.m., participants received a slip of paper that served as a visual reminder of “leaving the darkness behind,” Nelsen said.

Those partaking in the ceremony wrote down aspects of their lives that they wanted to get rid of, “embracing the light of a new day,” Nelsen said. Those pieces of paper were then placed in a black cauldron to later be discarded.

“This is a really good way to show that there is all kinds of diversity in southern Illinois,” Nelsen said of the ritual. “Thirty years ago, it would be scary to have a group of pagans publicly be doing anything — you would be afraid for your life.”

Some southern Illinoisans had their first experience with a pagan ritual during the eclipse event.

One of these was Kayla Voegtle, a transgender woman and a senior studying music from Spring Grove.

Voegtle born to a Roman Catholic family. After a decade of agnosticism, Voegtle said she wanted to try paganism.

Trish Pfeiffer, of Carbondale, smiles while holding her eclipse glasses to the sun Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, before the solar eclipse at Dancing Willow Farm in Makanda.

“I just wanted something spiritual, but without a ton of rules,” said Voegtle  “[Roman Catholicism] is very oppressive and it’s very pushy — paganism is very open and accepting.”

Monday’s ritual was meant to symbolize new beginnings, Nelsen said.

Voegtle said the ritual marked for her a pivotal point in her continued struggle for empowerment, something she said she particularly wrestles with as a transgender woman.

Some, like Trish Pfeifer, added their own personal rituals into the pagan one.

Pfeifer placed quartz and fluorite crystals to “charge” out in the sun, which she said are token stones of magic.

She had mason jars of water out in the sunlight as well, making “eclipse water” that she said would symbolize the years until the next eclipse for herself and her children.

“I like to mark time by what’s going on in the sky and in my personal life,” Pfeifer said. “It’s a way of reminding me of what I want.”

Many came to the event hoping to reconnect with nature and the universe.

As the solar eclipse reached full totality, shouts resounded around the farm. Many ritual participants cried, and all kept their bespectacled eyes unwaveringly fixed on the sun.

“I feel like there is a revival of nature religions,” Nelsen said, attributing this revival to people being able to find something “real” in paganism.

Staff writer Francois Gatimu can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @frankDE28.

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