COLUMBIA — Elm Street in front of Peace Park will be filled with tarot card readers, educational groups and vendors selling homemade gifts on Sunday as part of the sixth annual Pagan Pride Day. The event will be held from noon to 7 p.m. in Peace Park.
"The purpose of Pagan Pride Day is to sponsor and promote tolerance in the world for all religions, to educate the public about paganism and to raise food and donations for charity," said Victoria Chance, Columbia coordinator for the national Pagan Pride Project.
Joyce and River Higginbotham, authors of "Paganism: An Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions and Pagan Spirituality," will speak during the day.
"Pagan Pride is needed because there is a lot of confusion and discrimination towards Pagans in our community (and) this event provides a chance to educate non-Pagans as well as to allow Pagans a chance to meet and network," she said.
Pagan Pride Day is a national movement. Last year, there were more than 1,000 events around the world, Chance said.
Every year, Pagan Pride Day happens sometime around the autumnal equinox, which is called "Mabon" in the Pagan community and is celebrated as a time of thanksgiving.
According to the Hearthfires of Mid-Missouri Web site, Mabon is "a time of a balance ... when we stop and relax and enjoy the fruits of our personal harvests."
Rose Wise, high priestess at Ozark Avalon Church of Nature, and the first coordinator for Pagan Pride Day, helped bring the event to Columbia.
"When I heard about the national Pagan Pride Day, I thought that it looked like something that Columbia needed," Wise said.
"A lot more people understand what Paganism is than when we first started having the Pagan Pride Day," she said.
"I think that a lot of local businesses are seeing that we are an important part of the community and want to get involved," Wise said.
In the past, Pagan Pride Day has donated food to Central Missouri Food Bank and Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen, money to the Columbia women's shelter, and pet food and supplies to animal shelters. In 2005, Pagan Pride Day raised more than $1,300 for Hurricane Katrina relief.
There is an active community of a few hundred Pagans in Columbia, said Chance, who estimated that Pagans make up about 2 percent to 3 percent of the population. Although difficult to track, the Pagan Pride Project Web site states Neo-Paganism is one of the fastest-growing religions in the U.S., with estimates ranging from 300,000 to 3 million. This year, almost 200 Pagan Pride Day events are being held worldwide.
Chance said that Paganism is not one unified religion. She said that it could be compared to the Judeo-Christian religions. Just as Christianity grew out of Judaism and has split into multiple factions, paganism has roots in an older religion but has split apart into groups that include Druids, Wiccans, Heathens and Shamans — all are different but retain some common elements.
People of all faiths are encouraged to attend Pagan Pride Day. There is no charge, but people are asked to bring non-perishable food for the homeless shelter or pet food for Second Chance No-Kill Shelter.
Pagan Pride Day is co-sponsored by Hearthfires of Mid-Missouri, Ozark Avalon Church of Nature, the UMC Multicultural Center, Peace Nook, SoCo Night Club and Sparky's Homemade Ice Cream.