By Alexandra Seltzer
Paganism — a religion including any pre-Hebrew, non-Eastern practice, act or belief — has been formally introduced to Syracuse University’s campus in the form of Hendricks Chapel’s first Pagan chaplain, Mary Hudson. SU is the second university in the country to welcome a Pagan chaplain to campus, and Hudson is eager to add to the school’s religious diversity.
Q: How did you become Pagan chaplain?
A: For just about a decade I have been the religious advisor for Spiral, which is the student Pagan group here at the chapel. It’s a recognized religious organization and has been for a long time.
When I made the decision to leave the university, truly my biggest concern was what happens to the student Pagans here at the chapel. And in all of these discussions of what to do and how to do it, it was suggested: Why not come as a Pagan chaplain? That way you can work with the kids and serve kind of a greater purpose, if you will, in all of the Hendricks Chapel.
Q: Are there a lot of Pagan students here?
A: A lot more than you think. When Spiral started way back when, there were three. Not necessarily three at the university, but three that were willing to come to the chapel to do ritual together. Over the course of the last nine years, the e-mail list is over 100 people long. In any given meeting there are half a dozen to a dozen and a half. For ritual, 13 to 15 students show up.
Q: Are meetings different than ritual?
A: Yes they are. Students meet every Monday night. Everyone is welcome to come — Pagan or not, we don’t care. And I say that because it’s not just about student Pagans coming together to find a community, but it’s also about education for people who are not pagans. It’s not about me. It’s about them finding their path in all of this.
A: The ritual is a practice of the spiritual faith and is done outside. The only time I don’t have the students doing ritual outside is if it would be a danger. And I say that because it’s Syracuse, for heaven’s sake. We had a ritual scheduled for a few weeks back, and that’s when it was hitting the minus one degree – Then kick in the wind chill. I said, “No, we’re not doing this.”
Q: I don’t know much about rituals. Can you describe one?
A: The circle is there, candles are lit, and incense are burning. We call to the four quarters. The four quarters start in the east: east, south, west, and north in that order. East is creativity — it’s air. It’s new beginnings. Then we turn to the south. South is fire, passion. It’s that fiery will that just moves people forward. West is water — emotion, fluidity, and the ability to live. North is earth. It’s solid foundations, that which is underneath our feet. Then we call in deity. And depending on the ritual it will be a different deity. The only thing I facilitate [with] the students is: Make sure you have the proper one for what you are trying to do because you are asking for their help. And if you are bringing in two—a male and a female—which is normally what happens, that they get along. It’s a horrible mess to have two wrong deities in a particular space.
Q: How many different deities are there?
A: I couldn’t tell you. You have different pantheons. You have Celtic, Greek, Egyptian…I mean, pick a culture. I can’t even imagine how many there are.
Q: Do you focus on a culture?
A: Personally speaking, I work with the Celtic pantheon. It’s what I was drawn to. It fits me. My ancestors are of Celtic heritage so that’s where I am.
Q: Have you been a Pagan since you were little?
A: Yes, it’s something that’s been with me always. I was raised in a southern Baptist family, and the whole time would have an affinity with nature. At one point in my life, I said I don’t need to do the Christian faith—that’s not who I am. I just said enough is enough.
Q: What are some beliefs of Pagans that you follow or try to live by?
A: Probably the only known is to harm none. Not just others, but yourself, the earth, mother nature, those around you. Harm none. It’s pretty powerful when you think about it.
Q: What is the biggest thing about Paganism that may make people curious or not understand it?
A: Hollywood. And I’ll be very honest about that. The portrayal of Pagans in the media, especially film, is not necessarily positive and it most certainly isn’t true. Friends of mine and I, we all laugh because if people actually followed Pagans around with a camera they’d be bored to death. It’s the Hollywood depiction through things such as “Charmed,” where it’s all witchcraft, dark, and they fly and control people and do all these wonderful things. If I learn to fly I’ll teach you someday, because that just blows my mind.
Q: As the Pagan chaplain, what is your message to the SU community?
A: It’s OK to be different. Just because someone looks different, they come from a different place, they have different abilities, they practice a different religion, they have a different political view, different ideas, does not mean they are bad. It doesn’t mean they are evil. Quite frankly, how boring would life be if we were all the same? You do have to understand that you can’t have a homogenous world. How boring would that be if we all had to wear pink tomorrow, you know? I would hate that.
Q: Do you not like pink?
A: It’s pink. I don’t wear pink. Don’t get me wrong, I like pink. My granddaughter wears pink all the time. I don’t wear pink. But it is a matter of education. It’s OK to be different. Ignorance is something to be feared.