Western Carolina University is home to many people of varying backgrounds including differences in beliefs and culture. WCU has many outlets that service these differences, one of these being the Pagan Student Association. Lianna Costantino, the High Priestess of the Sylva Hearth Pagan Temple, is an integral part of the club. She works closely with students and the community to promote a sense of awareness and unity.
Costantino insisted that the PSA has been a staple at WCU for around thirteen years. She stated, “We are very involved on campus and always have been. Some of the things we have always done are the May Pole ritual which explains the May Pole dance and the history of it together with the dance that we do for the international festival. We’ll do other things for the festival for example, bringing international folk music for people to listen to. In the past we have sponsored Morris and garland dancers from England. We have also worked with the John C. Campbell Folk School from Brasstown for the international festival.”
When asked to describe PSA’s involvement in the community Costantino replied, “We also assist with the inter-faith opening prayer for Relay for Life that we sponsor. The inter-faith opening prayer includes six or seven clergy people of different faiths working together to kick off Relay for Life. PSA has always had a team that participated in Relay for Life. When we first got involved, I found it interesting that in such a religious place there was not a chance for prayer. So, I thought it would be a great place for an inclusive prayer. Usually we have a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Christian, a Muslim, a Pagan, a Jewish person, and a Cherokee person. Each clergy man does his own prayer staying true to his or her faith. It usually begins with everyone holding hands and then each person is introduced and they pray. If there is time they will tell a story about how their faith has helped them in the face of cancer, whether it is the loss of a loved one or a personal triumph. It has been received really well and I hope it continues.”
According to Costantino, the Pagan Student Association sponsors lectures throughout the year. In the past the PSA has hosted an Imam from Asheville who gave a lecture on Islam, why it is growing in America, and some of the challenges they face. The club has also sponsored religious lectures from professors at WCU. The club will be sponsoring a transgender dialogue on Nov. 2.
Costantino described the various yearly events that the club sponsor. She stated, “We will perform rituals for Samhain, which is Halloween; Yule, which is like Christmas; and Estre (Easter). We have also had a back to school ritual to kick off the start of the year. We usually have balls around some of the holidays. And each year we celebrate May Day before graduation.”
Prentice Nelson, a sophomore, is one of the club co-chairs of the PSA. Nelson was extremely animated when discussing the plans that they have for this semester. He added, “We are trying to sponsor a Samhain ball with the Religions club. We are also trying to do some fundraising so that we can do more for the community. Also, this year many of us are attending Pagan Pride Day which is a place where we can attend rituals, varying workshops, and simply celebrate who we are.”
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