If there are two things, however alliterative, that one wouldn’t expect to find in combination, it’s paganism and pizza. Nonetheless, a dedicated group of Santa Barbara pagans have been meeting once a month on Friday night to hang out at the Carrillo Rusty’s, eat pizza, and talk about their beliefs, their lives, and their current projects – for the past fifteen years.
There are many common conceptions about paganism, and after sitting in with the pagan pizza-eaters for an evening, I learned that almost all of them are wrong. For example, one member of the group told me that “Paganism has nothing to do with Satanism,” and asked me to please “put that in [the column].” She explained that one of her neighbors considers her one step – if that far – from sacrificing chickens in the backyard, and hoped that this person would read the column and finally be convinced that Paganism and Satanism are entirely different.
If you’re reading this, neighbor, now you know.
Another very basic misconception is that Wicca, a branch of Paganism, is actually synonymous. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a term, “paganism” refers to a variety of traditions, faiths, beliefs, practices, and philosophies – possibly as many as there are pagans.
The Pagan Pizza group seemed to contain adherents of ancient Celtic beliefs, devotees of a variety of manifestations of a goddess, lunar worshippers, or at least those who use the moon as a major symbol, and tarot practitioners, among others. However, without speaking to each one at some length, it would have been impossible to pinpoint the room’s diversity of belief and practice. The pagans refer to the type of practice each one espouses as their “path,” which might generally translate to the word “sect” or “denomination” as those are used in reference to Christianity or Judaism. Another way to interpret it might be as “purpose” or “fate.”
One member, who asked me not to use her name, performed a brief ritual with the group. We gathered around a table which she had arranged, asked us to hold hands, and guided us through a series of visualizations which might, she hoped, lead to healing, both mental and physical. The ritual contained elements of meditation, which the woman practices as a part of her beliefs, and also used tarot cards, candles, and small objects which symbolized the purpose of the ritual. A photograph of the table accompanies this column, and in it can be seen incense, as a symbol of balance, a cup, as a symbol of gratitude, and several other items.
Of course, spirituality was not the only topic of conversation, or the focus of every activity. A short time was set aside for dirty jokes – some of which, although they aren’t appropriate to tell here, will definitely enter my drunken repertoire in the future. This sense of humor extended to the pagans’ conception of their own more serious activities. They took a vote, to see if I could join them for an evening for the purposes on writing about them in Weird SB. Eventually decided that they didn’t mind being described as “weird.” One commented, accompanied by the laughter of all, that it said something about how weird they really are that it took them a few minutes to accept the moniker. Marlene, the group’s organizer, also added that the word “weird” has a spiritual connotation: the Weird Sisters, perhaps most familiar from MacBeth, is another name for the Norns, the Norse goddesses of fate.
However the group may feel about appearing in a column dedicated to the weird, they are very comfortable with their own choices of path. Many of the group chose Paganism at an early age. Marlene discovered her path when she was twelve, and ran outside to dance under the full moon. Another attendee spent her childhood attending Catholic school, and found that something was lacking. She’s never understood the purpose of building a church or building for worship. After all, she told me, “Nature is the house of God.” And that really is the common thread amongst the pagans: a true appreciation for the wonder of nature. Many are ecologically minded, and judging by the choices of pizza toppings, many are also vegetarians. The moon, the earth, the stars, and animals seem to function as very important symbols for almost all pagans.
It’s unfortunate that confusion exists as to the purpose and practice of Paganism. I can’t imagine anything more harmless than this group of fifteen or so, eating pizza and discussing mythology, philosophy, or how to properly set up an array of candles. But many of them feel uncomfortable revealing their lifestyles to others they are not all, as Marlene described it so pithily, “out of the broom closet.”
Pagan Pizza meets on the fourth Friday of each month at 7 p.m. at Rusty’s, 232 W. Carrillo St. For more information, or to join the group, contact Marlene through the website, paganpizza.com. The Santa Barbara Tarot Discussion Group, organized by a Pagan Pizza member, also meets at Rusty’s on the second Friday of each month at 7 p.m. Beginners are welcome, and this group can be reached through tarotnight.com.