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Honoring spring the pagan way

May 10, 2011

by Adam Clark

The beginning of May means spiritual growth, fertilization, and the turning of the seasons to a group of Pagans found within the Capital Region.

A reporter from The Pine Hills blog attended a recent Beltane ritual celebrating the arrival of Spring at the Pagan Alliance Church, a non-profit organization founded in 2007. The alliance rented space at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Albany.

Beltane is celebrated as one of the seven Sabbats in the pagan religion. Many pagans believe the rift between our world and the fae realm is closest, and so the fae are asked to join the ritual by offering a gift such as milk and honey.

The Church will be celebrating a full moon ritual on the 17th of this month, and celebrating the summer solstice with their Litha Ritual, held June 18th, at Boyd Thacher State Park.

The purpose of Beltane is spiritual renewal, fertilization, and a successful year ahead.

The Beltane ritual proceeded through different events such as cleansing and blessing of participants, calling of the fae, lighting the fires of Beltane, and guided meditation, among other things. “People are starting to get more in touch with the earth,” said Cynthia Stebbins, “people need a bit more balance in their life.”

Sign indicating Unitarian Church of Albany (Adam Clark)

Stebbins, current resident of the Pine Hills neighborhood was tasked with the ritual’s organization and procedure.

The Church brings in people with “alternative lifestyles” according to Stebbins, having no set belief systems one must follow, but allows people to choose and follow their own paths.

“[People] want somewhere they can go and express what they believe,” said Stebbins, “there are many paths to the truth, and we accept that there are many paths to the truth.”

Stebbins has lived in the Pine Hills Neighborhood for 11 years as a stay at home mother taking care of her children. She is an active participant in the Church as a ritual leader and high priestess, being brought up in the various aspects of paganism since childhood.

Stephen Kress believes the pagan population within Albany is growing, attracting people from all ages and styles of life, “we’re very eclectic.”

Kress is the founder of what is now Pagan Alliance Church and considers himself shamanic with his beliefs, based heavily in nature and Celtic practices. “Most people don’t have a place to go,” said Kress, “to worship in any way and to learn the craft.”

According to Kress, pagans believe everyone is connected, including connection with the

College of Saint Rose 1962 Rosaverian article stressing spiritual growth

god and goddess. They do not worship their gods, but honor them. Humans are connected according to Kress, and not separate, against what is found in many modern religions.

Stebbins said spiritual growth is a change of behavior from a negative attitude to a positive attitude. “Taking responsibility for where you are in life, and what’s happening to you” said Stebbins “understanding how to take a bad experience and turn it into a good experience” Stebbins continued, “it’s up to you to change that.”

The spiritual process, according to Stebbins, takes different form with different people. People have been searching for opportunities for spiritual growth and encouraged to do so, as seen in this 1962 Rosaverian clip.

Many of the participants at the Beltane ritual did not want to be photographed, filmed, or interviewed in fear of exposure. Kress said there is a large amount of bias within society against paganism. “[It] hasn’t gone away, just gone underground.”

SUNY Albany student Deborah Lawwill, and a participant at the ritual, has been a pagan since a young age. “At first my parents were very upset I was into magick and wicca but accepted it after awhile.”

Dane Kirkland, present at the ritual, once taught Christianity as a layperson for 50 years, until discovering paganism. “[I] wasn’t happy” said Kirkland “I couldn’t relate to it.”

Kirkland believes in balance, that if there is a god there must also be a goddess. “If you can believe it, it’s true.” -30-

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