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Two weeks ago, Rev. Elayne Glantzberg, the high priestess of a local Wiccan community, led a group of Pagans in a Yule ritual at Inner Ascended Masters Ministry (IAMM). Walking clockwise around a table lined with flickering candles, the participants sang ancient songs and beat drums, marking the official turn of the new year.
Inner Ascended Masters Ministry, at 5707 S. Washington Ave., is a church where Lansing residents practice contemporary Paganism, also known as Neopaganism, a collective term for modern religious movements based on pre-modern Europe, North Africa and the East. Glantzberg hosted the Yule celebration on Dec. 21, the shortest day of 2019.
“Yule is the winter solstice. Different traditions will give you different answers on when they consider the new year to be,” Glantzberg continued. “In our tradition, we consider Yule to be the new year, because it’s the rebirth of the sun. We celebrate by making sure we don’t have anything leftover from the previous year, and making wishes for the New Year.”
As part of the Yule ritual, Glantzberg led a group discussion where each participant reflected on the past year, and envisioned what they hope for in the new year. Glantzberg said proceeds from the celebration went toward the church’s goal of purchasing a permanent location.
The church, founded in 2014, is run by Sunshine Wilson and offers a place for divination for three Pagan-based communities. For example, Glantzberg is the leader of the Wiccan community and shares the church with a band of Druids, called Cedarsong. The third group is an organization called Pagans in Need, a local food pantry run by Bill Ehle that provides local Pagans and non-Pagans food and toiletry items.
Hill and Glantzberg work closely with Ehle from Pagans in Need, and collect Christmas presents for families each year.
“Because of our charter, we do a lot of community work,” Hill said. “We’ve done river clean up, we’ve adopted a highway and cleaned that up. For a while, we were working with Solar Circle, which is a not-for-profit that provides solar ovens to women in Africa.”
IAMM is part of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, which was founded in the late ’70s to provide an umbrella structure to Paganism, similar to what Christian churches offer to their congregation.
“They were instrumental in getting pentacles put on military tombstones, they were the first Wiccan church to get tax-exempt status from the IRS and they are now a multinational organization with churches around the world,” said Glantzberg.
Pagan churches provide services and a welcoming space for open sabbath rituals, usually always on Saturdays.
“It’s basically religious traditions that come out of Western culture,” said Melissa Hill, who is the senior Druid.
Hill added that while the IAMM is a shared space of various pagan-based religions, the groups celebrate “a lot of the same holidays” and will come together for “rituals, discussion groups or workshops.
Druids also hold sacred rituals that represent the new year. As senior Druid, Hill leads in celebrating Saturnalia, a Greek tradition at the end of December where people honor Hades through a feast and flipping social order upside down.
Hill said that part of the tradition of Saturnalia was for “rich people” to serve the community, and women were temporarily treated as authoritative figures.
“It was chaos, but it was controlled chaos,” Hill said.
Hill also observes Epiphany, Jan. 6, which she described as an acknowledgment of the 11 “mystery” days between Solstice (Dec. 21) and the start of a new Gregorian calendar year (Jan.1).
“What it came down to is calendars. These are added calendar days because there was difficulty with the history of trying to line up lunar calendars with a solar calendar. So, what you have is this weird time out of time.”
Both Wiccan and Druid traditions include taking time to rest during the new year. Traditionally, during Epiphany, everyone would take a break from work to eat food with family and friends and relax (sound familiar?). Hill mentions that this time was especially important for women.
“Women would spin wool all day long, because if you didn’t spin your family didn’t have clothes,” Hill remarked. “During this time women would spin right up till the Solstice, and then you get a week and a half off depending on where you lived. It was this built-in rest time, where the gods required you to rest, and if you dared to spin at this time, it would be bad luck for the next year. It allowed for this discourse, where it built rules into society that allowed women to rest.”
Allowing time to rest, emphasizing community service and banishing un-useful habits means more than a deep cleaning of the conscious to IAMM members. It is a culturally inclusive practice that connects them back to their heritage.
While IAMM serves as an oasis for local Pagan families, at school the children of the community experience cultural exclusion early on.
“I think when you’re raising children, being part of a community helps,” Glantzberg said. “If they don’t know any other pagan children, it can be very isolating. But, if you’ve got a group that you can go to, even if it’s just on sabbath, where they can play and have community, they have a place where they belong.”