The Ball State Society of Earth-Based Religions club in Muncie advocates religious tolerance

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Midnight Guffey grew up in a Christian family.

“I think they were technically Baptist, although they were never really denominational,” they said.

However, Guffey became disillusioned with Christianity and sought different avenues to express his spirituality. At age 12, Guffey was introduced to Wicca by a mutual friend. After this experience, they began to learn more about Wicca and paganism, before becoming pagans.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines paganism as “the beliefs and practices of contemporary religions or spiritual movements based on ancient paganism”. Guffey noted that most of these ancient religions existed before the origin of modern religions, such as Christianity and Islam.

In the fall of 2019, after getting his driver’s license, Guffey looked for clubs to join on campus. The Society of Earth-Based Religions (SER) appealed to them because of the organization’s acceptance of all religious beliefs and identities.

Fourth-grade Cliff Lee (left) and third-grade Christina Henry (right) pose for a photo during a tarot card reading for the Society of Earth-Based Religions on October 28, 2022. Grayson Joslin, DN

Guffey notes that while many of the club’s members are pagans, what they call a “diverse umbrella term,” the club has also had members who practice Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

“We are open to everyone, but a lot of our business revolves around polytheism [the belief in more than one god]”said Guffey.

The Society of Earth-Based Religions at Ball State has been around since 2002, and Guffey and others in the group are reaching out to the community in the name of religious tolerance and acceptance.

Rebecca Lawrence first came to Ball State in the fall of 2014. When she joined the Society of Earth-Based Religions, she said she was “trying to find herself.”

“I was starting to get interested in…metaphysical spiritualism,” Lawrence said.

Like Guffey, Lawrence entered Wicca and then Paganism through a mutual friend.

“[My sister’s best friend has] always been very involved in all of this,” Lawrence said. “She was very open like, ‘Hey, that’s what I do.'”

Lawrence noted that the main difference between what she calls “traditional” religions, such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism, and pagan religions, is nature.

Lawrence also noted that unlike other religions, most pagan religions do not have a central religious text that their followers adhere to. She said that although most of the club members are pagans, there are many subsections of pagan religions.

Guffey said most of the members follow religions based on ancient Celtic, Greek and Norse religions.

Guffey, the club’s president, considers himself a “Hellenistic Reconstructionist”, a pagan religion based on the beliefs and mythology of ancient Greece.

“It relies a lot on the texts that we have left on the archeology of culture,” they said.

James Gage was born and raised Catholic before entering paganism. Now the freshman considers himself a Buddhist, and while learning about Buddhism, Gage noted how the “Westernized version” of Buddhism differs from the actual teachings.

“People try to secularize it and really cut out some of the major components of it,” Gage said.

Gage first came into contact with the club at the annual Ball State Activities Fair and noted how welcoming the band members were despite their differing spiritual beliefs.

“Everyone is very helpful to each other,” Gage said.

Guffey said one of the main goals of the club was to be able to reach out to the community and to educate and tolerate different religious beliefs. To do this, the club organizes tarot readings every Friday at lunchtime at the Student Center.

Crystals and oracle cards are featured during the Society for Earth-Based Religions tarot card readings on October 28, 2022. Grayson Joslin, DN

Tarot card readings are used to guide a person through their past, present and future, Lawrence explained.

“We’re going to do the three-card reading because it’s simple and it’s easy to do and easy to explain,” Lawrence said.

Each of the three cards will have a design that is used to represent something in that person’s life. Meanings, however, are not concrete and absolute.

“I don’t want to tell them what it means for their situation because tarot cards depend on your interpretation,” Lawrence said.

Originally, SER conducted their tarot card readings in the Atrium, but they decided to move them to the Student Center a few years ago due to heavy traffic in the Atrium.

“[The Student Center’s] a space where people actually have time to stop and do something rather than the Atrium,” Lawrence said.

On a typical day, around 15-20 people will stop by the tarot table for a reading. Guffey thinks most people want to read a tarot card because they’re stressed about something in their life and want to get an idea of ​​what’s going on.

During their tarot card readings, the club also presents crystals to the students. Guffey noted that they started introducing them because crystals, like herbs, have important qualities in magick.

“They may have different…spiritual properties in [them]”, Guffey said. “And it can also vary depending on religion and faith.

One of Guffey’s favorite crystals, lapis lazuli, is said to support creative expression. Another favorite, obsidian, is said to have “grounding” qualities.

In addition to hosting tarot card readings, the club organizes trips to pagan events in Indiana. These events usually have vendors selling crystals and tarot decks, and some pagan events also have workshops that people can attend.

“To see all these people who also have different beliefs sharing their craft and their skills, … it’s just so beautiful,” Gage said.

Guffey is also working to expand the club’s reach on campus by partnering with other Ball State clubs. They have reached out to various religious groups on campus to help promote religious tolerance.

“Part of pride and tolerance is making sure there’s a variety of voices being heard,” Guffey said.

Gage said that like many other clubs on campus, the SER has been impacted during the pandemic. Now the club is looking to the future and how it will help foster religious acceptance on the Ball State campus.

“So I would really like to see more people join in and be active,” Gage said. “Even people who aren’t necessarily pagan or spiritual.”

For Lawrence, who is currently completing her Masters in Adult and Community Education, she emphasized the bond and community within the club. She met all of her current roommates through the club and became more comfortable with herself.

When COVID-19 hit, Lawrence said the situation was so dire for the group that it nearly disbanded. She hopes that after graduating, the group will have a bright future.

“We had ups and downs,” Lawrence said. “I hope it will go even further.”

Contact Grayson Joslin with comments at g[email protected] or on Twitter @GraysonMJoslin.

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