Midnight Guffey grew up in a Christian family.
“I think they were technically Baptist, though they never really were denominational,” they said.
However, Guffey became disillusioned with Christianity and sought different routes to express their spirituality. At 12, Guffey was introduced to Wicca by a mutual friend. After this experience, they began to learn more about Wicca and paganism, before eventually becoming a pagan.
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 modern religions, like Christianity and Islam, originated.
In fall 2019, after getting their driver's license, Guffey looked around for clubs to join on campus. The Society of Earth-Based Religions (SER) interested them because of the organization’s acceptance of all religious creeds and identities.
Fourth-year Cliff Lee (left) and third-year Christina Henry (right) pose for a photo at a tarot card reading for the Society of Earth-Based Religions Oct 28, 2022. Grayson Joslin, DN
Guffey notes that even though many members of the club are pagans, which they call a “diverse umbrella term,” the club has had members who practice Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism as well.
“We're open to anyone, but a lot of our stuff is focused around polytheism [the belief in more than one god],” Guffey said.
The Society of Earth-Based Religions at Ball State has existed since 2002, and Guffey and other members of the group are reaching out to the community in the name of religious tolerance and acceptance.
Rebecca Lawrence first came to Ball State in fall 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 got into Wicca and then paganism through a mutual friend.
“[My sister’s best friend has] always been very into all that,” Lawrence said. “She was very open about like, ‘Hey, this is what I do.’”
Lawrence noted the main difference between what she calls “mainstream” 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 its followers adhere to. She said that even though most members of the club are pagans, there are many subsections of pagan religions.
Guffey said most members follow religions based on ancient Celtic, Greek and Nordic religions.
Guffey, the president of the club, considers themselves a “Hellenistic Reconstructionist,” a pagan religion based on the beliefs and mythology of ancient Greece.
“It relies a lot on texts that we have left over on the archaeology of the culture,” they said.
James Gage was born and raised Catholic before getting into paganism. Now, the first-year student 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 just remove some of the major components of it,” Gage said.
Gage first came into contact with the club through the annual Ball State activity fair and noted how welcoming the members of the group were despite their different spiritual beliefs.
“Everyone is very helpful towards each other,” Gage said.
Guffey said a major goal for the club is for them to be able to reach out to the community and bring awareness and tolerance to different religious beliefs. One way the club does this is by holding tarot readings every Friday during lunchtime at the Student Center.
Crystals and oracle cards are shown at the Society for Earth-Based Religions' tarot card readings Oct. 28, 2022. Grayson Joslin, DN
Tarot card readings are used to guide a person through their past, present and future, Lawrence explained.
“We'll 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 on them that is used to represent something in that person’s life. The meanings, however, are not concrete and absolute.
“I don't want to tell them what it means to their situation because tarot cards are up to your interpretation,” Lawrence said.
Originally, SER did their tarot card readings in the Atrium, but they decided to move it to the Student Center a couple of years ago due to the high traffic of people in the Atrium.
“[The Student Center’s] a space where people actually have a 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 card table to have a reading. Guffey believes most people want to have a tarot card reading because they are stressed about something in their life, and they want some sort of insight on what is going on.
At their tarot card readings, the club also showcases crystals to students. Guffey noted that they started showcasing them because crystals, like herbs, have important qualities in magic.
“They can have different … spiritual properties in [them],” Guffey said. “And that also can vary depending on like 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 holding tarot card readings, the club takes trips to pagan events in Indiana. These events usually have vendors selling crystals and tarot decks, and some pagan events also have workshops people can attend.
“To see all these people who also have varying beliefs that are sharing their craft and their skills, … it's just very lovely,” Gage said.
Guffey is also working to expand the club’s reach on campus by partnering with other clubs at Ball State. 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 heard,” Guffey said.
Gage said that, like many other clubs on campus, SER took a hit during the pandemic. Now, the club is looking toward the future and how it will help foster religious acceptance on Ball State’s campus.
“So I'd really like to see more people join and be active,” Gage said. “Even people that aren't necessarily pagan or spiritual.”
For Lawrence, who is currently getting her master’s degree in adult and community education, she noted the connection and community in the club. She met all of her current roommates through the club and has gotten to be more comfortable with herself.
When COVID-19 hit, Lawrence said the situation was so dire for the group that it almost disbanded. She hopes after she graduates, the group will have a bright future.
“We've had ups and downs,” Lawrence said. “My hope is that it would go even farther up.”
Contact Grayson Joslin with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GraysonMJoslin.