Bookshelves on opposite ends of a television house two spiritual altars, one built in preparation for offerings and the other a symbol of the owner’s spirituality.

The altars belong to Springfield residents Jackie Ogden and Avery Richardson. The couple live together, using their apartment not only as a space of residence but also pagan religious practice.

Ogden practices Gaulish Polytheism Revitalization. Her altar includes a prayer journal, candle, incense burner and two bowls, which during an offering contain chosen liquids, such as water or alcohol. 

Richardson does not identify with one religion but takes inspiration from many nature-oriented religions, including Wicca. Her altar represents physical, mental and emotional spirituality, with a variety of items which hold religious and personal significance.

History of paganism

Paganism is an all-encompassing term for different religions. “Pagan” is derived from the Latin word “paganus,” meaning rustic, villager or civilian.

“In the early days of Christianity, (it) grew primarily in the cities,” David Embree, Missouri State University Religious Studies Department per course faculty member, said. “Meanwhile, the folks out in the countryside still primarily practiced tribal religions or spiritism.”

These people were known as “pagans.”

It wasn’t until the 20th century people began to self-label themselves as “pagan.” Today, paganism represents a “wide variety of traditions that emphasize reverence for nature and a revival of ancient polytheistic and animistic religious practices,” states the American Humanist Association, an organization which advocates for secular Americans.

Questioning and discovery

As a teenager, being in touch with spirituality and questioning one’s religious identity is common.

According to a 2020 Pew Research Center study, 46% of teens reported thinking about the meaning and purpose of life at least monthly, and 45% of teens reported believing many religions may be true.

Ogden grew up as a “devout” Catholic and said her departure from Catholicism at age 15 stemmed from theology research.

“I slowly realized the way I interacted spiritually with the world around me … didn’t fit with what I was learning, and it never really had,” Ogden said. “For a long time I tried researching more, learning and educating myself about the journey Christianity took, and I just couldn’t see either myself or the world, in the way I see it, reflected in what I was learning.”

Ogden began aligning her beliefs with Gaulish Polytheism at age 18.

There are two main categories for paganism religions: neopaganism, the modern-day practice of pagan religions, and reconstructionist paganism. Because the history of many pagan religions is unknown, reconstructionists prioritize reviving their religion through research. 

“There’s a community of people across the world that have felt drawn to this tradition of looking at the myths, gods and practices that we see have been left archaeologically and through writing from the ancient people of Gaul,” Ogden said.

According to Britannica, the Gaul region comprises modern day France and parts of Belgium, Germany and Italy. Gaul was absorbed by the Roman Empire in 58-50 B.C. 

Richardson grew up Southern Baptist but began to feel “disillusioned” with church and religion around age 13. After researching different pagan religions, Richardson found Wicca, which resonated with her.

According to Britannica, Wicca is a Western movement that began in Europe during the 1950s. Members often practice witchcraft and nature worship, holding polytheistic or pantheistic — belief that reality is divinity — views.

“I think for me at least, (Wicca) is about keeping myself from being isolated and connecting to things,” Richardson said. “It’s about strengthening my connections with the people around me, my community and the world itself. For me, Wicca is like a filter to help better interact with the world.”

Sydney Ulrich, sophomore electronic arts audio major, researched pagan religions for over three years, but with help from her boyfriend, she was able to solidify her faith this year.

Ulrich identifies as a Druid practitioner. Her boyfriend, Yeager Coen, a Springfield resident, identifies as a Norse paganism shaman practitioner. 

Ulrich said she and Coen are privileged because they practice “sister religions.” While there are different deities and thoughts about afterlife in Druidism and Norse paganism, worship is similar.

Druidism is a shamanic religion, relying on contact with the spirit world and holistic medicines to treat illness, according to Historic UK, a history magazine and accommodation guide of the United Kingdom.

A part of Germanic culture, Norse paganism is a “complex of stories, lore and beliefs about the gods and nature of the cosmos,” according to Britannica.

Coen has been practicing Norse paganism for over two years. He was on a family vacation in the Dominican Republic when he had his first experience of a deity calling out to him, which he describes as the exact moment he felt a deeper connection to his faith.

“I was walking on a beach and had in earbuds,” Coen said. “I was listening to a Norse band, and it just felt so nice. When you pray, sometimes you hear God or whichever deity’s voice you are speaking to. You know different people’s voices. If your parent or sibling yells from another room, you know who it is, and this was not like a voice I had ever heard before. I then spent the rest of the trip researching and learning, trying to figure out who it was.” 

Coen said his coworkers at Earthbound Trading Company helped guide him along his religious journey. When Ulrich needed guidance, he knew how to help.

Centuries of stigmatization

Along with Druidism, Ulrich also practices witchcraft for divination and communication, often working with candles. She said she has never felt discriminated against for her practices, but has seen misinformation on social media.

“Paganism and witchcraft has gotten more popular, which I think is a good thing, but also kind of misleading,” Ulrich said. “You hear people on TikTok (say) this and that, and there’s a lot of misinformation spread.”

Misinformation about pagan religions, specifically witchcraft, dates back hundreds of years. Embree cited the Salem Witch Trials, which occurred in the late 1690s in Massachusetts.

“Though several people died as a result of those trials, no one who was killed had anything to do with any kind of witchcraft,” Embree said. “The circumstances were that some young women in (Salem) had started acting erratically. In more recent times, we would largely write off as ‘adolescent rebellion.’

“I think that now most of what people think about witches comes through what they see in the media,” Embree said. “Whether it’s ‘Charmed,’ ‘Sabrina,’ ‘Bedazzled,’ ‘WandaVision’ or for that matter, ‘Game of Thrones,’ most media portrayals tend to focus on witchcraft as obtaining and using power over others.”

Richardson said she wishes pagans would be taken seriously because practicing pagan religions isn’t just a “phase.”

“As a member of a pagan faith, one thing I would really like non-pagans to know is that pagan ideology is just as serious to the people practicing it as Christianity is to a Christian or Judaism is to a Jewish person,” Richardson said. “We’re just normal religious people like anyone else, and all we want is the same level of respect and acknowledgement that any religious person would want.”


For those interested in learning more about pagan religions or meeting current pagans, Ogden and Richardson recommended social media, including Facebook groups, YouTube channels and Discord servers.

For in-person experiences, the Springfield Pagan Meetup is a free group that includes several hundred members. The group meets every fourth Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Library Station. To learn more, visit the group’s Meetup or Facebook page.

Follow Greta Cross on Twitter, @gretacrossphoto

Subscribe to The Standard's free weekly newsletterhere


Greta Cross is the Editor-in-Chief of The Standard. She is a junior studying journalism, photography, and anthropology. Greta joined The Standard in Jan. 2019 and served as the Digital Editor for the 2019-20 school year.