Hop onto the Internet and search for the term “paganism.” Then try Wicca, heathen, witch, and occult. Thousands of results will probably appear, with websites linking to religious pages, message boards, online stores, and self help sites, among other miscellaneous material. For someone attempting to research the faith on his or her own, it can be extremely confusing as to which way to turn for information, let alone whether or not that information is credible.
Entryway to Beads N Botanicals
However, in the Champaign-Urbana area, resources on paganism are a bit easier to obtain than combing through cyberspace or even pouring through libraries. Some of these resources come in the form of a homegrown store known as Beads N Botanicals and physical social groups, such as Pagan Night Out.
Downtown Urbana may not seem like a prime location where one can find a fair amount of information on the occult. However, on Broadway, not too far from the Champaign County Courthouse sits the slightly indiscreet shop Beads N Botanicals. This store, which has been part of the community for just over six years, offers a multitude of products and services to patrons, not all of which are active in the occult.
“The shop is a combo of interests,” said owner Catherine Novak (pictured right):
It is New Age meets a little bit of hippy. It’s not just for the pagan community. Some people are really interested in really good quality incense, for others it is beading supplies. When one area falls down, another fills its place. Sometimes, there are more beaders coming in over pagans, and sometimes, there are more pagans over beaders.
Various items such as beads and supplies, crystals, stones, oils, medicinal and culinary herbs, tarot cards, teas, and books — some of which have topics concerning the occult — can be found within. Consultation services in aromatherapy, hypnotherapy, Reiki (balancing and normalizing energy fields in the body), using herbs for health, and psychic and tarot readings are also offered. Novak also intends for the store to act as an artisan gallery for the community at large by offering artists an opportunity to showcase their works in painting and jewelry. These items are quite often on display and for sale in the store.
Even though the store doesn’t cater to one specific group over another, Novak does realize that Beads N Botanicals, as well as herself, can be seen as a valuable resource to those within the pagan community.
“Gods, I need that store,” said Alyssa King*, a local pagan. “Having her around is awesome. Anything I need, I get from there.”
“I can act as a community resource to bring people together,” said Novak:
If someone comes in here, and they have an interest in [paganism], there are groups of people that will sometimes leave information here. I’m not the social networking, I’m not the spiderweb, though. But I am one of these people who has built up a lot of knowledge over the years in Wicca, psychic protections, and nature-related type of things. I’m not afraid to say that I don’t know something though.
Novak’s knowledge in her interests — ranging from beading to paganism — allows Beads N Botanicals to host a plethora of classes on similar topics. Yet she doesn’t teach all of them on her own. As she admitted, she doesn’t know everything. In that case, you bring in other experts. She explains:
I started [bringing in teachers and offering classes] when I had the business in Hoopeston, Illinois. The point of doing a lot of these different things is to get the word out that the shop is here and is a resource in the community. People don’t know much about meditation. People come in, are empathic, and don’t know what to do about it. Some are interested in paranormal investigations or read books on Wicca. A lot of the classes are geared towards those who are beginning to open up in a lot of different ways.
One such class is an introductory class on aura reading. Novak usually recommends it to people who “notice things that are not the norm.” In this class, people can begin to learn how to deal with their different talents, as well as what they are. Other classes can include aromatherapy, herbal medicine, reiki energy healing, tarot, and stone readings.
Over the years, Novak has been able to grow her list of contacts for such occasions. Some she has met while doing fairs, and others through random chance encounters, such as someone simply walking into her store.
“It started by me walking in when the place had been open maybe a week while on my way home from work,” said Ian Phanes,* a long established pagan within the Champaign-Urbana community:
I saw the sign and thought, ‘Stones, reiki, and beads? This could either be very good or very bad.’ So I walked in, and it wasn’t quite 5:30. We started talking, and [after a while] she realized it was 7:30. She was supposed to close at 7:00. She was very careful at first. I’m looking around the shop, feeling her out, feeling me out, wondering, ‘Is this person credible?’
After each had established that the other was, indeed, credible in his/her knowledge, Novak eventually asked Phanes to teach a class in stone readings.
“I think I had laid out that I had done [teaching] in the past for an opening,” said Phanes. “I did it for divination and for classes. At a later point, she asked me. I basically laid the groundwork so she could ask me. I wasn’t pressuring, and she had enough sense of me to ask me to do it. She’s not just going to let any random person come in and teach or read [stones] in her store.”
Besides offering regular classes to customers, Beads N Botanicals occasionally plays host to Psychic Fairs. These fairs allow for groups of teachers or specialists in specific fields, such as reflexology, tarot reading and reiki therapy, among others, to convene in one place for the benefit of the local community. Novak began these fairs by only having four events a year. Now, however, she is up to about seven per year. In similar fashion to her shop, these fairs aren’t marketed exclusively to the pagan community, but to all of the Champaign-Urbana area.
However, even though they may be called “Psychic Fairs,” they have a particular focus on health as well. Reiki is often used as a way of getting rid of excess stress in the body. Reflexology utilizes the concept that by pressing on specific pressure points on the hands and feet, pains felt in other parts of the body can be alleviated. One of the most widely known points on the hand, which is located in the webbing between the thumb and index finger, is used to alleviate headaches.
Natural herbs are also often used to help heal the body. However, while these herbs are meant to aid in healing, they are by no means meant to be a complete replacement for medicine, or used to diagnose an ailment. “I would call myself an herbal educator,” said Novak. “I learned to work with medicinal herbs to create better balance and healing in the body, and I talk about their traditional and medicinal uses.”
Calcite, used for healing, is also helpful in astral travel and channeling.
Yet perhaps the store’s most intriguing resource is that its owner offers customers the chance to go through past life regression. Through this process, a person is placed under hypnosis in an attempt to bring forth memories of a previous life or lives.
“Back when I was still in New Jersey, I started doing a lot of holistic herbal training, and a part of it was energy healing work,” said Novak. “As a part of that, I learned hypnosis, and that included past life regression. I did further hypnotherapy studies, which is the groundwork for past life regression.”
Novak explained that her primary role during hypnosis is that of a guide. She voice records the two to three hour sessions for clients so that when they awaken, they have a personal record of what was discussed, even though they may not remember it. “I like doing it because it’s fun,” said Novak:
We go on healing journeys. I help people learn about themselves. You don’t have to believe in past lives to take part. Even if something didn’t really happen [in the past], you can take the information that you obtained and utilize it for healing now. Some people don’t have a specific goal in mind, while others do. It’s great to see how much people get out of the experience.
Black Tourmaline contains healing powers, clears the chakra, and protects our energy fields.
Champaign-Urbana doesn’t have an extremely large pagan community, but the fact remains that it does have one. Even knowing that there are larger areas for business in the surrounding cities, Novak still chooses to remain here. “A big part of it is that I have built up a community of friends and co-workers, and I like my clients,” said Novak. “They keep it interesting. I get some really bizarre questions from people, and sometimes, some really simple ones. And being able to assist people on their [spiritual] path is cool.”
While having physical resources, such as books and other such supplies, is extremely beneficial to local pagans, having a group of people to talk to about ideas, theories, concepts, and general overall questions is just as important. Years ago, many pagans, especially in areas still relatively close to the bible belt, kept their faith to themselves due to the stigma of being something other than Christian. Now, however, groups such as Pagan Night Out, also known as PNO, allow pagans to meet together freely.
PNO meets on the second floor of Espresso Royale in Urbana. Coincidentally enough, this happens to occur on the 13th of every month. Phanes, a co-coordinator for PNO for five years, explained:
PNO is a monthly social, and we are very clear that this is a social, open to all paganism and anybody who is pagan friendly. This is partially because the people founding it were decidedly Ásatrú (a Norse and Germanic pagan religion that incorporates the worship of ancient Germanic deities), and the other was kitchen witchy (baking, cooking, etc) solitary. They weren’t looking for craft ritual stuff. They were just looking to meet people.
Those who go to PNO often do so for the chance to converse with others like themselves, whether it be about everyday topics or suggestions for a book on a specific aspect of the occult. There is no “practicing” aspect of the group, meaning that no actual magick is practiced while there. This is to curb any group inclusion and exclusion by practitioners and to ensure that arguments don’t occur. Everyone is equal and welcome, and there is no hierarchy in that no one, single person leads discussions. It is meant to be a very informal affair.
“PNO, for me, is a place to get in touch with a larger selection of the pagan community, so I don’t feel like I’m alone so alone,” said Joshy Davis,* a local pagan. “It is also a great place to unwind, discuss topics, and compare notes on things you are working on. It’s a great place to learn new things. It is hard to tell what my favorite part is, but it would probably have to be the sense of community.”
Since all pagans are welcome to PNO, those who attend often represent numerous paths of paganism. There are those who follow Wicca, Ásatrú, shamanism, eclectic (these individuals pick and choose aspects of other paths that best fit them), and many, many others.
“While at PNO, I see different people and different paths to paganism,” said King. “It gives it a bit more credence to my belief that paganism is so incredibly diverse.”
Besides having people to speak with, some inadvertently offer impromptu lessons and teachings to those who are looking for information. Phanes has done this many times while at PNO. “I do teaching on the fly at PNO,” he said. “I teach in lots and lots of ways. It’s almost on a constant basis when I am around other pagan folk. I also serve as a reference librarian, which is a side note to teaching.”
Yet beyond all that, with PNO, there is the feeling of acceptance, understanding, and — whenever it is necessary — help. Having a network of people with various backgrounds in the occult usually means that when a question is asked or if something is needed, more than likely, someone can be found to answer.
“There is a built in tendency to reach out to people like yourself,” Phanes continued:
If you are functioning as a resource to people, referrals are a good thing. Collegiality is a good thing in a group of skills. This person is good at that, this person is good at the other thing. A bunch of us know each other, and we contact each other when we need to. It is normal, human behavior.
*Names have been changed.
Articles in this series contain excerpts from Laws’ masters thesis, earned at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
All photos courtesy of Beads N Botanicals’ Facebook page.