Roy Exum: Vanderbilt’s Pagan Holidays

Thursday, August 18, 2011 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Maybe it is this summer’s searing temperatures or perhaps the fact “the dog days of summer” are now upon us, but the lunatics at Vanderbilt have just emerged before fall classes are set to begin. A few years ago people across the country got tickled when Vanderbilt’s somber trustees bought an actual S.W.A.T. team response vehicle for the university’s campus cops but this newest turn is even better.

Out of Nashville comes word that Vanderbilt has just added “Wiccan/Pagan” religious days to the university’s 2011-12 calendar.

Now I’m all for Freedom of Religion, but when pagans and witches are accorded center stage at a school where tuition is now nearly $50,000 a year, the crazies are clearly running the insane asylum.

Vanderbilt has always been a few inches left of plumb – we all know that – but the university’s Office of Religious Life has just sent university professors a list of “religious holy days and observances” where students can rightfully miss classes for reasons of personal faith. Wiccans and pagans unite!

Before there were holidays like Yom Kippur for those of the Jewish faith and now the Muslim holidays of Eid al Fitr are included, but don’t you think a bunch of pagans dancing around a maypole “to symbolize the mystery of the Sacred Marriage of Goddess and God” is a little over the top?

According to a story in the Nashville Tennessean, dear ole Vandy will excuse students who claim to be pagans and wiccans from classes on Nov. 1 to celebrate “Samhain-Beltane” and on May 1 to celebrate “Beltane-Samhain.”

Now the Nov. 1 date, according to my sources, marks the time on the calendar when “the dark half” of the year begins. It dates back to ancient times when, right after the harvest had been gathered, the Celts and pagans and wiccans and witches would always kick off the “dark half” of the year with “The Feast of the Dead.”

I don’t know who would go to “The Feast of the Dead” but, curiously at Vanderbilt, they’ve unwittingly recognized it in recent years because that’s when the downtrodden Commodore football team historically plays against its much stronger Southeastern Conference rivals. They never sell many tickets for football late in the season, either.

The “Beltane” part of the pagan puzzle is where the Maypole dancing comes in. Neopaganism calls it “cross-quarter day,” which marks the midpoint of the sun’s journey between the spring equinox and summer solstice. Everybody dances in a “sunwise” direction and some are known to be – yes - scantily dressed as they jump around like imps and nymphs.

Further, in Ireland when they celebrate Beltane the pagans and wiccans sometimes cook an oatmeal cake in a big bonfire later that night and mark one piece with some ashes. Everybody gets blind-folded and the poor pagan/wiccan who picks the piece with ashes on it – get this - has to jump over the fire three times.

Forget Vanderbilt Hospital has one of the best Burn Units in the nation. Instead just picture the maidens flaunting the flames! Knowing Vanderbilt as well as I do, my bet is there will be a little drinking going on and, if they do a night performance with the Maypole, look out!

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know much about pagans, about who’s pitching and who’s catching and all of that, but a straight-faced university employee told the Tennessean students who opt to take religious days do so based on the Vanderbilt honor system.

I mean, how is a professor to know who in class is a pagan or a wiccan? But from what I have read, there isn’t any honor if you are a witch or a pagan so who are you going to believe? If I had tried to tell a professor I was a pagan I’d have been expelled.

I suspect some courageous fraternity brothers will quickly claim kinship when they find out about the Maypole dance and the dress code. Throw in a bunch of cases of Natural Light and I’ll give overwhelming odds it will soon become the most celebrated day on the Vanderbilt student calendar.

But it is also sad. For a revered institution like Vanderbilt to officially recognize pagans and wiccans shows the Apocalypse should probably be included, too.

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