Surviving Campus Life as a Pagan

When you go off to college, you'll meet lots of new people, and some of them may be Pagan. Image by Pamela Moore/E+/Getty Images

A reader writes in asking, "I live in a traditional dorm on campus. It's my first year at college, and I'm really struggling. How can I practice as a Pagan in my room, when I have a roommate and limited space? What if I'm the only Pagan on campus? Are there support groups for Pagan students? I can't use candles in my dorm, either. What do I do?"

Dorm Living

A dorm situation presents a unique set of issues. Especially if you're living with a non-Pagan roommate, it can be a challenge to find ways to practice magical living in a dorm room. Even if you're in an apartment, if you're stuck in a smaller living space, there are always potential issues at play. Here are some tips on practicing magic in a smaller space: Celebrate Rituals with Limited Space.

Let's look at some tips from other readers on how you can survive campus life as a Pagan:

  • The artificial candles that take batteries have improved a good deal..they even flicker! So they would make a perfectly acceptable flame-free substitute. What about a set of x-mas tree lights? They represent light and fire without the light and fire.
  • Load up your iPod with music that gets you in the mood for a working and listen to that for a while before beginning. This focuses and grounds you, and it also has the added benefit of not disturbing anyone you’re living with. It just looks like you’re trying to relax with your music.
  • Have something tangible to hold onto, like a gemstone or small statue or talisman.
  • Get outside. Most campuses have lots of green space - find a nice quiet spot, and chances are good that everyone will mind their own business.
  • Create a portable altar kit, and instead of cluttering up space with a ton of books, use an e-reader for digital copies of reading material.

One of the most valuable skills you can ever learn as a witch or Pagan is that of improvising and making do with what you have. If you're not allowed to use candles, but you feel like you need something tangible to focus on, you'll need to figure out what else can hold your attention. One option might be to use a bowl of water, or perhaps a stone held in your hand. I have a friend who has a lovely labyrinth plaque that she traces with her finger as a way to focus herself prior to a working. There are any number of things you can try -- and they may not all work for you, so keep at it until you find the one that does.

Meeting Other Pagan Students

While it probably seems at first like you're the only Pagan in town, chances are good that you're not. Many colleges and universities have Pagan student organizations that are university-sanctioned and recognized. Vanderbilt, Duke, Ohio State, and Colorado University have all had student-run Pagan groups in the past. If your college doesn't have one, find out how to get one started - you may be surprised to learn that there's a void to be filled.

If you're not sure you want to commit to the obligations of a formal recognized organization, try putting together an informal study group for other Pagan students. Meet in common areas or designated meeting spots, and that will help you get a feel for how many other Pagans are on campus.

Joan, a Pagan R.A. from New York, says, "Always, always talk to your R.A! If you're feeling lonely, or there's a lack of a Pagan community - or if you just want to talk to someone - let your RA know! You never know what kind of resources they can find for you - they might even be Pagan themselves! And even if they're not, we're usually pretty good about helping you get things off your chest. Please talk to us!"

Tips on Meeting Other Pagans

Finally, another great way to meet other Pagans is to attend Pagan events. Many colleges host Pagan Pride Day, and it's a good way to get out in the community and start networking, especially if it's your first year on campus.

Problems with Roomies

Let's face it, not every college student has a stellar roommate experience. You may be quiet and studious and they've stuck you in a room with a party animal who wants to watch Jersey Shore marathons all day. Or you're athletic and outgoing, and your new roommate spends all his time sitting on his bed staring at the ceiling. Sometimes, roommates are just incompatible. However, most of the time, a bit of communication can help you get what you want - the trick is to remember that (a) it's their space too and (b) you have to live with this person until June.

Every once in a while, you may find yourself in a situation where your roommate has religious beliefs that are incompatible with your own. This doesn't simply mean "She's Christian and I'm a Pagan." We're talking about serious differences, as in your roommate is telling you you're going to burn in hell, she gets mad that you won't go to church with her, and she hides your athame because it's probably a tool of Satan. In that case, you may have a problem. It's important to talk to your R.A. (residence assistant) about any harassment, disrespectful behavior, or proselytizing that may take place. Hopefully, with some mediation, you and your roommate can find a happy compromise - for instance, you might promise not to hold rituals in the room while she's there, but she doesn't get to complain if you're reading a book in front of her. Likewise, she might not like you owning an athame, but you don't need to leave your stuff all over the place either.

In extreme circumstances, you may find yourself in a position where you feel the best course of action is to move to another room - however, most colleges try to avoid that, because space is at a premium, and there's no guarantee that you'll like your next roommate either.

That said, being a good roommate goes both ways. If your roommate is a non-Pagan, he or she may still be able to be respectful of your right to practice, if you can be respectful of his or her right to disagree. Find ways to compromise - that means BOTH of you give and take.

Joan also suggests, "Don't get discouraged! It can be hard to find like-minded people sometimes, especially if you go to a smaller/rural school. The best thing you can do is present yourself as a friendly, kind person, and don't give up. It can be difficult, but you'll find a community. And remember: you can always make your own!"

Pagan Holidays on Campus

A few colleges have added Pagan holidays onto their list of excused absences. That means if you're a student at, say, Marshall University, and you want to take all of October 31 off because of its religious significance, you can do so without penalty. However, keep in mind that you ARE obligated to make up the work you have missed later - you don't just get a free pass. Before you request an absence for a Pagan holiday, figure out if you really need the whole day. If your Samhain celebrations start at ten p.m., and all you have that day is a 9:00 a.m. Biology lab, is it really worth it to take an absence to miss that one morning class?