‘Working with the self at the core’: Emerson’s Mystic provides space for religious appreciation

By Adri Pray, Editor-at-large

In some pagan religions and practices, Halloween is believed to be the time when the veil between the spiritual and physical world thins. Members of Emerson’s alternative spirituality organization, Mystic, celebrate Halloween with this spiritual undertone and use it to promote community.

Housed within the Center for Spiritual Life, Mystic welcomes those who identify with witchcraft, paganism, polytheism, and various global practices that utilize spellcraft. The group also promotes crafts including tarot, astrology, crystal work, meditation, and manifestation.

CSL Director and Campus Chaplain Julie Avis Rogers served as Mystic’s first advisor during its inception in 2019. Since becoming Emerson-affiliated, Mystic has been active in CSL’s Interfaith Council, according to Rogers.

“We have a group of student leaders from each of the spiritual life groups that meet periodically and share concerns within their group or mutually support one another,” she said. 

Rogers noted senior journalism major Sprocket Wagner, who is a key voice in the council and has been following the Norse pantheon of gods for three years. Along with being a Norse pagan, Wagner works with a few Celtic deities and is a self-described witch. 

“The CSL is very supportive,” Wagner said. “They offer us resources when they can. They were instrumental in getting our resource library set up and they share our resource library as well.”

Though her extended family are devout Catholics, Wagner was raised without religion which allowed her to explore spirituality on her own terms. After Wagner aligned herself with Norse paganism, her mother identified herself as a witch and a practicing pagan, even though she had been practicing for much longer.

“[Members of Mystic] turn to alternative spirituality because we come from institutions of harm,” Wagner said. “It’s not really the religion’s fault—it’s the institution that runs that religion’s fault—but we come with that trauma and we have to unpack it. Magic is a way to work with the self at its core.”

Mystic united its community through initiatives like the LGBTQ Faith Fair, which intersected identities and spirituality in the fall of 2021. The organization also had a hand in hosting the 2019 Yule Ball, which served as its debut event.

“[The Yule Ball] was Mystic’s first huge event as an affiliate organization and it felt [like] such an example of what a vibrant community it was going to be for Emerson as a whole,” Rogers said.

More recently, Mystic spearheaded a group trip to Salem to celebrate the Halloween season. Nearly 70 people attended the event, including Leanna Florez, a first-year writing, literature, and publishing major.

Much of what Florez practices falls under Taino paganism, which worships the pantheon of Indigenous Zemi gods—gods that come from the native people of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and other Caribbean cultures. Along with their worship, Florez is a practicing medium and tarot reader, and experienced a welcoming reception of their faith in the Emerson community.

“One of the first weeks I was here, I was in the common room of the Little Building, and I was reading my friend’s tarot cards just for fun,” Florez said. “All of a sudden, anyone who walked in was like, ‘Oh my god, tarot cards’ and I was reading for three hours straight. It was so unexpected how interested everyone is in different practices.”

Though they have been reading tarot commercially since the beginning of 2020, which amplified their medium energy, Florez learned of their Taino heritage nearly a year ago, sparking their interest in connecting with their background.

“When it comes to nature worship, it’s basically taking time to connect with our natural world and the place we live because that gets lost [our involvement with] technology,” Florez said. “I focus on trying to find the balance within myself and the world around me through interacting with the natural world.”

Sophomore business of creative enterprises major Gail Anderson became invested in their practice with moon cycles and with moon magic in elementary school. They went unaware of the fact they were practicing witchcraft until much older, as they grew up in a strictly conservative, Christian household. By the time they reached high school, Anderson had fully committed to learning tarot, astrology, and different types of magic.

They joined Mystic in their first year at Emerson, and have seen growth within the organization, especially in its diversity and inclusion. 

“I’m sure it’s a hard thing for a lot of [organizations] to learn how to incorporate but I think Mystic is doing a very good job,” Anderson said. “As a person of color, I really do feel welcomed there.”

According to Wagner, an average meeting this semester garners between 20 and 25 attendees—near triple last year’s attendance. With the recent boom of alternative spirituality on social media platforms, it is no surprise Mystic receives a large turnout, Anderson continued, pointing out the Salem trip as a draw for many students.

However, Wagner, along with other members of Mystic, avoids engaging with Salem’s history of witch trials because she feels it exploits those that died during that time and further adds to problems within that narrative.

“There was a lot of racism and misogyny that was going on… and I find that a lot of the narratives have struggled to properly reckon with those things,” she said.

Witchcraft tends to be more openly appropriative, Wagner said, and many people are unaware that they may be appropriating the practice. Mystic is dedicated to the appreciation of the practice and hopes to eliminate the spread of misinformation by informing members about diverse practices.

“We have been very dedicated to making sure we’re informing people of how to avoid [misinformation] by making sure we’re listening to marginalized voices, especially within spirituality because there’s a lot of them,” Wagner said.