Dust off your moon altar, the Rhode Island Pagan Pride Day (PPD) festival will return to Johnston on Aug. 26.
“Johnston Memorial Park has been one of our top choices because of its access to public transportation and being somewhat centrally located in the State,” said Director for Rhode Island Pagan Pride Darrell Moore. “Since we want to invite people from across the state, it is important that we are as accessible as possible.”
The PPD event has been held in Johnston’s War Memorial Park “on and off since 2008.” The festival was last held in the park in 2018, the year after Moore became PPD Local Coordinator (LC). After taking a several-year pandemic hiatus (from 2020-2022), event organizers were eager to throw another celebration.
Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena Jr. said he and the town will always welcome a diverse mixture of organizations to the park, as long as they follow department protocol.
“While I can’t say I’m into paganism, they’ve obtained a permit by paying the proper rental fee and having the requisite insurance needed to host an event,” Polisena said earlier this week. “This event has happened in the past, pre-COVID, with no issues.”
The mayor and PPD organizers say there have been no problems holding the event in Memorial Park in the past.
“This is the United States and as long as it doesn’t promote violence or hate, I don’t believe in censoring anyone’s faith, even if I don’t agree with it,” Polisena explained. “As long as they don’t cause as issue in the park, which they never have before, they’ll continue to have a home for this event in Johnston. I wish them the best of success for their upcoming event.”
The event has been scheduled for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 26, and organizers have circulated a press release promising “a vibrant and inclusive celebration of spirituality, diversity and community.”
“This family-friendly and free annual event, organized by Rhode Island Pagan Pride, aims to promote understanding, reduce discrimination, and foster a sense of unity among all individuals interested in, or curious about, Pagan traditions,” according to PPD planners. “Rhode Island Pagan Pride Day welcomes people from all walks of life who honor, revere, or worship Deities found in pre-Christian, classical, aboriginal, or tribal practices. The event also embraces those who practice shamanism, magical arts, earth-based spirituality, and modern religions inspired by pre-Christian traditions.”
While Johnston may remain a heavily Catholic town, with more residents of Italian ancestry than almost any other town in the nation, residents representing all faiths live and work nearby.
This year's celebration has a theme, or focus — “Many Paths, One Community.”
Although many of the town’s residents may not follow the path to paganism, PPD organizers hope for tolerance and active participation from across the Ocean State.
“We recognize that many folks may not have transportation, so being on the public transportation lines, and minimizing driving times for those driving from other areas of the state is important,” Moore explained. “We choose to be outdoors as we honor nature, and want to have paved paths for those who may have mobility challenges.”
Pagan Pride Day is an event affiliated with the Pagan Pride Project, “a global organization working to reduce discrimination against Pagan religions,” according to organizers.
“RI PPD has not experienced any protests or resistance from the Town of Johnston,” Moore said. “The Parks and Recreation Department has been very cooperative and easy to work with.”
Polisena had a message for any other groups interested in renting out Memorial Park, the home of the upcoming Johnston Farmers Market from 9 to 12 a.m. on Aug. 26, the return of the mayor’s Food Truck Tuesday initiative on Aug. 29, and the Johnston Apple Fest on Sept. 9-10.
“To anyone interested in hosting any event at the park, just contact the recreation department for booking availability and proper paperwork,” Polisena said.
Moore praised the town’s booking process.
“To obtain a permit to use the park, we fill in an application with the Parks and Recreation Department,” Moore explained. “We work directly with their staff to find a date that the park is available, and then provide a $1 million liability insurance policy prior to the event.”
PPD attendees will be able to “watch or participate in public rituals as well as enjoy live professional music, dance, and spiritual art.”
Like most Memorial Park events, vendors will line the walking path and food trucks will offer dining options.
“Learn a new skill or strengthen an existing one through workshops, learn about different Pagan groups, feel rejuvenated by partaking in healing work, and discover new tools and other goods that enhance your practice,” according to the PPD press release. “Come celebrate our community and expand your understanding of what it means to be Pagan. Whether you describe yourself as a reconstructionist, eclectic, or any other term, or even if you are not Pagan at all, you are warmly welcome to come learn about the diversity of beliefs in our state and how these beliefs enrich our lives and the world. Or just come to hang out and have fun!”
Organizers promise festival-goers “will have the opportunity to engage with local businesses, artisans, and spiritual practitioners, as well as explore various aspects of Pagan spiritualities and beliefs.”
PPD organizers are hopeful the community will be as accepting and accommodating as they’ve been for past events. Members of the organization often still face stigma related to their beliefs.
“Although religious freedoms are protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, many Pagans still face discrimination as they are often stereotyped,” according to PPD’s press release. “Facing such risks as unemployment, being passed over for promotions or housing, treated unfavorably in school, and even child custody threats, many Pagans choose to keep their faiths private.”
In 2022, Coventry town officials “prejudicially” refused to grant a zoning permit to the Horn and Cauldron Church of the Earth, a RI PPD sponsor. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) helped the small Wiccan church fight the decision.
“The town officials attempted to prevent them from worshiping collectively on private property,” according to PPD planers. “The ACLU, who represented Horn and Cauldron for that case, will be speaking about our religious freedoms at Rhode Island Pagan Pride Day this year.”
From the tip of the State House dome to the pond at Memorial Park, the Ocean State has a long history of providing safe haven to religious outcasts from less tolerant communities.
“Rhode Island was founded on religious freedom, which is represented by the Independent Man ‘Hope’ at the top of the Rhode Island State House, and the inscription on the South Portico ‘To hold forth a lively experiment that a most flourishing civil state may stand, and best be maintained with full liberty in religious concernments,’” according to the PPD press release. “One of the key objectives of Rhode Island Pagan Pride Day is to provide accurate information and dispel misconceptions surrounding Pagan religions.”
The event “aims to foster tolerance, acceptance, and appreciation for these spiritual paths.”
“Rhode Island Pagan Pride Day is about education: informing the public about our faiths, and also bringing fellow practitioners together to learn from one another,” Moore said.
ON THE WEB
For more information about Rhode Island Pagan Pride Day, including sponsorship opportunities and event details, visit their official Rhode Island Pagan Pride Day website at www.rhodeislandpaganpride.org.
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