College and the Trials of Being Pagan

I’m in college, pretty obvious, and I’m sure I’ve stated it a few times. A bit more information on that – because this is the whole point of today’s blog post.

I go to a private university – it’s wonderful. My professors are great, the classes are challenging, fun and open. However, one small problem. It’s a Lutheran university. Lutheranism is not the problem. The problem is that it’s a Christian school. And easily over 75% of the student body are Christians of one denomination or another. I’d bet that less than 10% of the students are of other religions, leaving roughly 15% as agnostic or atheist. That’s not hard fact, just my own personal observations of the religious makeup of the school. Given that the vast majority of the school is Christian – I’ve run into a few small problems from other students. I talked a bit about that in one of my first posts, the issue of religion in my Christian Traditions class I had to take, and the freakout that a few kids had in my not being Christian. But normally it is no problem.

That’s most likely because I live at home. I live about 20 miles from campus, drive to and from every day. I did that both my freshman and sophomore years. This year, junior year, I am in Germany. I’m going back for my senior year, obviously. I live with my grandma, who’s gracious enough to let me live with her, do work around the house, cat-sit, and just generally help out, as long as my grades are good and I’m full-time enrolled, until I graduate next May. My grandma smokes though, like a chimney. I do not exaggerate either, the walls of her garage, where she smokes, are yellow – side effect of living in a house for 15+ years and always using the same room as the smoking room. However, the whole house reeks of smoke, and I can’t handle it anymore. I’ve got a few minor health issues, but after living in a smoke-free building for 11 straight months, there’s no way I can physically handle living with her anymore. I can deal with the say 4 weeks before school starts again, but I applied to move into my school’s apartment-dorm complex. It’s a dorm building, or residence hall I guess, but you live like an apartment – with a kitchen, so I don’t have to get a meal plan. Being a vegetarian, that’s wonderful for me. See, my school has roughly 3-4 vegetarian/vegan options for breakfast, 5 for lunch and 4 for dinner. Now, that’s horridly boring. I’ve watched the menu lists for 2 years, cause I will on rare occasions buy food at school, if I forgot to make my own lunch, or if I want to eat with friends. Exact same offerings the last 3 years straight. So that’s boring. Plus – I love cooking. I don’t think I could give it up after basically living in an apartment here in Germany for a year.

But, I applied to get a place there. I’m on a waiting list, but it’s 80% likely I’ll get into an apartment. I’m most likely going to end up in one of the 4-bedroom apartment options, which is not too bad. At the moment I have 14 Mitbewohner, so 3 others will be a piece of cake actually. However, I also know that I am likely to be the only non-Christian in my suite. That doesn’t bother me much, since I’m the only pagan or witch in my whole family or my friends in real-life. It’s not something I generally worry about. I don’t crow my beliefs from the rooftop, but I also don’t hide them. If someone asks, I’m honest, so I don’t see a problem usually. I did talk with my mom about it. She still thinks I’m going through a phase, which is another problem for another day. I mentioned that I wanted to email my school’s housing authority and ask about my rights for practice. Meaning, what I am allowed to have in my room and what is not allowed by university policy. See, Christians are allowed to practice, so I wanted to know what the rules were, so that I don’t unintentionally break any of them in my practice. My mom’s response  – “Don’t cause problems”.

Yeah, great advice. See, my parents raised me to stand up for myself. I’m not going to hide my beliefs just because I might be the only one. I wasn’t intending (and I never did have any intention of doing this) to decorate the common areas – kitchen, living, bathrooms – with pagan or witch-themed things. No. I was planning on setting up a small altar in my room, and adapting my practice to fit what my school’s housing contract allows. See – candles are forbidden as are incense, so I can’t use those, and I would make sure I didn’t have those in my room, no problem. I don’t see the point in hiding and not practicing for a full year, just because I’m living with others. And usually I’d keep my door shut, that’s just the way I am. But if my roommates were hanging out in my room, or if I had friends hanging out they’d happen to see it. Or probably see at least something. And I know it would raise questions. Not that they’d panic, just curious, because it is not going to be a cross on my wall or anything. So I wanted to know what my university’s policies were. Just in case there was a problem, I would know all the rules. Plus – if there was a problem because of my beliefs, well then that’s something major to address to the housing authority on campus.

But my mom tells me “Don’t cause problems. Just leave it alone while you’re on campus.” And I think that’s total B.S. Why should I have to hide my practice and deny who I am for a year? Christians can hang their crosses, or their God-themed posters and plaques without fear. Hell, I’d even be fine with a pretty angel hanging in the kitchen, it wouldn’t bother me. I would ask all God-themed posters to be kept to rooms, but that’s just a bit of common courtesy. I wouldn’t even be asking to put my things out in the common areas. I just wanted to know what the rules are, so I can practice in peace without breaking any of the points to the contract I sign when I move in. And telling me that I should just “let it go” while I’m on campus? That infuriates me and actually upsets me quite a bit.

So I have been debating about emailing my housing authority. The school is open enough. There are services offered every Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at 10.30, not required, plus the Sunday service. They do holiday services special as well. We aren’t required to attend any of these. My professors have all been extremely open about religious belief. It’s not like anyone cares if you’re Lutheran or not, besides a few students. So I just don’t know. I feel like hiding my beliefs is an insult and me outright lying. But then, I also know very well what could happen if I even set up a simple altar and one of my roommates has a real issue with it. I’m likely to have stuff stolen, trashed, destroyed, whatever – if I am unlucky enough to get one of the minority (very small at that) that would be so intolerant of things in my own personal room. It’s a conundrum. Because I shouldn’t even have to worry about this. I should be able to just email my housing authority, ask them my questions, and then go about it without breaking the rules. It should be that easy. But it isn’t. Because now I have my mom’s voice in my head, pointing out that I will only be asking for trouble that [I] don’t need. Which is just nonsense, but it’s there nonetheless.

My school has no organizations for pagans. We’ve got multiple Christian organizations, one for Buddhists I believe (or it was getting started up when I left, I can’t remember if it’s fully established yet or not), and that’s it for religious organizations. It’s insane how many Christian ones there are. We’ve got one for Lutherans, another for Protestants, I think one for Catholics, one for Christian men in sports, other specified things like that. So that’s all great. But then there’s the fact that I know I’m one of the very few pagans on campus, and I can’t even turn to an organization for support, or for anyone who’s dealt with something similar at my school to know what to do. I know that they usually say, just email the authority and talk it over with them. But, usually that works best when the school has a history of dealing with things like this. I don’t think my university does.

So I’m in a bind. I want to practice, and I know I will, but I just can’t bring myself to send off that email asking about what my rights are while I’m living on campus. Because I still have my mom’s voice chanting that stupid phrase, telling me that I’m just going to make life difficult for myself when I don’t need it.


9 thoughts on “College and the Trials of Being Pagan

  1. I don’t suppose you could find out on the housing office’s website? When I was in school, I found all the rules that way. (No candles, no incense, no blades, etc.) Anything that’s not explicitly against the rules should be fair play.


    1. Normally I would. But they’ve got 2 or 3 versions of our contract online. One is the new one, one is the old, but no one knows which is which. I just want to ask a few clarifying questions, and since I don’t know which version is the newest and therefore valid one, it’s the problem.


  2. 1. Ask what the rules for all personal religious practices are. Don’t be spevific because the rules should be the same for all non- Lutherans.
    2. You get a lot of really pretty battery operated candles. Sympathetic magic is sympathetic.
    3. Learn some simple warding/space protecting spells, even if it’s just a “nothing interesting to see here” spell.
    Don’t know if any of that will help but you can try.


  3. I would simple ask for a full copy of the housing rules so 1. you don’t raise any unwanted attention and 2. you can know them to avoid / exploit any loop holes. And if you are that worried about your alter offending others you have a few options, you can put all of your things away after each use or you can construct it out of innocent looking things that only have meaning to you. And for any incriminating books…they do make decorative book covers. At the absolute worse case scenario remember …Pagans have hidden their practices for centuries being ‘in the broom closet’ while you finish school won’t diminish the power of your faith.


    1. I know they’ve hidden practices for quite a long time. I suppose for me it’s just difficult to even imagine going back ‘in the broom closet’ when I’ve been open about it and well out of it for quite a long time.


  4. Send the e-mail, it will hurt nobody. Perhaps you will get a very open and positive response! Anyway, communication is the best way to stay clear of problems. Keeping quiet just leads to misconceptions and misunderstandings. Just state everything in a clear way, leaving no room for interpretation, which could lead to misunderstandings.
    I disagree woth your mother, as I said before, keeping quiet is what leads to trouble. Also, I would consider it a bit offensive if my mom told me to just refrain from practice.


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