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Pagan Community Gathers for Metaphysical Fair in Burlington

David Hightower | TSPR File Photo
Rick Johnson and Scott Davenport look at a new set of Runes, at the Metaphysical Fair Burlington IA

The Burlington riverfront was a beacon of spiritual activity during the annual Metaphysical Fair at the Port of Burlington.

30 vendors provided everything from Tarot, Psychic, Aura, and other readings, materials for casting spells, essential oils, and even artwork.

This is the Metaphysical Fair’s seventh year in Burlington. Organizer Lydia Gittings said people in southeast Iowa have been accepting of the Pagan community.

"When people come in with questions, we answer and they see that we're just normal people who just happen to live spiritually," Gittings said.  "We're in tune with the earth and the stars and the elements. It kind of vibes back to the old hippy days."

The diverse Pagan group includes many different religions. Gittings said everyone is welcome at their gatherings. "We never try to convert anybody, we never tell anybody how to practice. We just honor the divine in each other."

Vendor Rick Johnson provided Rune readings, a tradition of Norse Heathenism. Johnson said the Runes are a spiritual symbol said to derive power from Odin, the father of the Norse Gods.

As a Rune Reader, Johnson lays out the runes and tells a story to the person being read. He said the story the Runes tell might or might not directly speak to a person's question.

"I'm not here to tell them their future. I'm just here to give them a different way of looking at things," Johnson explained.

Johnson said he transitioned from a Christian background 25 years ago. He said initially that decision was met with curiosity from some people, and he says others had preconceived notions about his new divinity.

Johnson said Norse Heathenism does not support white supremacy, though some people tie the two together because of some of its practitioners.

"We want to speak out against that, that kind of pushback helps people understand that we are not evil. We don't believe in these bigoted and racist ways," Johnson said. "We want to be part of the community."

Johnson said some symbols that were originally Norse Heathenist, such as the Swastika, were taken by the Nazi party prior to World War II and are still used by white supremacist groups today. He said a small group of Norse Heathenists might hold a racist, or white supremacist viewpoint today, but that group gets a lot of publicity.

"They are not of us," Johnson said.

Johnson says Paganism faces similar issues because it gets tied in with Satanism. He says the Pagan Community in southeast Iowa is a diverse and inclusive group that has been active in community groups and fundraising for charity.

"As a Heathen, I want to be involved in that. I want to be part of it," Johnson said.

New Perspectives at the Metaphysical Fair

A first-year vendor at the Metaphysical Fair, Brittany Houle, sold artwork, essential oils and bath salts, jewelry, and even spell kits. She said she embraced a "loose, eclectic, Pagan (life) style" a few years ago as she struggled with the loss of her grandfather.

Houle, who is from the Waterloo area, said she attended the Metaphysical Fair as a guest last year. "It felt welcoming and inviting, (it) didn't feel like I was going to be judged for who I am," she said.

Another first-year vendor, Matthew Harvey, offered Aura readings. He said he uses his "third eye" to look at the colors within a person's aura.

He said he isn't sure how he developed the skills to read an aura, "I had someone who tried getting me to hear spiritual entities. About a week later I could do this."

Harvey says he attended the Pagan fest at Dankwardt Park and people in the Pagan community helped him to understand his aura reading abilities.

Carri Williams was also set up as a vendor. She said this is her third year selling artwork at the fair. But how long has she been creating it? "Well, since I was born," she laughed.

Williams creates artwork based on Fantasy, Mythology, and Art History. "I love historical religions and learning about different cultures," Williams said.

Williams is from the Quad City area, and makes the drive to Burlington for the fair each year. She said she likes the atmosphere. "It's so much fun," Williams said she prefers smaller events where she's able to connect with more people.

The Metaphysical Fair is one of several events organized by Lydia Gittings each year for the Pagan Community in southeast Iowa. Other events include the Pagan Fest at Dankwardt Park in August, and a first time event in Fort Madison called the Mystical Market, which is scheduled for July.

David Hightower is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.