AUBURN — Cynthia Grimm was a young student when she began to question her spirituality. She had been raised Christian, but after studying philosophy, something about the faith no longer felt right.

“I realized that I could no longer be a Christian,” the 46-year-old Bridgton woman said. “I said, ‘OK. I have no religion at all.’ I had a friend at the time who told me that there were options.”

Since 1989, Grimm has considered herself pagan. On Wednesday night, she gathered at The First Universalist Church of Auburn with a dozen others to celebrate Imbolc Eve, a Celtic holiday that marks the midway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

More specifically, it’s about the lactating of the ewes.

“They have baby lambs in their bellies,” Grimm said. “That’s the first sign of spring.”

Grimm and her group would mark the holiday by gathering in a circle and imploring the goddess Brigid to bless scraps of cloth. Historically, people who marked Imbolc would leave those scraps on their doorknobs overnight to be blessed.

“The scraps would be used in healing throughout the year,” Grimm said. “Some people believe it as literal healing. Some thought of it as more figurative.”

The ceremony is decidedly Pagan, but this is not a Hollywood-style ritual. There is no pentagram on the floor. There are no ominous men in cloaks and no spells are cast. That’s the stuff of stereotypes and bad fiction.

“People tend to see paganism as something bad,” said Suzanna Williams, 31.

But here, children played before the ceremony got underway. Williams’ 8-month-old son, Ezekiel, crawled from toy to toy, made eyes at Grimm’s daughter and endured the cheek-pinching adoration of those who came to celebrate Imbolc.

“It’s so nice that it’s kid-friendly,” Williams said. “I think it’s cool to have them involved.”

Sheena Aston would agree. The 29-year-old Poland woman had her 9-year-old son, Jullian, along. The red-headed boy wasn’t complaining at all about having to be in church. He played with the other kids and looked generally happy to be there.

“We try to get him involved as much as we can,” Aston said. “We usually hold our celebrations at home, but we figured tonight, we’d come out and do it with them.”

During the ceremony, the participants faced north, south, east and west, giving thanks to the elements of earth, air, fire and water and for the coming of spring.

“It’s nature-based,” said a woman who identified herself as Lorelei and who has been practicing paganism for 30 years. “It’s very gentle. There’s a lot of trust and kindness and authenticity. It’s a very welcoming spirituality.”

It’s a serious ceremony, no doubt — but not quite solemn. Kids are not hushed if they cry out in the middle of it. Ezekiel was allowed to crawl across the floor even as the circle was gathered.

That’s just the way Grimm runs her circles.

“I do them differently than the average person,” she said. “I do a lot less planning. I just let it happen.”

Grimm said that while pagan ceremonies are numerous in the Portland area, there are none to be found in Lewiston-Auburn.

“I thought, you know what? Let’s start doing rituals here at the church,” she said, “and see if it catches on.”


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