Samuel Wagar, the University of Alberta’s first Wiccan Chaplain, is using tarot readings as a way to start conversations about spirituality.
Every Wednesday afternoon from 12 p.m.to 2:30 p.m., Wagar will be performing free three-card readings to any interested students and staff at the SUB food court. The tarot is a set of cards commonly used in divination — a key part of the Wiccan faith.
Wicca is a Pagan religion that draws upon elements of nature and ancient witchcraft traditions. Wiccans believe that the natural world embodies not only divinity and sacredness, but also the route to spiritual enlightenment. Wicca is also fundamentally polytheistic, and does not limit worship to any specific God or Goddess.
Wagar’s Wednesday afternoon tarot readings started last January as a way to inform students of the existence of the Wiccan ministry, as well as to raise awareness for the Interfaith Chaplain’s Association.
“Like many of the chaplains, especially those of us from small religious movements, it can be hard to meet people,” Wagar said. “There’s about a dozen of us, representing a variety of different religions, but most people don’t know that we exist.”
The chaplain’s association is a part of the U of A’s student services and includes a professionally trained team of chaplains appointed by recognized communities of faith including Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Wicca, and several Christian denominations. Chaplains serve the U of A community by providing counseling, ceremonial services, and spiritual guidance to students, faculty, and staff on campus.
“We’re an underutilized and underestimated resource at the university,” Wagar said. “We’re looking to get people to become more aware of us.”
Wagar sees tarot readings not as a way to convert students to Wicca, but to get people thinking about what spirituality means to them.
“People who are interested in Wicca can definitely come by and learn more about us,” Wagar said. “But like any of the chaplains, I’m available to talk to people of any religion — or none at all — about any issue that might need an ear.”
For Wagar, tarot and divination isn’t only a part of the Wiccan religion, but also a tool for exploring one’s spirituality.
“I credit tarot with me no longer being an atheist,” Wagar said. “Tarot became for me a means of opening my unconscious mind and connecting into the larger world around us. As a result of reading tarot, I started looking into different spiritual and metaphysical perspectives.”
Outside Wednesday afternoon tarot readings, Wagar also helps run the Sacred Oak Temple, a Wiccan temple hosted in part through his chaplaincy at the U of A. Members cast spells and perform rituals in the HUB multi-faith space on the third Sunday of each month. The meetings are open to any individuals interested in learning about Wicca.
“University is a very secular place, but spiritual issues and needs are profoundly important to many people,” Wagar said. “We want to let people know that it’s okay to be religious, and that there are places on campus where you can practice your faith.”
Wagar encourages any students interested in learning about tarot, Wicca, or the Chaplain’s Association to join him at the Wednesday tarot tables or to come to the Sacred Oak Temple. He is also currently teaching a course on the Wiccan religion — CHRTP 400 (Introduction to Wiccan Theology) — hosted by St. Stephen’s College.
“They’re all opportunities for people to explore the Wiccan religion in a non-committed kind of way,” Wagar said. “We welcome anyone who’s interested in learning about Wicca to join our rituals.”