News / Edmonton

'Makes me feel great': University of Alberta's first Wiccan chaplain is proud to serve

He was also appointed chair of the university's Chaplain Association, this year in April

Samuel Wager is the first (and only) Wiccan chaplain at the U of A.

Kevin Tuong / Edmonton Freelance

Samuel Wager is the first (and only) Wiccan chaplain at the U of A.

Every Wednesday afternoon, Samuel Wagar sets up a table on the main floor of the University of Alberta's Student Union Building, spreads out a brightly coloured cloth and a deck of tarot cards and waits for students to stop by for some spiritual guidance.

The school's first (and only) Wiccan chaplain recently started offering free tarot readings.

It's partly to reach out to the fledgling pagan community, but also just to make sure students in general know the chaplain service is there when they need advice.

“You just have issues in your life and you want someone to talk to, but you want to talk to someone with meaning, with spiritual resources, we can do that. We are there for everybody in the university community.” he said.  

Wagar was first hired by the school three years ago, and this spring was appointed chair of the University of Alberta's Chaplain Association, a diverse bunch that includes spiritual leaders versed in Buddhism, Christianity and Islam.

He's the first Wiccan to hold the post.

While his role is strictly administrative in nature--think allocating office space, and getting chaplains involved in school initiatives like mental health programs--he also wants to help build the campus community.

He sees his role as not converting anyone, but trying to find ways to bring people together.

“When someone comes and talks to me, and I can help them solve [a problem], it makes me feel great,” he said.

Of course, he also functions as a resource for Wiccans on campus.

“Either Wiccan or one or the other pagan religions, druids or there is a ceremonial magician who comes and talks to me pretty regularly now,” Wagar said.  

Wicca is a relatively new religion that's based on pagan pre-Christian ideas of Northern Europe, Wagar explains. It draws from nature, as well as the Greek and Celtic ideas, but with a substantial dose of feminism.

“Wicca has some of the magical ideas, we use tarot readings and other forms of divination as part of our spiritual practice,” he said. “As a way of tuning into our unconscious minds and to the things that are going around in the world that we don't ordinarily see.”

A former atheist, Wagar got interested in Wicca after dabbling in tarot reading back in the late 1970s.

He eventually became a priest at the Sacred Oak Temple in Edmonton, but wanted to find a way to incorporate his love for academics, so he applied to become a chaplain.

Now, he finds tarot reading, a practice of gaining insight into a person's life using cards, is a good way to connect with students, hence the weekly sessions.

Though, occasionally, he gets people trying to convert him.

“It happens, some people are very enthusiastic about their religion and want to share it. They haven’t been too annoying," he said.

While Wagar is currently also working on his doctorate in the ministry program at St. Stephens College, he said he won't give up his day job.

“I love being of service to the university community,” he said.

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