The Great Samhain Flood (of News Coverage)

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 21, 2010 — 21 Comments

It happens every year. The irresistible combination of Halloween (aka Samhain to many Pagans) and real-live Witches causes a great flood of articles involving local Pagans. While usually of the light-as-a-feather “meet the Pagans” variety, they can sometimes be insightful, or give attention to Pagans who are doing good work. For instance, the Chicago Tribune’s profile of Circle Sanctuary minister Paul Larson.

He said he spent years searching religions for the proper spiritual fit. “I was born into the Mormon faith, converted to the (Episcopal) faith and then became a Buddhist,” Larson said. “But I had been investigating paganism since 1969.” About eight years ago, after experiencing the loss of several family members and friends, he began to concentrate on paganism. “I still consider myself a hyphenated American, a Mormo-Episco-Buddhi-pagan,” said Larson, who has a Buddhist statue in his office located in the Merchandise Mart. The statue isn’t too far from the certificate that shows he was ordained over the summer as a Wiccan minister. “Eight years ago as I was going through my (reinvention), I stopped believing in religious exclusivity, that there was one path through which the divine speaks,” he said. Larson said that despite the misconceptions, contemporary paganism has become attractive to more people, particularly young people, over the last three decades because of its reverence for the environment and its embrace of feminism. It also allows for a diversity of thought and belief systems that aren’t bound by a singular doctrine.

Meanwhile, the Religion News Service concentrates on how some Christians and Pagans work to co-exist and spread their faith’s message within the hothouse confines of Salem during the Halloween season. Giving special attention to Pastor Phil Wyman of The Gathering, who had come into conflict with his own denomination over his openness to the local Pagans and Witches.

[Phil Wyman] trains counselors not to fear witches and to disavow an “aggressive, warfare” mentality. “That would ruin what we would do,” Wyman said. “A dialogue is the only way that we’re really going to find out what people think, what they really believe and where they stand. We have to be willing to hear what they believe as well as say what we believe. There’s a give and take.”

The RNS also interviews Spiritualists, Witches, and Catholics to paint a picture of how all faiths get swept up in the atmosphere of Salem’s Halloween, participating in festivities and having divinations performed on their behalf.

Perusing the seasonal coverage you can find stories on Witches’ Balls, local metaphysical shops, shamans, and even an in-depth examination of Hoodoo in America courtesy of Erik Davis.

“In his necessary history Occult America, Mitch Horowitz declares hoodoo “America’s first boundary-free faith.” He also shows how hoodoo was transformed by the emerging commercial marketplace of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when mail-order catalogs and chains of urban supply shops standardized some hoodoo practices while providing a cornucopia of new items for imaginative appropriation. Products developed for secular purposes — like Florida water or Hoyt’s cologne—transformed into healing potions. The resulting magical transformations were not limited to the United States — San Pedro shamans in Peru still love to spritz with Florida water.”

Of course you can also find your usual smattering of “Halloween is evil” articles if you look hard enough. Various pastors and ministers trying very hard to inject Christ into this spooky holiday season. But these seem to be shrinking, especially as more and more people turn to this holiday as a means of escape from the mundane problems around them. Between all the Christine O’Donnell coverage, the Druid charity status story, and now the usual spate of Halloween/Samhain pieces, this may be one of the biggest media blitzes in terms of sheer coverage and interviews our communities have seen in years. Whether all this coverage translates into more respect, understanding, or even converts, is still an open question. What we can say is that is certainly keeps modern Paganism, for better or for worse, in the public eye.

Jason Pitzl-Waters