Unleash the Hounds! (Halloween Hangover Links Roundup)

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 1, 2013 — 24 Comments

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up. This week? It’s (almost) all about Halloween, and Pagans, and Witches, and how we celebrate (or don’t) during this time of year. So pull up some of that leftover candy, and let’s get started…

Ashley Bryner, senior Druid at CedarLight Grove. Photo: Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Ashley Bryner, senior Druid at CedarLight Grove. Photo: Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

  • Let’s start with the New York Times, who decided that this Halloween was going to be about Druids. Quote: “How many folks will spend the next few days and nights worshiping the old gods? The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey put the number of American Druids at 29,000. But then, many Druids connect with the practice of paganism, and the survey counted 340,000 souls in this category. Add another 342,000 wiccans (fellow travelers), and Samhain starts to look like a pretty big party. Of course, that number would swell if you were to include the ancestors who have passed on — and Druids do, especially in this liminal season.” Author Ellen Evert Hopman, and members of Ár nDraíocht Féin are quoted in the piece.
  • CNN decided to go with Witches for Halloween, and found one who isn’t fond of the secular holiday. Quote: “Trey Capnerhurst dons a pointy hat and doles out candy to children who darken the door of her cottage in Alberta. But she’s not celebrating Halloween. In fact, she kind of hates it. Capnerhurst says she’s a real, flesh-and-blood witch, and Halloween stereotypes of witches as broom-riding hags drive her a bit batty.” Capnerhurst goes on to claim that “traditional” Witches are hereditary, and Wiccans are converts. Which is a new one on me, since “trad” Witches generally means Witches who are members of an established initiatory line. Anyway, the article also interviews sociologist Helen Berger, who shares some basic data on the number of Pagans in America. Amusingly, the American Spectator got their underwear in a bunch over this article, so there’s that.
  • Some Wiccans have no real problem with Halloween, it should be noted.
  • While I’m making the rounds of the big-name publications, I can’t not mention the Newsweek article on how Witchcraft and occult practices are becoming, like, super-hip among young people these days. Quote: “We’re currently in the middle of an occult revival, says Jesse Bransford, a New York University art professor who co-organized an occult humanities conference earlier this month. He sees a connection between increasing interest in the occult and postrecession anxiety. Magic ‘has always been a technique of the disenfranchised,’ he says. ‘It’s something you do when the tools you have available don’t seem like they’re enough.’ These people aren’t just wearing black lipstick and watching witches hex each other on-screen; they’re also experimenting with, well, sorcery.” Let’s hope this augers an uptick in the quality of Pagan music.
  • Meanwhile, Paper Magazine interviews some event promoters in Bushwick, who are drawn to Witchcraft as an aesthetic oeuvre to operate within. Quote: “I think people just want to believe in something. But with Bushwick I think there is this underground movement, or a want to bring people together, that doesn’t have any formality to it. It’s just people who have their own rituals coming together. I think the social commentary aspect of it is there, but it’s super-subconscious. And I do think there’s a dark energy that people are now willing to talk about in a playful way. At least for us it’s playful. We’re definitely the entertainment side of Wiccan culture. Bushwiccans.”
  • For this Halloween, Reuters decided to focus on psychic scammers. Quote: “The law relating to such activities is not always definitive, Little said, noting that fortune-tellers and others who offer occult services often use a ‘for entertainment purposes only’ disclaimer to prevent legal problems. Even as people who sell occult services move online, some continue to run storefronts, offering psychic readings for a small fee and trying to talk customers into paying more to resolve problems.” However, I suspect that most party-goers looking for a quick tarot readings are fairly safe. Just don’t let anybody “cleanse” your wallet. Seriously.
shutterstock 1114023

Tarot cards.

  • Well played Yorkshire post, well played.
  • If you enjoy reading about Christians freaking out about Halloween, you’ve got your pick of the litter. Right Wing Watch, as always, picks a doozy. Quote: “Why am I concerned about the way Halloween, the media and our current culture encourage the celebration and trivialization of spiritism, occultism, Satanism, hedonism, witches, zombies and walking on the dark side with demons? Because the supernatural world is real, and no one is immune to it regardless of their education or worldview. God is real. Angels are real. Satan is real. Demons are real. Real gladiators and real Christians died in the Colosseum and circus even though many Roman leaders and citizens just considered their destruction an evening of entertainment.” See also: Southern Baptists talking about the “theological complications” of Halloween, and the Christian Post runs an editorial about the dangers of Wicca. Fun stuff, if you’re into that sort of thing. You know, feasting with Satan!
  • The Christian Science Monitor debunks the Salem Witch Trials, while scholar Owen Davies notes that the suspicion of witches has lived on far past those infamous trials. Quote: “Two centuries on from Salem and many Americans were still living in an essentially similar social, cultural, economic, and religious environment. The vicissitudes of life on the edge were all too real, and so was the fear of witchcraft as an explanation for misfortune and envy. Over the last three centuries, thousands of Americans, mostly women, have been abused for being suspected witches. Hundreds of court cases arose from accusations of witchcraft. Most startling of all, it is clear now that we know of more people murdered as witches in America after 1692 than were legally executed before that date.”
  • At the Washington Post, Starhawk contributes a piece on the holiday, noting that on Halloween “the past and future live.” Quote: “For us, Halloween is the time of year when we come together to honor our ancestors, to mourn our beloved dead and celebrate their lives.  In this autumn season, when the year itself appears to by dying.  As the leaves fall, and the harvest is gathered in, we celebrate the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain or Summer’s End.  The veil between the worlds is thin, we say, and those who have gone beyond can now return and visit us again, reminding us that death does not destroy our connection to those we love.” Elsewhere at WP, playwright Jeffrey Stanley extols the freaky fun of the supernatural.
  • UC Berkeley’s blog focuses on Americans and the occult, noting its ongoing popularity throughout this country’s history. Quote: “We have no polls, of course, to track occult beliefs before the mid-20th century, but, as I pointed out in a prior post, early Americans were deeply immersed in an enchanted world of spirits, incantations, and witches. Puritan ministers in colonial New England struggled to point out the contradiction between, on one side of salvation, pleading with God to shed His grace on an ill loved one and, on the doomed side, casting a spell to drive out an evil spirit that one believes caused the illness.”
  • The Los Angeles Times profiles Panpipes Magickal Marketplace, which is deemed “authentic in the way of a great London bookstore, yet with a glint of religion about it.” Quote: “[Co-owner Vicky] Adams is not a witch herself, she says, merely a pagan who says there are thousands of others like her across L.A., and she’s just here to help, no matter your chosen deity. ‘It’s hard,’ she says at the end of a busy day. ‘I had a customer who watched me work. When I finally got to him, he said, ‘I’m a psychologist and I get $400 an hour to do what you do.””

That’s it for now! There are a lot more Halloween-themed articles that feature Pagans, Witches, or occult practitioners, out there, but I feel this is a representative sample of what’s out there. Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Franklin_Evans

    I found the full quote about “converts” — strictly as the possibly edited version of her actual words — in keeping with reality: “(Capnerhurst draws a distinction between “traditional” witches, like
    her, who were born into the religion, and Wiccans, most of whom are
    converts.)”

    The article provided the parentheses, something I found a bit odd.

    Anyway, while we may rightfully argue about what “most” means, given the milestone we look to of Gardner in the 1950s the qualifier “converts” makes sense. I fully concede that it will have uncomfortable, even pejorative connotations for some Wiccans.

    • Eric Scott

      “Wiccans are converts.” BAH, says I.

  • thelettuceman

    There was a bloke on a German-language Asatrur page that was, I am told by a German friend, raving against the other Norse Pagans/Asatrur wishing the page a Happy Samhain and Halloween. Like, unrealistically so. That it was an “overcommercialized American holiday” and that the Norse feast was two weeks later and blah blah blah.

    Some people just need to get the sticks out of their ass.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      I can kind of get the sentiment of what he’s saying. If you’re going down the Heathen route, makes sense to use the relevant festivals.

      • Nick Ritter

        Sure, I can see that, and I can also see the point of view that an American style Hallowe’en is another inroad of globalism into various cultures (including European ones) that treasure their uniqueness.

        At a certain level of comparison, though, there is an underlying unity between Samhain, Vetrnætr, and, say, Velis Nakts. Getting uptight about being wished a happy Samhain when you celebrate Winternights is a bit too much, I think.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          Fair point. I can certainly seen the connection. I think that some people do get a bit carried away in their crusade for religious identity.

          • thelettuceman

            I think that’s part of why this guy was overreacting, specifically as well. There always seems to be an undercurrent of “Dammit, today is my special day, but nobody knows about it/cares about it”.

            From what I have been told, also, there’s some Celtic-bigotry within German Asatrur/Nordic circles too. So it could be more of that.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            From what I’ve heard, there’s plenty of bigotry within certain Heathen circles. It’s a constant thorn to deal with.

            From what I’ve seen recently, though, A lot of Heathens seem to include both Celtic and Germanic systems within the umbrella.

            I think it is more likely a general disdain of eclectic Paganism (somewhat hypocritical, when there are many ‘eclectic Heathens’) and Wicca in particular.

  • PhaedraHPS

    Every time a new generation gets old enough to be young adults, some reporter who isn’t familiar with anything woo-woo writes an article about the “revival.”

    I wonder if it’s a phenomenon left over from the 20th century, which embraced a scientific rationalism while vigorously disavowing the every-day occult of the 19th century (Theosophy, Spiritualism, etc.). The narrative of occultism being hopelessly odd and old-fashioned became so ingrained that each new generation of reporters expresses the same shock and surprise when they find anyone is still into this stuff.

    However, if any of these reporters a modicum of research would see that these “revivals” and the articles about them have been continuous for at least the last 50 years. It’s probably longer than that, but I say 50 years because the first article I personally remember was in Life Magazine in 1964. There were Tarot cards and such all over teen magazines in the ’60s, then a flurry of articles in Time and Look around 1970-74. My personal files are full of newspaper articles from the ’80s and ’90s. Every time, it’s presented as if it’s something new. Makes me wonder when it will ever sink in to the public consciousness that the occult never went away.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      In my efforts to educate the Cleveland metro daily about “Satanic” holidays I always found myself in contact with a brand-new reporter who got stuck with the assignment. The media will never get this right until the editorial level realizes it’s a religious story.

    • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

      Oh, at least fifty, sure, but realistically, it’s been almost a century since many trappings of the pagan community today –including interest in magic and the occult, tarot, and divination, which all really hit the public consciousness in the 1920s. This interest, at least in the US and the UK, seemed to go underground during WWII, but there was Gardner in the ’50s, bringing things to a spotlight again, and that was nearly sixty years ago, now.

  • John W. Morehead

    I agree with the Southern Baptist piece on Halloween when it says that for Christians it is a moral issue. It certainly is, in terms of when we bear false witness against our Pagan neighbors in misrepresenting their practices and beliefs. It is time for Evangelicals to consider the ethics related to their understanding and engagement of various religions, particularly those that they have a history of conflict with.

  • cernowain greenman

    Jason, NPR NOW decided for Halloween to run had a great story on ouija boards that entailed a group in France on Halloween that found out they were talking to one of the gal’s past boyfriends who had killed himself. Her present boyfriend was present and they “got into a cockfight” over her. It had spooky music and was very engaging.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Today’s TWH about the continued spiritual evolution of Teo Bishop lacks the usual link to make comments, so I’ll offer one here.First, I wish Teo the best in his ongoing journey.His statement reminds me of one I made to my Unitarian Universalist congregation (I was president at the time) regarding my then-recent conversion from Humanism to Paganism. Among other things, I assured them that my frame had expanded, not shifted. I would be what I had been, plus.To my fellow Pagans in nail-biting mode about the apparent defection to Christianity of such a prominent member of the family, let me urge you to read the Patheos discussion about civil religion in which Gus DiZerega participated. In particular, to read the essays of avowedly liberal Christians. These are not the Christians who give Pagans grief about school rules, land use and prayers at city council meetings. Teo is moving to a tradition whose theology is neither dominationist nor territorial, and whose public leaders want to make this more explicit in the world.Teo remarks that he may become “a kind of Christo-Pagan.” I hope he tells us how that is going over time in his new environment.Best of fortune, Teo.

    • Deborah Bender

      I agree with Baruch’s comments. The Episcopal Church does not have a history of being aggressive in seeking converts or antagonistic to other religions. In recent decades, it has become pretty friendly to Divine Feminine theology.

      I have some understanding of Teo’s journey because I’m one of a fairly large number of Jews raised in liberal or secular Jewish homes who are also witches. I observe some of the Jewish holidays and commandments and continue to study Judaism. In some instances, my two religions tell me exactly the same thing; in some instances, one religion is strong where the other is underdeveloped; in some instances, they contradict each other and I have to make a choice which one to follow. (And of course, sometimes I think they are both full of hooey.)

    • kenofken

      Agreed. There is no reason for nail-biting of any kind. People’s journeys are their own.

    • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

      While it’s all well and good that he’s clearly not becomming one of “THOSE kind of Christians”, you know what? I can do a search now and queue you up literally dozens of liberal Christian blogs and news sites where his voice can be heard. The pagan community doesn’t need Christians detailing their conversion to us in our own spaces. That would be like inviting Tiny Tim to a Gay Pride event to speak about how he successfully “prayed the gay away” and married Miss Vicky on The Tonight Show. It’s wildly inappropriate.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        The not-so-hidden premise here is of a brick wall between Pagans and Christians, that anyone not on “our” side is firmly on the “other.” In fact the boundary can be quite fluid on the human level. The brick-wall attitude is grimly tribal in the very worst application of that word. Teo is a well enough known quantity that his evolution is going to be interesting to many of us.And if it offends you? You don’t have to read it! Just wait for the next TWH dealing with the City of Greece or the Maetreum of Cybele and thrill to the villainy of the kind of Christian that feeds your attitude..

        • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

          Dude, if Christians themselves offended me, I would have gotten rid of my Prince records years ago. That’s not the point. The point is that there IS a wall, maybe it’s not brick, but it exists, and this proposal of continuing his conversion narrative in pagan space is simply inappropriate. There is no “brick wall” between hetero- and homosexuality, either, but it’s inappropriate to invite “ex-gays” to speak at GBLT events. This is easily on that same level.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I would first argue with your parallel. It is appropriate to invite “ex-gays” to some GBLT events, eg that explore varieties of queer lifepaths, as long as they agree not to proselytize. Not, of course, at Gay Pride events.Teo said he expected to become “a kind of Christo-Pagan.” That, not sentiment, makes his unfolding story interesting in Pagan space. The fact that you reject his very existence as such, does not void it.I don’t see wall, I see an overlap like a two-circle Venn diagram, whose overlap is often the most interesting space. I don’t define myself by my enemies.

          • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

            Yeah, you’re obviously not queer. I don’t know you from Pandora, maybe you’re bi- or gay, but you’re certainly not queer. Heterosexuality is not ever a “queer lifepath”, and that aside, ex-gays have no place at all in GBLT spaces.

            Mind that Bishop never actually said that he WOULD become a kind of Christo-Pagan, but merely mentioned that as a possibility –in which case, sure, maybe he would have a place in the pagan community again, but this is his personal journey that is given a privileged position on a popular pagan blog that is supposed to have a focus on current events and pop culture. He’s got his own blessed blog at HuffPo to utilise as an avenue for his personal spiritual issues.

            Say again that no-one has to read it, again, but that doesn’t account for the fact that his clearly intended self-centred use of pagan space will still be on TWH’s front page until it’s pushed off, it’ll still arrive in e-mail subscriptions and feeds, and it’ll still affect people who simply did not come to a pagan site for Christian witnessing given such a privileged position because someone forgot Spock’s monologue about how the needs of the many outweigh the desires of the individual. Have other writers here given things a personal touch, at times? Yes, but their writing was still clearly about both community and their own paganism –Bishop has made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that his intention is to continue blogging here, in addition to his own blog, about himself and his newfound faith in Christianity, making it so inappropriate and unnecessary that I’d organise a boycott, if I thought it had a chance in hell of actually getting through to JP-W what a gross misuse of pagan community space it is to give platform to one man’s journey back to Christianity.

            There is no shortage of liberal Christian blogs he can go write for now, making Bishop’s continued presence an example of cronyism at its finest. It’s bad enough that Christians are privileged everywhere else in Western society –as the archives on TWH have absolutely no shortage of examples of– but now it’s even given a privileged position on a pagan blog. Absolutely disgusting.

          • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

            For the record, I asked Teo to specifically write about this for his column this month. The man is literally on the cover of Witches & Pagans, which just came out, and I thought the community should hear about this process. I can’t imagine any media outlet making a different decision if they were in the position I am in.

            I am uncertain as to Teo’s future with us, and I suspect he is as well. It is a process, one that I will be thinking about carefully.

            Also, irregardless of this column, I have given space to Christian voices before, when I thought it pertinent to things we cafe about.

            As for gross misuse, well, I disagree. I think people needed to hear about what was happening with Teo. It wasn’t an assault on Paganism, and the subject of people drifting in and out of our religions is under-reported I think. I’m not turning the blog into a platform for any kind of Christianity.

          • Diotima Mantineia

            Personally, I’ve never found Bishop’s writing to be particularly compelling or interesting, though he seems like a very sincere, thoughtful, and nice young man. But I would have been appalled, Jason, if you had *not* given him the space to discuss his conversion. He’s been a regular columnist here for — what, almost a year now? If he’s going to leave because he has converted to another religion, it’s appropriate for us to know this, and to hear it from him directly. His post was dignified and authentic. It really astonishes me that anyone would find this offensive.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            This will be brief because there’s little new in your comment, only length. You unilaterally exclude Christo-Pagans from rightful Pagan space of any sort and ex-gays from BGLTQQIA rightful space of any short, in a further distinction from me in that I do not define myself by my enemies. Whether I am queer is irrelevant and shows your hand in the coarsest argument ad hominem (and I would remind you there are ways to be queer with an opposite-sex partner).