Archives For Halloween

As we reported Friday, October is a popular time for interview Witches. The season also brings a flurry of Halloween-inspired television programming. From the holiday specials to the classic horror films, the entertainment industry capitalizes on our cultural love for all things related to the secular holiday.

[Credit: MANSOUR DE TOTH via CC lic. Wikimedia]

[Credit: MANSOUR DE TOTH via CC lic. Wikimedia]

This phenomenon is nothing new. In the 1930s, Betty Boop appeared in a short called Hall’ween Party (1933). In 1948, Mighty Mouse saved the world in The Witch’s Cat. Many readers will remember looking forward to the yearly October airing of The Wizard of Oz (1939) or, more recently, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). One of the newest Halloween-inspired offerings,Book of Life (2014), capitalizes on the growing popularity of the Mexican Dia de los Muertos aesthetic and tradition.

As we get closer to the actual Oct. 31 date, producers begin offering Halloween-themed episodes of TV series. In its lineup this year, CBS aired a Witch-themed episode of its popular, long-running show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. While the secular Halloween holiday was never mentioned, the show’s title “Book of Shadows” and its subject matter were not arbitrarily chosen to appear in a late October episode.

Sunday’s CSI episode has set off some intense discussion within the Wiccan community. While many believe the show demonstrates a step forward in the depiction of Witches and Wiccans within mainstream entertainment, others were not easily convinced. Massachusetts Priestess Laura Wildman-Hanlon remarked:

I’m annoyed my religion was again dragged out and used as a means to scare people on Halloween. I’m angry at the disrespect paid to my beliefs and my God & Goddess. I’m furious at the writers who could have used the opportunity to debunk these untruths instead of playing to them. 

Was the show a simply a means to “scare people” as Wildman-Hanlon suggests? Was it yet another serving of insulting television fare perpetuating the historically-ingrained, sensationalistic construction of Witchcraft? Or was it positive? Did the writers demonstrate any cultural sensitivity?

Before looking at the specifics of the episode, it is important to be aware the CSI program is very formulaic like most TV dramas. “The Book of Shadows” episode was no exception.The aesthetics and narrative structure fell well-within the CSI storytelling boundaries, including the sensationalism, campy humor and graphic displays of internal anatomy.They didn’t stretch the show’s artistic reach to tell this story.

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“Book of Shadows” opens with a teenager filming a video while walking through school hallways. This scene is important because it establishes the main characters of the “who done it?” plot. After we are introduced to the players, a burning body comes running down the hall and then falls dead. Interestingly, this dead teacher is labeled “the Burning Man” and, although not known at the time, is a practicing Witch. While just a minor point, this detail, death by burning, becomes the second reference to Witchcraft. The first, of course, is the title.

Although the show is filled with subtle phrases and imagery maintaining its connection to the theme, it isn’t until the second segment that the narrative really delves into subject of Witchcraft. The coroner discovers a “Life Rune” symbol, which he links to Nazism, gangs and crime and which eventually leads investigators to the coven’s temple space.

The temple scene, itself, was filmed in the classic CSI aesthetic while also recalling elements of the horror film. As CSI Nick Stokes enters the dark room, everything is visually obscured by shadow and a tight camera angle. The limited lighting is blood red and, as the slow-moving camera pans across the space, the only recognizable images are a skull and a pentacle.

In typical CSI fashion, the horror-style scene is followed by scientific explanation and visual clarity. In this case, there is a brief dramatic reenactment that parallels the horror-scene.  Then the director abruptly cuts to a non-engaging, medium shot of the temple room in nearly full light. Everything is visible. CSI D.B. Russell has joined Stokes in exploring the space.

As they investigate, Russell educates Stokes and the audience on what they are seeing in the room. When referring to the pentacle, Stokes says, “I always thought it was the sign of the devil.” Russell replied, “Well you were wrong.”

Along with other similar type comments, Russell says, “[Wicca] is a Pagan religion.” Putting these two temple scenes together, the show plays first with what the viewer expects and then says, “well you were wrong.” This juxtaposition demonstrates a clear step forward in the representation of Witchcraft and Wicca within a modern context of its own making.

Moreover, the writers also note the important distinction that Wicca is a “Pagan religion.” This statement is critical because it moves popular discourse away from the simple point that “Witchcraft is real” or “Wicca is Witchcraft” to “Wicca is one of many religions.” Although encapsulated in a bucket of typical CSI sensationalism, the show’s narrative does demonstrate that the writers did some real homework.

CSI:  The Book of Shadows  [Courtesy: CBS Television]

CSI: The Book of Shadows [Courtesy: CBS Television]

The next important detail to examine is the lab scenes, in which tech David Hodges is dressed in a “relic Druid robe.” To Wildman-Hanlon, these scenes were extremely off-putting. She said, “I was furious to see one of the main characters wearing a silly robe, waving a wand over a cauldron bubbling with fake smoke and obviously making fun of my beliefs.”

David Hodges is largely present for comic relief within the more serious CSI drama schematic. He always takes a campy and comical attitude toward any subject. However, in this case, he was mocking a religious practice, which proves problematic. Along with his robe, Hodges called his lab a “Wiccan Altar” and mentioned a past Wiccan girlfriend who was “a little too earthy” and didn’t have a “bathing spell.” In addition, Pagan viewers may have been offended by the God and Goddess statuettes on his table. Although meant as harmless comedy, the writers went too far for many Pagan viewers as demonstrated by Wildman-Hanlon’s comment.

While the show’s middle portion largely diverts its attention from Witchcraft and Wicca, the narrative returns to the theme by the end. It is at this point the writers’ attempts at sensitivity fall completely apart. We find out that the killer is a Wiccan mother and teacher; the dead coven member was a teacher and drug dealer; the Wiccan principal was sleeping with a student and the High Priest and school janitor had once been a criminal. While the show doesn’t posit any of these characters as purely evil, they are all framed as damaged goods.

However, more problematic than any of that is the “who done it?”conclusion and various subtle details used to intensify and color the story. First, both murders were done by a Wiccan woman, who had been attempting a healing spell. She apparently needed the blood of a “sacrificed youth.” In once scene, the coroner notes that the dead boy’s blood was removed after his murder, which “suggests a Wiccan ritual.” Considering this line alone, it appears as if the writers fell face first into a vat of cultural stereotyping.

All the earlier positive elements and demonstrations of sensitivity become buried by the failings of the conclusion and other narrative details, such as the janitor brandishing his athame in a threatening manor. Through lines such as “Druid spell” to gain “more power” or “May the blackest of darkness smite you down,” a viewer’s preconceived notion of Witchcraft and Wicca are confirmed.

Why pay attention to shows like this one? CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is a fictional drama that posits its universe as real. For viewers, the CSI environment could be their world. There is no fantasy or mythology here. That is the nature of the genre. As such, it presents Witchcraft and Wicca as something real; something the viewers might witness in their daily lives.

This attempt to bring Witchcraft and Wicca out of a fantasy world and into reality is exemplified by the following exchange. Stokes says, “What happened next? No, let me guess, lightening bolts.” Russell replies, “No. a coven meeting.” This is notable change for the construction of Witches and Wiccans within American entertainment. Where most shows, even live-action, posit Witches and magic as elements of fantasy, this shows says “No they are real. They are parents, principals, janitors and science teachers.”

At the same time, CSI‘s realistic nature makes the mistakes all the more difficult to digest. Wildman-Hanlon remarks:

A couple of sentences muttered by a character that ‘Wiccans are peaceful people who work with the energies of nature,’ is lovely but not when the plot heads immediately back into the fiction line saying beneath our practices of harmony actually lies a darker stance where murder/human sacrifice is, according to our beliefs…our Book of Shadows…an acceptable practice if we deem it warranted. 

“The Book of Shadows” was a notable effort with some very positive forward steps in the representation of Witches and Wicca. Unfortunately the writers didn’t go far enough and wound up relying too heavily on good old fashion Halloween entertainment lore for the sake of a scream.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than our team can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

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  • A prison beard ban case currently before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) could have far-reaching implications for religious freedom in our prisons. An anaylsis at SCOTUSblog of Holt v. Hobbs notes that SCOTUS have already ruled that corporations have the ability to avoid complying with some government mandates that they believe infringe on their religious beliefs, but what about prisoners? Quote: “Having ruled that a corporation can rely on the devoutly Christian beliefs of its owners to avoid complying with the Affordable Care Act’s birth-control mandate, will at least five Justices be equally receptive to an inmate’s desire to comply with his Muslim religion by growing a half-inch beard? Throw in yesterday’s announcement that the Justices will review the case of a Muslim teenager who alleges that she was not hired for a job at a popular clothing chain because she wears a headscarf, and it looks like it could be another significant Term for religious freedom at the Court.” The Becket Fund frames the case as whether prison officials can arbitrarily ban a religious practice (in this case beard-growing).
  • Is religion on the wane in the West (say that ten times fast)? There’s some recent evidence that it might be. Ben Clements at British Religion in Numbers analyzes the latest British Election Study (BES), which shows a huge growth in “nones” (those who don’t identify with having any particular faith identity). Quote: “The most common response is that of not belonging to any religion, at 44.7%.” It should also be noted that “other” faiths are also on the rise among younger respondents. Meanwhile, in the United States, a growing majority thinks that religion is losing its influence over American life. This is according to a Pew Research poll. Quote: “Nearly three-quarters of the public (72%) now thinks religion is losing influence in American life, up 5 percentage points from 2010 to the highest level in Pew Research polling over the past decade.” 
  • Religion News Service covers the latest iteration of people over-reacting to Halloween, in this case a school district in New Jersey that banned, then un-banned Halloween parties. Quote: “For years, Christian evangelicals have objected to what they see as Halloween’s pagan origins. Some churches have adopted alternative harvest celebrations, while others have constructed elaborate “Hell Houses” designed to depict the torments of hell and the promise of salvation through belief in Jesus. But a day after canceling the in-school Halloween celebration, parents received a note home from Acting Superintendent James Memoli saying the cancelation has been reversed, and the event would take place as it has in the past.” Of course, Halloween is NOT a Pagan holiday, it’s a Christian holiday that was thoroughly secularized over the last 100 years. Now, Samhain (and other pre-Christian harvest/Winter festivals), that’s a different matter. Anyway, what’s truly ironic is re-labeling Halloween as a “Harvest Festival” just makes is sound MORE Pagan, not less. Stick with the jack-o-lanterns and candy.
  • Catholicism is slowly losing its grip on Brazil, but that hasn’t dimmed the popularity of an annual processional in honor of the Virgin Mary. Quote: “An arduous public display of devotion, Cirio (pronounced see-rio) has persisted and thrived as a centerpiece of Amazonian regional culture — maintaining consistent levels of participation year to year — even as Catholicism loses ground to evangelical faiths in a dramatic transformation of Brazilian society.” Why the enduring popularity? Because the festival goes deep into the cultural history of their society, quote, “in Brazil, where African and indigenous traditions melded with Christianity for centuries and where Catholicism has deep cultural roots, religious identities are not so clear-cut.” Indeed, indeed. Meanwhile, practitioners of Afro-Brazilian faiths feel under attack.
  • Affirming belief in a higher power, or going back to jail? Thanks to a lawsuit in California, that may be a choice that’s on its way to extinction. Quote: “The real victory here is that California will no longer be able to force anyone into a faith-based treatment program. It’s fine to have different rehab programs available to drug offenders – even if they’re faith-based – but religious ones must remain optional.”
  • The Miami Herald reports on how two prominent Santeria organizations (Kola Ifa and Church of the Lukumí Babalú Ayé) have joined forces to, quote, “establish a central and very visible hierarchy for a faith often associated by outsiders with mysterious rites, colorful deities and animal sacrifices.” Here’s a video report on this new agreement. I’m thinking this move could have significant ripples into the wider Santeria/Lukumi world.

That’s all I have for right now, as always, some of these stories may be expanded on in future Wild Hunt posts. Thanks for reading, have a great day!

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.
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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.

A Blessed Samhain

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 31, 2013 — 4 Comments

Tonight and tomorrow is when most modern Pagans celebrate Samhain. Samhain is the start of winter and of the new year in the old Celtic calendar. This is a time when the ancestors are honored, divinations for the new year are performed, and festivals are held in honor of the gods. It is a time of final harvest before the long winter ahead. It is perhaps the best-known and most widely celebrated of the modern Pagan holidays.

An ancestor altar.

An ancestor altar.

“[Samhain] marks the beginning of an entire new cycle. With the return of Darkness, the Year itself returns to the Otherworld womb from which it will grow to blossom again. All true growth takes place in darkness: the source of vitality is in the unconscious, before consciousness discovers the limiting forms of rationality.” – Alexei Kondratiev, The Apple Branch

This time of year also sees the celebration of Velu Laiks (“the time of spirits”) by Baltic PagansWinter Nights by Asatru in mid-October, Foundation Night in Ekklesía AntínoouFete Gede by Vodou practitioners, Día de los Muertos for followers of Santeria and several indigenous religions in Mexico and Latin America, Diwali for Hindus (November 3rd this year), and astrological “true” Samhain on November 7th for some Witches and Druids. In addition, Pagans in the Southern Hemisphere are currently celebrating Beltane.

It is a time when some communities acknowledge the Mighty Dead.

“The Mighty Dead are said to be those practitioners of our religion who are on the Other Side now, but who still take great interest in the activities of Witches on this side of the Veil. They have pledged to watch, to help and to teach. It is those Mighty Dead who stand behind us, or with us, in circle so frequently.”

Zan's memorial with Gary Suto (left, with flaming mandala) and parents Kay and Bruce Skidmore (to right of Gary).

Zan Fraser’s memorial.

Many who have been dear to our communities have crossed the veil this past year, joining the ranks of the Mighty Dead, including Layne Redmond, Nevill DruryMestre Didi, Zan Fraser, Allan Lowe, Peggy Hall, Lee Thompson Young, Barbara MertzRituparno Ghosh, Laura Janesdaughter, Victor Elon Anderson, Kyril Oakwind, Dennis Presser, Deena Celeste Buttta, George Lee, and Patricia Monaghan.

“I love that story about Susan Anthony that Zsuzsanna Budapest tells in her book. Some journalist asked Susan Anthony, because she didn’t believe in orthodox religion, I suppose, “Where do you think you’re to go when you die?” She said, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to stay around and help the women’s movement.” So even if I don’t live long enough to see these things, I’ll be around to make a nuisance of myself.” –Doreen Valiente, the Mother of Modern Witchcraft.

Below you’ll find an assortment of quotes from the media, and fellow Pagans, during this holiday season.

Joseph Mugnaini’s cover illustration for The Halloween Tree, by Ray Bradbury (1972)

Joseph Mugnaini’s cover illustration for The Halloween Tree, by Ray Bradbury (1972)

  • “It’s appropriate to do a saining of the home with juniper — a New Year tradition in the highlands of Scotland — and to set up altars or shrines for the ancestors. On the night of Oíche Shamhna, many of us hold a feast with our friends and family where we invite the honored dead to come and feast with us. A place of honor is laid at the table or on the altar, where the first food of the feast and cups full of drink are placed for the dead. This portion of the food is never eaten by the living, but is instead offered outside when the feast is done. Candles are often lit for the dead, and their names are spoken. Tales about their lives are shared and toasts might be made in their names. Divination is another common feature of this festival, and readings are often done to get a feel for the luck of the coming year.”The CR FAQ
  • “We’ve been doing the Ancestor Vigil here for about 20 years and every year it is a little different but the intention is always the same. It is not a Samhain ritual, it is not a celebration of Hallowe’en, it does not glom onto the trendy love of Dia de los Muertes. It is a ritual commemoration of the Recent Dead, the Beloved Long Dead and the Mighty Dead. We set up a central altar, a candle-lighting station and a place to get more info on Mother Grove Goddess Temple and to leave your food donations for the food pantry. People are invited to place mementos on the altar and there is a place in the ritual where we speak the names of the dead that are closest to us.”Byron Ballard
  • “We see the Hallowmas Woman in the stark November landscape, with its muted tones of olive, ochre, sienna brown. We find her in a cold statue in a graveyard, garlanded with dead roses, thorns, and blood-red rosehips. We see her in fogbound mornings when there is no distinction between sea, stones, and sky, and the Otherworld is just a step away. She lives within the brief days and long nights that draw us toward withdrawal and cocooning. The Hallowmas woman rests. She withdraws into herself. It is not a time of connection. She prefers her own company, turning down invitations to gather with others. The midwinter holidays will be here soon enough.” – Joanna Powell Colbert
  • “In Afro-Caribbean Religions like Voodoo, Vodou, and Lukumi or Santeria the true spirits of Halloween are the ancestors. Festivities run from October 30th to November 2nd. There are delectable dumb supper feasts, elaborate ancestors altars and offerings galore. It’s a time for reconnecting, remembering and honoring all those who have gone before. It is their blood that runs through our veins, they are the primary reason we are here.”Lilith Dorsey
  • “When I think of Samhain I think of the thinning of the veil between the worlds. In my grand model of the Universe – the constantly revised mental map I use to orient myself and make sense of my experiences – the veil is less a thing and more a condition.  It’s possible to travel from this world to the Otherworld at any time.  Drumming, dancing, and ritual can facilitate a meditative journey, as can skilled guides.  But at certain times and places these journeys are easier than at others. Traditionally, in-between times and places are most auspicious:  twilight, seashores, doorways – neither day nor night, neither land nor sea, neither within nor without.  Samhain, which literally means “Summer’s end,” is neither Summer nor Winter.  This is an ideal time to journey to the Otherworld to visit with our ancestors, to gather knowledge and wisdom, and to perform divinations.”John Beckett

May you all have a blessed Samhain, blessings to you, and your beloved dead on this season. Let this new cycle be one of great blessings for all of you.

It’s an almost universal truism that coverage of Witches, witchcraft, the occult, and anything else vaguely magical in nature skyrockets during October. It’s a no-brainer content filler in a media landscape that is constantly hungry for more content, no matter how re-hashed, derivative, or lacking in an actual story-hook. This year has almost been too easy, what with (at least) three new television shows that focus on witchcraft in some form or another. If one were to look at a theme, it would be that witchcraft, and the occult more broadly, has become widely normalized within (pop) culture. To underline this, a recent CNN article runs through the many witch-themed tourist travel spots around the world (including Salem).

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“Today, Salem’s witchlore has resulted in a booming tourist trade. Over 100,000 visitors pour into town during the month-long Haunted Happenings festival, which takes place every October. ‘About 85% of visitors we asked say they’re interested in the witch trials, and 80% say they’re interested in modern witches,’ explains Kate Fox, the executive director of Destination Salem. The town also boasts a strong Wiccan community, with many setting up spell shops and psychic stalls where visitors can get their palms read. While witch costumes are encouraged, green face paint is not smiled upon.”

Like it or not, Halloween has established itself as the dark mirror of Christmas in the Western holiday calendar. Anything vaguely related to death, magic, or the otherworld gets pulled into its wake, sometimes in spite of objections from the cultures being pulled in. Vodou/Voodoo is quickly becoming associated with the witchcraft-drenched autumnal season, urged on by popular shows like American Horror Story: Coven, while the pre-Columbian Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos grows in popularity every year.

Decorated skulls for Sale at Chichen Itza.

Decorated skulls for Sale at Chichen Itza.

“The tradition, initially a summer holiday, began hundreds of years ago in Mexico’s Aztec cultures, explains Louis Alvarez, one of Orale’s owners. European settlers moved the pagan ritual to coincide with the Catholic holidays of All Souls’ and All Saints’ days and helped to spread the idea to other countries.  Alvarez, 46, who was born in Ecuador and came to New Jersey at age 13, did not experience the holiday in his native land, but has seen its popularity spread during many years working in Latin restaurants. ‘It just keeps elevating every year,’ he says.”

For those of us who lay claim to the title of “Witch,” this holiday has always been a double-edged gift. On one hand it has allowed Pagan faiths increased access to popular media, on the other, much of that media has been sensationalist in nature, and often warps our message in the service of ratings. However, the bright lining in all of this attention is that the figure of the witch is changing dramatically before our very eyes. It is now deeply embedded in our culture that witchcraft is no longer solely malefic, and for every evil magic-using character, there are a growing number of sympathetic, and at times heroic, individuals who cast spells, and lay claim to the title of Witch. Some even believe this development could bring empowerment to women, changing the way we see their power.

“While not all movies and shows about witches are necessarily good, the concept of a woman being a witch and deriving her power from within presents us with the novel idea that a female-specific concept doesn’t have to be a double-edged sword.”

On a secular level, Halloween is a multi-billion dollar business, which means that the attention, and all that comes with it, will most likely not be ending any time soon. For those dismayed at what Halloween has done to sacred holidays and customs, associating them with free candy, terrible costumes, and bacchanals of excess, there’s little to be done to reverse this commercial juggernaut. However, within the fake cob-webs, horror movies, and capitalist striving, there is an opportunity to slowly change culture by merely existing within it in an uncompromising manner. By weathering the trends, by staying true to our beliefs and traditions, we become still points of reference in a maelstrom of commerce, ultimately bending the season to something more fitting our tastes. We’ve seen this slowly happen over the last 30 years, and it’s a process we can continue as this new occult obsession accelerates.

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Unleash the Hounds is one of my longest running, and popular, features at The Wild Hunt. It is, in essence, a link roundup. A place where I find stories in the mainstream media concerning Paganism, occult practices, indigenous religions, and other topics of interest to our interconnected communities. The birth of this series came out of necessity, as more stuff is being written now than I could possible write about in-depth week-to-week. If you enjoy this feature, please take some time to make a donation to our Fall Funding Drive, so we can continue to bring you this, and other features, for another year. Thank you to everyone who has helped us raise over $8000 dollars in less than two weeks, we now have less than $2000 dollars to go, so help us bring this year’s drive to a close! Now, on to the links!

Papa Legba veve' design being removed from the Manhattan American Apparel shop window.

Papa Legba veve’ design being removed from the Manhattan American Apparel shop window.

  • At Ebony Magazine, curator Shantrelle P. Lewis writes an editorial that argues against the appropriation of Vodou, particularly into American Halloween imagery and traditions. Quote: “Vodou, which has come to be known as ‘Voodoo,’ has been bastardized in popular culture and subsequently demonized within Black communities throughout the African Diaspora. If you visit New Orleans, every other tourist shop in the French Quarter is fully stocked with so-called “authentic” Voodoos dolls meant to seek revenge on one’s enemies. This commercialized Voodoo is one of many grossly inaccurate faces of one of Africa’s most ancient traditions thanks to ridiculous stereotypes created first by French planters who escaped alive from the revolutionary uprising that took place on Saint Domingue in the late 18th century and later, sensationalized accounts of travelers to Haiti in the 20th century.” This editorial was spurred by the Manhattan American Apparel shop using a large vevé for Papa Legba in it’s Halloween display, and commenters note that Karla N. Moore, Founder of Our Folklore Community Institute, led the successful initiative to have the display removed.
  • An Episcopal Priest writes about religion at Burning Man for The Huffington Post. Quote: “I regard Burning Man as one of the largest religious rituals in the western world. We danced, created and destroyed things together. We talked, cried, yelled and sat in silence. We came to the holy desert from wildly different places, but even in our ecstasy and despair, mostly we were one — like the future city that John of Patmos calls the New Jerusalem. Burners greet each other with hospitality saying, ‘Welcome home!’ For me this means, ‘express your wonderful uniqueness, because we act as a kind of family for each other.’ I talked about God with Vedic priestesses, Unitarians, yogis, Quakers, entheogen voyagers, Episcopalians, Hindus, Roman Catholics, shamans, atheists and Zen teachers.” The priest, Reverend Dr. Malcolm Clemens Young, said that “Christians should do more to make visible the temporary holiness that unites us.”
  • Sacred Tribes Journal’s Fall 2013 issues is out, and it is “devoted to an exploration of the ethics of evangelism.” Quote: “This is one of the best issues we’ve done, addressing a neglected topic from multiple perspectives, including an Evangelical exposition of the subject, a critique by a Hindu writer, responses by two Evangelicals, a review of Elmer Thiessen’s The Ethics of Evangelism, and an excerpt of Myron Penner’s The End of Apologetics with consideration of the politics and violence of apologetics in certain contexts.” You can read this issue on your Kindle for only 99 cents.
  • “Secular humanism is a pagan god …. blah, blah, blah …. we are living in a pagan society …. blah, blah blah.” More of the same-old, same-old from Christian hater John Hagee. Want more of this brain-dead madness? Here you go. Enjoy. More? Fine, here’s the House stenographer rattling on about “Freemasons.”
  • Meanwhile, the Washington Post looks at the trend of public schools slowly backing away from Halloween due to Christian parents’ belief that it’s a Pagan/demonic holiday. Quote: “True, some images and symbols associated with ‘trick or treat’ can be traced to ancient pagan and other religious practices. But Halloween in America has been so thoroughly secularized that no court in the land is likely to view school Halloween parties as an establishment of religion. What’s actually pushing public schools to re-think Halloween is the recognition that growing numbers of Christian, Muslim and other religious parents are opting their kids out of Halloween celebrations at school. A judge may not see Halloween as ‘religious,’ but many parents see activities involving images of witches, demons and ghosts as offensive to their faith.” In what can only be considered deep irony, the replacement “harvest festivals” are in some ways far more Pagan than the very secular Halloween traditions.
Insert joke here.

Insert joke here.

  • Here is the most fluffy bunny in the world. You’re welcome. Use this image wisely.
  • In a New York Times editorial, T.M. Luhrmann ponders the process of “conjuring up our own gods.” Quote: “Experiencing an invisible companion as truly present — especially as an adult — takes work: constant concentration, a state that resembles prayer [...] Secular liberals sometimes take evolutionary psychology to mean that believing in God is the lazy option. But many churchgoers will tell you that keeping God real is what’s hard.”
  • Nobody wants to go to (Christian) church anymore! One reason? Pluralism. Quote: “Speaking of competition, there is a fifth trend impacting the decline of the church in America. People have more choices today. Credit this to the social changes in the ’60s, to the Internet, to the influx of immigrants and minorities, to whatever you’d like, but the fact is, people today meet other people today of entirely different faith traditions and, if they are discovering anything at all, it is that there are scores of people who live as much, if not more, like Christ than many of the Christians they used to sit beside in church. The diversity of this nation is only going to expand.” Don’t worry, though, most of the people who don’t go to church still have spiritual beliefs (just ask any Pagan).
  • The Miami NewTimes interviews a Palo practitioner about his faith, and tries to correct misconceptions about the tradition. Quote: “He insists Palo is part of a beautiful, rich tradition that can be used to heal. Violence, however, is never advocated. There is still a fight for recognition and visibility, though. ‘There are still many people afraid to say this is what they practice, this is what they believe,’ he says. ‘Paleros are everywhere, but they’re just afraid to come out into the light.'”
  • Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber explains why getting her Pagan goddess tattoo inked over by a Christian design isn’t a cover-up. Quote: “I didn’t see it as a cover-up of the Snake Goddess as much as a layering of my story. My tattoos create a colorful confession of my journey to the cranky, beautiful faith I hold today.” Meanwhile, Pagans continue to strip away the Christian layers to find the goddesses.
  • The new season of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, a program I know nothing about, features a Wiccan. Quote: “I’m considered a sole practitioner. I am Celtic as far as my ancestry is concerned. My grandmother was a pagan but she also practiced witchcraft, which is what I do. So, if you’re going to put a word on it, I would be considered a Celtic pagan witch. But I’m a sole practitioner; I don’t belong to a coven, which is a group of people that believe in the same things.”

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed. Don’t forget, make a donation to our Fall Funding Drive so The Wild Hunt can run for another year!

Before we move too far into the future, let’s pause a moment to talk about Halloween. Not the spiritual vigil of Samhain or seasonal harvest celebrations.  Let’s discuss the wholly secular, American and Canadian holiday of Halloween, complete with candy, costumes and PVC pumpkins.

Vintage Halloween Pumpkin Men

Vintage Plastic Halloween Pumpkin Men by riptheskull

It’s fair to say that Halloween has a somewhat uneasy place in the family of North American holidays.  On the one hand, we, as Pagans, fully embrace the festivities. It is the one calendar event that openly clings to its Pagan origins. When else can you buy a pentacle in TJ Maxx?   But, on the other hand, the celebration mocks its own spiritual roots, something that we hold very dear.

We aren’t alone in our unsettled attempts to navigate through the Halloween season.  American religious and community leaders repeatedly attempt to ban the holiday.  Why?  The list is endless including concerns over the overindulgence in candy, the potential dangers of trick-or-treating, the increased popularity of over-sexualized or violently graphic costumes and, of course, its Pagan origins. But the majority of folks really just want an excuse to party. Halloween provides a unique canvas that can only be topped by the decadent bacchanalia that is Mardi Gras. (The Atlantic, 10-30-12)

Japanese McDonalds Costumes

Ronald McDonalds Girls
Photo courtesy of Japan-Talk.com

More recently, the Halloween debate has been getting larger – much larger. Over the past two decades, our secular holiday has been spreading across the globe, seizing the imaginations of youth cultures on every continent. The holiday has hitched a ride with missionaries, English language teachers and ex-pats. It’s being promoted by imported American cultural commodities like internationally-based Theme Parks, McDonald’s stores, Coca Cola products and Hollywood movies.  And, of course, the ever-increasing accessibility to the internet only fuels the proverbial fire.

In some regions, Halloween has been readily incorporated into long-established fall cultural traditions. In the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland, Halloween finds itself at its ancestral birthplace. Today, the newly-imported version has mixed with surviving local customs associated with, among others, Guy Fawkes Day.  As noted by English writer, Chris Bitcher:

“Trick or treat has now actually become a bona fide tradition in the UK ….Fireworks were our autumnal treat of choice and for a good little while we fought off any competitor to it. But then we gave that up and decided to embrace both.” (Your Canterbury)

Disneyland Honk Kong on Halloween

Disneyland Honk Kong
During Halloween

Across the globe in China, Hong Kong and Japan, people have been enthusiastically adopting the holiday. Lisa Morton, award-winning writer of Trick or Treat: The History of Halloween, and noted Halloween authority, attributes this acceptance to the presence of two Disney Theme Parks  (Tokyo and Hong Kong), Hollywood horror movies and a fascination with American pop-culture. During my own discussion with her, Lisa added, “In Japan, there is a love of festivals and affection for costuming or “cosplay,” which is associated with anime and manga.”  In mainland China, Halloween is slowly replacing Yue Laan or “ Hungry Ghost Festivals,” during which people appease and entertain ancestral ghosts.  To fuel and solidify this cultural shift, China will be getting its very own “Haunted Mansion” at Shanghai Disneyland in 2015.

On the contrary, in continental Europe, Halloween has been receiving a less than welcome reception. In Oct 2012, the Polish Archbishop Andzej Dzięga, was quoted on Polskie Radio, as saying, “This kind of fun, tempting children [with] candy, poses the real possibility of great spiritual damage, even destroying spiritual life.” He warned against the “promotion of paganism” and a “culture of death.”  In 2003, CNN.com reported that France’s Catholics are trying everything to fend off a Halloween celebration they say is an “ungodly U.S. import.”

More recently, in Russia, the war over Halloween rages on. ABC Online reports that one Russian Education Ministry official called the holiday, a destructive influence “on young people’s morals and mental health.” The Moscow city schools banned Halloween celebrations claiming that they were concerned about, “rituals of Satanically-oriented religious sects and… the promotion of the cult of death.”  In the same article, an unamed Russian psychologist warned:

Halloween poses a great danger to children and their mental health, suggesting it could make young people more likely to commit suicide.”(ABC Online)

Despite this heavily Christian rhetoric, the resistance is not entirely about religion.  In our discussion, Lisa explained that, “While it is difficult to fully separate the expression of nationalism from religious tradition, many European countries, like France and Slovenia, have strong anti-American undercurrents.”  Religious fervor may, in fact, be serving nationalist interests.  Lisa said, in the end, she “believes the protests are far more about nationalism than religion.”

This is expressed in an article by Paul Wood, an Englishman living in Bucharest:

Just as the North American grey squirrel has made the red squirrel almost extinct so has the North American Hallowe’en taken over with extraordinary swiftness, extinguishing older, weaker traditions. This too is life, I suppose, but it is part of the process by which the whole world is becoming plastic. (Romania Insider)

Despite the rejection, Halloween is still growing, albeit very slowly, deep within European youth cultures.  In Italy, Halloween is called La Notte delle Streghe or “Night of the Witches.”  In Romania, home of the Carpathian Mountains, the local economy is profiting from world’s fascination with Count Dracula. What a better way to spend Halloween than in Transylvania on a “real Dracula Halloween tour” complete with a four-course dinner and prizes!

Now, let’s move into the Southern Hemisphere where Halloween faces a new obstacle. Simply put, the harvest-based holiday does not apply. In this part of the world, October 31st marks the middle of Spring, not Fall.  Over the summer, I was reminded of this fact when wishing an Australian friend, “Joyous Lughnasah.” She responded with an equally joyful, “Happy Imbolc.”

2671887 eeda9c5cIn the Southern Hemisphere, traditional festivals continue to be celebrated in accordance with appropriate seasonal shifts with no noticeable attempt to transplant Halloween to May.  However, youth cultures have been showing a small amount of interest in an October-based Halloween celebration, particularly in the English-speaking countries of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.  If for no other reason, the Northern holiday offers a chance to party and dabble in the macabre – even if it’s completely devoid of its seasonal aspects.

What about the Americas?  As noted above, the countries in the Southern Hemisphere do not recognize Halloween chiefly due to geographical complications.  However, the closer you get to the U.S., the more our secular Halloween has influenced local October traditions.  In Costa Rica, for example, locals “have taken this “foreign” holiday and used it to revive an ancient Costa Rican custom: Dia de la Mascarada Tradicional Costarricense or Masquerade Day,” reports the Costa Rican News.

Closer to home, in Mexico, the famous and mystical celebration of Dias de los Muertos is, now, often called Dias de las Brujas or “Day of the Witches.”  Halloween practices have been woven in to this largely religious holiday.  As expected, there has been backlash from Mexican nationalists and religious leaders.  However, Mexico is just too close to the U.S. to prevent the blending of two very similar October holidays. And that continues to happen in both directions.

Just as Halloween has infiltrated Mexican culture, elements of Dias de los Muertos are now showing up within U.S. Halloween celebrations.  In an interview, Lisa Morton explained:

Last year I saw my first piece of major Dias de los Muertos American retailing – the Russell Stover candy company released several themed candy bars… That’s probably a sign that Dias de los Muertos is starting to be accepted into the American mainstream. It’s certainly very popular in those areas of the U.S. with large Latino populations.  More people seem to be joining in large-scale Dias de los Muertos celebrations in America every year.

Dias de los Muertos Candy

Dias de los Muertos Candy
Photo Courtesy of Lisa Morton

There are some areas of the world in which Halloween has yet to find a home for reasons already listed. These areas include the Islamic Middle East, the heavily Christian areas of sub-Saharan Africa, Israel, India and parts of South East Asia.  I’ll go out on a limb and add Antarctica to that list – just to complete the geography lesson.

What does all this mean for Pagans? First of all, in every article for or against Halloween, a discourse emerges surrounding the origins the holiday.  In many of these reports, the author includes a reasonable account of Halloween’s Celtic origins and Samhain-based traditions. Modern Pagan language is, unwittingly, hitching a ride on Halloween’s broomstick.

With the growing public interest in Halloween, we may find ourselves more able to openly join in the global conversation and, at the same time, deal with our own reservations. Maybe we should embrace the evolving holiday, “seize the spotlight” and become the stewards of Halloween worldwide?  After all, the U.S. media loves interviewing witches in October.  Or, we could completely renounce the secular holiday and its derogatory effigies. We could join others in protest with slogans like “We’re a culture. Not a costume.”

Regardless of our personal feelings about the secular celebration, Halloween continues to gain popularity worldwide, year after year.  As a result, every October when the veil thins, a brand-new door opens for us providing a unique opportunity for a teachable moment.  Now, we can say that both the ancestors and the world are listening.

 

Trick or Treat: The History of Halloween

Note about Lisa Morton: Trick or Treat:  A History of Halloween. This book is an historical and cultural survay of Halloween’s evolution from early Celtic traditions and lore through the ages and across the globe. It is a good read for history junkies, like myself, or students of comparative culture. Within her detailed work, Lisa did reach out to consult Wiccans, world-wide, and gave a decent nod to the modern-day Pagan spiritual celebrations of Samhain or Halloween. 

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.

  • NPR does a Samhain-inspired spotlight on New York City’s Lady Rhea, owner of Magickal Realms in the Bronx, and a spiritual mother to many influential Pagans, including Phyllis Curott. Quote: “I am a Wiccan high priestess and Witch queen. My age, I’ve been in the craft since ’73. I have a lot of coven people and people who are attached to me over the last years, so one of them coined me Pagan Mother. Call them up and I’ll say hello, are you listening? This is Pagan Mother, call me.” For more in this series, check out Faith in the Five Boroughs.
  • God is all-powerful and all-knowing, but did you know that by simply hoarding rose quartz or buying a lucky cat statue you can instantly block him? It’s true according to Fr. Jose Francisco Syquia: “When paganism and the occult contaminate the faith, the relationship with God is blocked and we can end up saying to ourselves that God is not interested in us, personally and as a nation [not knowing that] His blessings and protection… would not be able to fully enter into our lives.” So remember, God’s blessing, kinda easy to block (darn free will).
  • The Nigerian state of Akwa Ibom has made it illegal to accuse a child of witchcraft,though activists point out that Christian churches will also have to be reigned in if real changes are to be made in this problem. Quote:  “But some say churches in the impoverished state where unemployment is rampant, must also be reigned in. Some activists cite the churches as the source of the belief that children are sorcerers or witches.” For more on this problem, visit  Stepping Stones Nigeria, an organization that is fighting against the branding of children as witches.
  • Meanwhile, four women were arrested for practicing witchcraft in the United Arab Emirates. According to a news report they were caught in the midst of practicing sorcery, and that “a large number of substances and herbs including detergents and bodily fluids” were confiscated. Quote: “Colonel Salem Sultan Al Darmaki, Director of the Criminal Investigation Department at Ras Al Khaimah police, said that the case details date back to when they received information from an Arab lady reporting that four women were practicing sorcery from their flat.” Lucky for them the UAE doesn’t kill women for sorcery like Saudi Arabia does, but it still presents a chilling portrait of what fundamentalism run amuck looks like.

INDIA TREES PAINTING

  • Artists in the Indian state of Bihar are painting trees and bushes with images of Hindu deities in hopes it will stop locals from cutting them down. Forest cover for the state is under 7%, which worsens effects of floods and extreme weather.  Quote: “The unusual campaign, using coats of paint and brushes, has been launched in Madhubani, a northern Bihar district known for its religious and cultural awareness, resulting in hundreds of otherwise untended roadside trees covered in elaborate artwork. Artists are depicting the moods of deities, scenes from Hindu classics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, or an imaginary scene showing an elderly woman restraining a man coming with an axe to cut trees.” 
  • Amy Wilentz, author of the forthcoming “Farewell, Fred Voodoo,” gives some perspective on zombies in the New York Times. Quote: “There are many reasons the zombie, sprung from the colonial slave economy, is returning now to haunt us. Of course, the zombie is scary in a primordial way, but in a modern way, too. He’s the living dead, but he’s also the inanimate animated, the robot of industrial dystopias. He’s great for fascism: one recent zombie movie (and there have been many) was called “The Fourth Reich.” The zombie is devoid of consciousness and therefore unable to critique the system that has entrapped him. He’s labor without grievance. He works free and never goes on strike. You don’t have to feed him much. He’s a Foxconn worker in China; a maquiladora seamstress in Guatemala; a citizen of North Korea; he’s the man, surely in the throes of psychosis and under the thrall of extreme poverty, who, years ago, during an interview, told me he believed he had once been a zombie himself.” This is a seriously great read – don’t miss it.
  • Salem Witch Richard Ravish, who passed away earlier this year, is remembered by his friends, loved ones, and co-religionists, during the annual walk to Gallows Hill in Salem. Quote: “I am doing a widow’s walk,” Ravish’s wife of 31 years said before the ceremony. “I’ve never done it before. This is the first year that the high priest … my partner, is not here to walk the circle with me. So I want to walk the circle round in a special walk.”
  • Science thinks we all might be a little bit psychic, albeit not in the bending spoons, having visions, sense. Quote: “What the studies measured was physiological activity—e.g., heart rate or skin conductance—in participants who, for instance, might have been shown a series of images, some harmless and others frightening. Using computer programs and statistical techniques, experimenters have found that, even before being shown a troubling image, participants sometimes display physiological changes —a faster heart rate, for example—of the kind that would be expected only after seeing the image, and not just because the subjects know a scary snake picture is coming sooner or later.” 
  • Reasons why I’m glad to be a Pagan: Christian alternatives to Halloween. Plus, here’s some bonus Halloween season “exwitch” stuff, if you’re into that.
  • Samhain at the joint Lackland military base: “Cammen is among a curious multiplication of Wiccans at Lackland. Hundreds of basic military trainees have chosen to study witchcraft at the base. “When we come over here on a Sunday, often times, there are 300 to 400 (trainees),” Tony Gatlin said.”
  •  Texas schools love Jesus, and litigation. Imagine how the handful of non-Christian students feel when Christian prayers are blasted throughout the school on their speaker system. Do you think they feel empowered to share their own faith, or are they instead pushed deeper into the “broom closet”? This is why a strong separation of church and state is necessary.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

A Blessed Samhain

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 31, 2012 — 10 Comments

Tonight and tomorrow is when most modern Pagans celebrate Samhain. Samhain is the start of winter and of the new year in the old Celtic calendar. This is a time when the ancestors are honored, divinations for the new year are performed, and festivals are held in honor of the gods. It is a time of final harvest before the long winter ahead. It is perhaps the best-known and most widely celebrated of the modern Pagan holidays.

An ancestor altar.

An ancestor altar.

This time of year also sees the celebration of Velu Laiks (“the time of spirits”) by Baltic Pagans,Winter Nights by Asatru in mid-October, Foundation Night in Ekklesía AntínoouFete Gede by Vodou practitioners, Día de los Muertos for followers of Santeria and several indigenous religions in Mexico and Latin America, Diwali for Hindus (November 13th this year), and astrological “true” Samhain on November 6th for some Witches and Druids. In addition, Pagans in the Southern Hemisphere are currently celebrating Beltane.

It is a time when some communities acknowledge the Mighty Dead.

“The Mighty Dead are said to be those practitioners of our religion who are on the Other Side now, but who still take great interest in the activities of Witches on this side of the Veil. They have pledged to watch, to help and to teach. It is those Mighty Dead who stand behind us, or with us, in circle so frequently.”

Many who have been dear to our communities have crossed the veil this past year, joining the ranks of the Mighty Dead, including Russell Means, David Godwin, Gabrielle Roth, Richard Ravish, Owain PhyfeMike Gleason, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Anne Ross,   Margaret Mahy, David Grega, Katrina “Foxglove” Kessler, Grey CatFrisner Augustin, Richard Carpenter, Lord AthanorDe-Anna Alba, Nicol WilliamsonDanelle Dragonetti, and Roger Tier (Myrddin).

“I love that story about Susan Anthony that Zsuzsanna Budapest tells in her book. Some journalist asked Susan Anthony, because she didn’t believe in orthodox religion, I suppose, “Where do you think you’re to go when you die?” She said, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to stay around and help the women’s movement.” So even if I don’t live long enough to see these things, I’ll be around to make a nuisance of myself.” –Doreen Valiente, the Mother of Modern Witchcraft.

Below you’ll find an assortment of quotes from the media, and fellow Pagans, on the holiday.

“Now is a time to lay down your tools, the symbols of your productivity, and light a fire to honor not only what has been done throughout the past year, but also all that has preceded you — in this life, and in all the lives lived before. Now is a time to make space, in your heart and in your mind, for the stillness and silence of death.”Teo Bishop, “Samhain: May The Silence Open Your Heart,” The Huffington Post

“This is a time of year to remember those who have died, and also a time of year to celebrate those newly born, those who will inherit a degraded environment. Let the newly born call us to our aliveness and responsibility. May emerging truths compel us to choose actions of beauty and compassion. May these acts grow and multiply beyond our wildest dreams as we regroup in the aftermath of the storm, and reclaim our world. Blessed be.”Grove Harris, “Samhain 2012: Acts Of Beauty And Compassion,” The Huffington Post

“The Spiral Dance is inspired by the altar-building traditions of the Día de los Muertos. But primarily, the ritual is a solidly Pagan, Goddess religion-centered remembrance of the Beloved Dead, the Mighty Dead, and the Ancestors – loved ones who have died in the past year, those who have died recently or in the distant past who inspire our spirits, and our personal ancestors of blood, bone and breath. [...] The Spiral Dance differs from either ancient Pagan or Catholic traditions of remembering the dead because  it is also a celebration of rebirth – both inner and outer.” – Elinor Predota, “Samhain: Blessed Be All Souls,” Patheos

“Halloween is thought to date back more than 2,000 years to a time when Celtic people celebrated New Year’s Day, or Samhain, on the equivalent of November 1. Legend has it that the day before, or Samhain eve (now known as Halloween), fairy and demon spirits would appear in the ether as they traveled to the afterlife. Celts dressed in costumes to stave off the evil spirits and tap into the souls of their ancestry.”  – Emily Spivak, “The Witches of Halloween Past,” Smithsonian Magazine

“To Witches, Halloween is one of the four High Holidays, or Greater Sabbats, or cross-quarter days. Because it is the most important holiday of the year, it is sometimes called “The Great Sabbat”. It is an ironic fact that the newer, self-created covens tend to use the older name of the holiday, Samhain, which they have discovered through modern research. While the older hereditary and traditional covens often use the newer name, Halloween, which has been handed down through oral tradition within their coven. (This often holds true for the names of the other holidays, as well. One may often get an indication of a coven’s antiquity by noting what names it uses for the holidays.)” – Mike Nichols, The Witches’ Sabbats

May you all have a blessed Samhain, blessings to you, and your beloved dead on this season. Let this new cycle be one of great blessings for all of you.

Before we start today’s post I’d like to wish safety, security, and good health to all those in path of the Hurricane Sandy. If you’re a reader of The Wild Hunt, please check in at the comments and let us know you’re OK.

Now then, Samhain. Or should I say Halloween? Because while the two holidays are distinct, their connections and associations have reporters heading out to find some real-live Witches and Pagans to interview each October. While it’s not as bad as in times past, there’s still a flood of stories each year; some good, some bad, and some that just make you scratch your head. So here’s some selections from the Samhain Silly Season.

  • Every Halloween has to have a story from Salem, home to so many real-live Witches, and this year is no different. However, this year the East Coast is contending with Hurricane Sandy, so we get a “how’s the Halloween tourist industry doing in the inclement weather” story. Quote: “To me, the entire season this year has seemed a little quiet,” said Lynn Lazdowski, co-owner of Bewitched in Salem. “I don’t know if it’s the economy; gas prices are still high, after all. So for me, evaluating the crowds today are a tough call – it does seem down from previous years, but I don’t know what to attribute that to.”
  • What do you do when you’re a Christian media outlet but you want to have a Witch-themed story in time for Halloween? Interview a Christian ex-Witch of course! Christian Today Australia interviews S.A. (Seleah Ally) Tower (who I’ve reported on before) about this dangerous, dangerous holiday. Quote: “Putting on a costume is like temporarily putting on the persona of the costume so I would suggest using discernment in the costume choice. I would certainly not encourage a witch or sorcerer costume, but I don’t think a parent should overreact to a child’s choice of one either. It can be a great learning experience and help the child make another choice on their own.”
  • However, Henry Brinton a pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church, writing for USA Today, says that Christians shouldn’t fear Samhain (or Halloween). Quote: “…the ancient Celts were right to focus on “summer’s end.” Halloween is about the transition from summer to winter, from life to death. Even young children are beginning to wonder about mortality, so what is the harm in having them dress up as ghosts or skeletons? As Christians, we believe that God is with us in both life and in death. Bioethicist George Annas says America has a “death-denying culture that cannot accept death as anything but defeat.” This attitude makes it hard for us to prepare for death. But Halloween reminds us that we all must die.”
  • Canadian paper The Province interviews Witch Sarah Lawless about Samhain and Halloween. Quote: “The biggest pagan celebration of the year is Oct. 31. Most people know it as Halloween. “This is the one time of year when magic is acceptable. It’s okay to be a pagan,” says Sarah Lawless, 28, a Maple Ridge native who got into paganism 10 years ago as a way of celebrating the natural world. She says it’s fun being scared, but most of the time there’s no reason to be.”
  • Meanwhile, in Poland, the growing popularity of Halloween has got Archbishop Andzej Dzięga very, very concerned! Quote: “It is with growing sadness that we see in the last few years a trend of so-called Halloween celebrations growing in Poland. I am particularly concerned about such initiatives [being introduced] in school, where only mature attitudes should shape the social, intellectual and spiritual growth of the younger generation,” writes the archbishop [...] Halloween is also the “promotion of paganism” and a “culture of death” he claims.” Sorry Archbishop, but when you get rid of totalitarian government, you have to deal with the messiness of actual freedom.

That’s just a selection, there’s more, of course. A Witches Ball in Toledo, Unitarians considering the thinning of the veil, eclectic Pagans in Framingham, speaking with the spirits in Salem, and all the occult origins reporters can dig up on short notice. Why not share your favorite Samhain-themed stories in the comments, I have no doubt there’s plenty I’m missing.