Archives For War on Halloween

[ Sharon Knight is a musician and artist exploring the fantastical, mythic, epic, and archetypal. She is passionate about the arts as a vehicle to bring us into ever deepening awareness of the mystery and magick all around us. She is fond of preserving folk traditions and bringing new life to them with modern interpretations. She performs as a solo artist/duet with partner Winter, and as a front person for gothic-tribal-folk-metal band Pandemonaeon. She can be found at http://www.sharonknight.net and http://www.pandemonaeon.net.]

The other day I was part of a discussion online regarding the further marginalization of Halloween. The tone of the discussion was one of sadness that we are losing ground on preserving the one mainstream holiday that seems most in keeping with Pagan traditions. We have fought so hard to shed light on the true origins of Halloween and still we are faced with those who would whitewash it even further, stripping it of any meaning and making it no more that another excuse for mindless recreation.

It was this article that initiated the discussion, in the Rockford Spirituality section of the Examiner. (East Coast based).

The article cites examples such as Life Church in Roscoe, IL, which holds an annual Harvest Festival on Halloween Night, complete with Christian music, carnival rides, games, free candy, and guest lecturers inviting you to begin your spiritual journey with the church.

Other examples are date changes for Halloween, both proposed and already in effect, and trick or treating during daylight hours. The writer of the article fears this “blatantly demeans the already unstable recognition that the growing neopagan population struggles for.”

Do I share in the sadness expressed by my Pagan kin over this?

The short answer is no. While I can understand the sentiment that changing the dates of Halloween is demeaning to the recognition of Halloween as a sacred tradition, Halloween and Samhain have never really felt like the same thing to me. Admittedly, I have found it heartening that any remnants at all of a pagan custom have survived in the mainstream culture, but ultimately candy and costumes without any of the accompanying lore misses the mark.

For those seeking mindless entertainment, Halloween as celebrated by the masses will always be there for them, and it doesn’t really matter what day it’s on or what groups are trying to diminish its meaning further. Let them have the candy, crass commercialism, and general spectacle. These were never the folks that Samhain was meant for anyway.

I am not worried about losing our customs because there are still many people in this world seeking more meaning in their lives, not less. There comes a time when we realize the preciousness of life and no longer want to be distracted, but engaged. This is the sort of mindset that raised our Pagan traditions from the rubble of forgotten history and into a living tradition, and from what I see everywhere, this yearning for meaning is growing, not diminishing.

So take heart friends. This is nothing more than business as usual. Christians have been whitewashing our holidays for 2,000 years and still our traditions survive.

Lest I seem to be taking a situation lightly that is dear to some, let me say this – it is nice to feel that mainstream society is contributing to the overall flavor of a holiday that is sacred to us, if only in small things such as décor. It is fun to see our communities decked out with ghosts and goblins and various things that remind us that the veils are thinning. If we are saddened by these things diminishing, perhaps it is time to get involved. Host an “All Hallows Eve Festival” in your community. Why let the Christians have all the redefining fun? Have the proceeds benefit the community at large to gain visibility among non-Pagans. If Halloween is to be scheduled for the first Saturday of the month, celebrate all month, starting with Halloween and commencing with Samhain. If others are taking actions that diminish something dear to us, we must then take actions that emphasizes what is dear to us. We can’t change others’ behavior but we can put our own views out in to the world as well. As Scoop Nitzger used to say, “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own”.

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.

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.

Amity Shlaes is worried. She’s worried about what the ever-growing popularity of Halloween might mean.

“…as much as we’d like it to be, Halloween isn’t secular. It is pagan. There’s nothing else to call a set of ceremonies in which people utter magical phrases, flirt with the night and evoke the dead. One of my family’s favorite Halloween props was a hand that moved, as though from the netherworld, when you reached to collect a few pieces of candy corn. Necromancy is a regular part of Halloween games. Zombie masks are one of this year’s top- sellers. As grouchy theologians used to point out, the origin of Halloween was most likely Samhain, an ancient Celtic holiday on which the dead, in some accounts, supposedly returned to visit.”

In her mind, this spooky “pagan” boom is caused by the retreat of monotheism.

“There’s a reason for the pull of the pagan. In the U.S., we’ve been vigorously scrubbing our schools and other public spaces of traces of monotheistic religion for many decades now. Such scrubbing leaves a vacuum. The great self-deception of modern life is that nothing will be pulled into that vacuum. Half a century ago, the psychologist Carl Jung noted the heightened interest in UFOs, and concluded that the paranormal was “modern myth,” a replacement for religion.

Children or adults who today relish every detail of zombie culture or know every bit of wizarding minutiae are seeking something to believe in. That church, mosque and synagogue are so controversial that everyone prefers the paranormal as neutral ground is disconcerting. There’s something unsettling about the education of a child who comfortably enumerates the rules for surviving zombie apocalypse but finds it uncomfortable to enumerate the rules of his grandparents’ faith, if he knows them.”

This exercise in pearls-clutching isn’t anything new to Shlaes, who seems to have a somewhat rosy view of Christianity’s cultural dominance, and a dismal one of its grudging retreat in the face of religious minorities, atheists, and the religiously unaffiliated daring to demand that our secular nation live up to its promise. As noted in my interview with historian Kevin M. Schultz, American pluralism has been a long, hard, struggle, and the largely nativist, protestant majority didn’t change quickly or without struggle. The rhetoric that pluralism and embracing a secular public square will do irreparable harm to our culture, and to Christian values, has been around since at least the early 20th century, perhaps earlier.

What I think it striking is that this isn’t even a “war on Christmas” piece, or a “the reason we celebrate Easter” editorial, avenues where a Christian might have some rhetorically firm ground to stand on. Instead, Shlaes attacks Halloween simply because it’s a symptom in her mind for the bigger problem of rampant secularism. It’s a piece of “bah humbug” that insults pre-Christian religion in a sideways fashion.

Here’s the thing, I do think Halloween is a secular holiday. I also think it happens to coincide with several religious holidays and festivals that have to do with death, ancestors, sacrifice, and confronting our mortality (along with a big party). Fete Gede for Vodou practitioners, Día de los Muertos for followers of Santeria and several indigenous religions in Mexico and Latin America, Samhain for many modern Pagans and Celtic Reconstructionists, and Velu Laiks (“the time of spirits”) for Baltic Pagans, among many, many others. In Catholicism, this time is celebrated with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, keeping with many of the same themes as the “Pagan” holidays (though some may say “appropriating”). In short the preoccupation on Halloween to “flirt with the night and evoke the dead” isn’t so much as “pagan” thing as a “human” thing. There’s a deep cultural default, far deeper than the veneer of Christianity, that draws us towards celebrating Halloween the way we do (no cultural vacuum required).

I don’t think that the current popularity of Halloween makes it more, or less, “pagan”. I think it’s an excuse to participate in a communal festival, to don masks, indulge in sweets, and forget about fiscal troubles for one night. I think its people doing what they’ve always done when the nights got longer and the days got shorter, make merry to help us through the darker days. Yes, I also think we’re heading into a post-Christian society, and that will change the way we look at different holiday observances, but editorials like these do nothing but create controversy where there is little to be found. For all the hand-wringing over Christianity not being drilled into every young head, the faith is still politically, numerically, and yes, culturally, dominates the United States (and much of the West). I find it insulting that because Halloween isn’t overtly Christian that somehow makes it something to worry over.

Also, and this is a personal opinion, but I think people who don’t love Halloween might have something wrong with them.

We all had a good laugh about “Jesus Ween,” didn’t we? That misguided attempt to sanctify a day that had already been sanctified by the Catholic church way back in 609 CE, rightly mocked by Christians and Pagans alike. But the impulse to cleanse Halloween of its (perceived) Pagan/occult atmosphere has a darker side. If the “Ween-ers” are the Ned Flanders of anti-Halloween sentiments, then the followers of “spiritual warrior”/survivalist/conspiracy theorist Thomas R. Horn are a Jack T. Chick comic come to life. Just in time for Halloween they are plugging a new book entitled “God’s Ghostbusters” (buy it before the world ends!) that ramps up the fear of Pagans.

“According to a group of Christian scholars, this comes as the world is experiencing an explosion of ancient occultism combined with wicked fascination for ghosts and all things paranormal. In the United States alone, there are now more than two hundred thousand registered witches, the group claims, and as many as 8 million unregistered practitioners of “the craft.” On college and high school campuses, vampires, werewolves, and other “creatures of the night” are esteemed as objects of desire and idolized by young men and women who view them as cult icons of envious mystical power. Evidently, church goers are enchanted by the darkness as well. An April 13, 2011 article “Mysticism Infecting Nazarene Beliefs” was preceded only a few days before by a Telegraph article describing how a “surge in Satanism” inside the church has sparked a “rise in demand for exorcists” within traditional religious settings.”

This is serious business!

This is serious business!

Eight million! Jeepers! I also want to know how one becomes a “registered” Witch. Do I have to join COG for that? Circle? We again get references to that shadowy organization known only as a “group of Christian scholars”. Why won’t these brave men and women show themselves (and their statistical data)? Conservative Christians (and some Pagans) have long over-estimated the size of the modern Pagan movement for various reasons, but this is the first time I’ve seen an estimate that large. I suppose extrapolating data from ARIS or the Pew Forum (or any other reputable source) won’t sell as many books (or survivalist equipment). They also have an odd obsession with Hekate (which, I suppose is an improvement over “Samhain Lord of the Dead”).

“Whereas Hecate was elsewhere known as Hecate-Propylaia, “the one before the gate,” a role in which she guarded the entrances of homes and temples from nefarious outside evils (talk about Satan casting out Satan!); and whereas she was also known as Hecate-Propolos, “the one who leads,” as in the underworld guide of Persephone and of those who inhabit graveyards; and finally whereas she was known as Hecate-Phosphoros, “the light bearer,” her most sacred title and one that recalls another powerful underworld spirit, Satan, whose original name was Lucifer (“the light bearer”); it was nevertheless her role as the feminist earth-goddess-spirit Hecate-Chthonia that popularized her divinity and commanded reverence from among the common people. [...] The connection between ancient paganism and the modern customs and costumes of Halloween is easy to trace. The Hecatian myths adopted by Celtic occultists continue in pop culture, symbolism, and tradition…”

They hate/fear/are secretly aroused by Pagan deities so much they’re willing to give away Horn’s book on the subject [PDF]. In it, you can learn of the many ways Pagan gods still walk the earth and how modern Paganism is a sign of Armageddon (for which you’ll need to stock up on survivalist kits).

As I said before, these people are the dark reflection of the Jesus Ween-ers. Who take the idea of occult infiltration of America to its tinfoil-helmet-wearing conclusions. They want to get as many people in their Ark/underground Christian bunker as possible before our prophesied take-over happens. It’s easy (and fun) to mock this stuff, but a significant number of ordinary, decent, people are susceptible to narratives like these. It’s why I’m so critical of books about Pagans written for Christians, because they all feed a narrative that is ultimately damaging to interfaith relations and their own children. I’m more than happy to let Horn and his followers dig trenches and scare each other with spooky stories of Hekate’s minions, but I’m more concerned by the innocent Goth/Pagan/GLBT/different kids who might be damaged when their propaganda gets passed around at a local church or Christian book store. That’s when it crosses the line into being dangerous and damaging to our society.

I have a few stories of interest before we dive head-first into our Samhain celebrations, starting with an Omaha World-Herald story about a Wiccan inmate who had his request granted to change his legal “Christian” name to his chosen “Witch name”.

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“Just in time for Halloween, former Fremont resident Billy Joe McDonald has received a judge’s permission to change his “Christian” name to his “witch” name: Hayden Autumn Blackthorne. In requesting the change for religious reasons, McDonald — er, Blackthorne — wrote that he is “a lifetime member of Witch School,” a “recognized Wiccan Priest” and a person who has “successfully completed Correllian Wicca — First Degree.” And, oh yeah, McDonald also noted that he is a sex offender who has been successfully convicted of sexual assault — first degree.”

While the Wiccan angle makes it newsworthy, the event itself isn’t all that uncommon. Prison inmates request to change their names, often for religious reasons, quite often. That said, these requests aren’t always granted, a Heathen inmate in Nebraska who wanted to change his name to “Sinner Lawrence Bilskirnir” was denied on grounds that it didn’t satify “legal requirements”. Blackthorne’s request was most likely granted because he had letters of support from local clergy, and proof of long-time religious activity within the prison.

Turning from prisons to the world of “adult” film, The Sydney Morning Herald interviews porn star Monica Mayhem about her new book “Absolute Mayhem”, which apparantly mentions her adherence to Wicca.

“It helps me to stay grounded and it helps me to cope with things a lot better … it’s not like you see in the Hollywood movies, it’s actually just a more free and naturally way of living … it’s all about mother nature and the universe.”

Considering how many “stars” in the adult industry are treated, I sincerely hope that Wicca really does help her cope, and ultimately brings her a deeper connection to the earth around her.

In a final “we must be doing something right” note, both Pravda Online (a remnant of the once-mighty official organ of the Communist Party) and The Vatican have warned against celebrating Halloween due to its pagan and occult origins!

The Holy See has warned that parents should not allow their children to dress up as ghosts and ghouls on Saturday, calling Hallowe’en a pagan celebration of “terror, fear and death”. The Roman Catholic Church has become alarmed in recent years by the spread of Hallowe’en traditions from the US to other countries around the world … The Vatican issued the warning through its official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, in an article headlined “Hallowe’en’s Dangerous Messages”. The paper quoted a liturgical expert, Joan Maria Canals, who said: “Hallowe’en has an undercurrent of occultism and is absolutely anti-Christian.”

So there you go! Celebrate Halloween properly and you’re defying both The Vatican and members of Russian Orthodoxy who write for post-Communist propaganda tabloids. Talk about rebellion!

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

You knew it was coming, the religion news-writers were priming the pump, and with Halloween/Samhain only days away a veritable flood of articles, opinion-pieces, and interviews featuring or discussing modern Pagans have been unleashed into the world. There’s no way to justly discuss and analyze them all, so instead I’ll simply give you a quick run-down, a sampling, of the annual Pagan publicity rush. Lets start with the dissenters shall we? They are often the most fun to talk about. We’ll begin with a piece that isn’t really a Halloween piece, but very well could be, as it sets the mood so nicely.

“Several Christian denominations see New England as a “mission field” – a term often associated with unchurched, foreign lands. As they evangelize and work to plant new churches, they speak of possibility, but also frustration. The area’s highly educated population is skeptical and often indifferent to their faith.”

New England? Wait, isn’t the “witch city” of Salem in New England? One wonders if they’ll be seeing more conflicts between preaching Christians and partying Pagans this year? It’s a possibility the story, sadly, doesn’t explore. Meanwhile, Charisma Magazine lets Christians know that merely setting out a pumpkin makes you an unwilling tool of Satan!

“Mother earth is highly celebrated during the fall demonic harvest. Witches praise mother earth by bringing her fruits, nuts and herbs. Demons are loosed during these acts of worship. When nice church folk lay out their pumpkins on the church lawn, fill their baskets with nuts and herbs, and fire up their bonfires, the demons get busy. They have no respect for the church grounds. They respect only the sacrifice and do not care if it comes from believers or non-believers.”

This sort of demonic mush is repeated in Trumpet Magazine as well. Thankfully some Christians, in this instance a Catholic, seem to really understand the spirit of the holiday, and doesn’t cower at the imagined demons haunting the evangelicals.

“As a friend of mine observed recently, there is something medieval about Halloween. The masks, the running around in the dark, the flicker of candles in pumpkins, the smell of leaves and cold air—all of it feels ancient, even primal, somehow. Despite the now-inevitable preponderance of media-inspired costumes, Halloween seems, in execution, far closer to a Last Judgment scene above a medieval church door, or to a mystery play, than it does to Wal-Mart. To step outside on Halloween dressed as someone—or something—other than yourself is to step into a narrative that acknowledges that the membrane between our workaday, material world and the unseen realm of spirits is far thinner and more permeable than many of us like to think.”

Frankly, their All Saints’ Day dress-as-your-favorite-saint party sounds like a ton of fun. Once I get into better shape, I’d probably dress as St. Sebastian, complete with arrows and mock-tree. Now, lets leave the Christians alone, and turn to intrepid reporters talking to Pagans! The Canadian weekly SEE features an article by Marliss Weber, who attends a full-moon gathering and finds herself, despite having to sing the “vagina moon song”, moved by the experience.

“…modern witchcraft is welcoming and inclusive, and so are the witches I’m with tonight. They all help me as I stumble through the four elements and the four directions, and as I try to express how I feel in the moment, again I find myself near tears.”

While Weber attends a full-moon gathering, most papers are talking to Pagans who are gearing up for Samhain, like the Pennsylvania Black Hat Society Network, the practitioners at the Temple of St. Brigid’s Doom, the proprietor of the Fly-by-Night store in Ohio, and a British traditional Wiccan coven in Oregon.

“On such a night, Wiccans like Anton and Snavely gather in a sacred, circular space. Placing a drop or two of fine-smelling oil, they “dress” the candles they will use to focus their intent in four directions. Living things have an energy field that people perceive in various ways, but witches operate outside of our official defined five senses. They gather in a circle to contain energy, then raise the energy by dancing, singing and using their bodies. “We are between worlds, the energy world and the tangible,” Snavely said, adding that this is why it is bad to bring watches into the circle. The priestess directs the ritual to a crescendo, and everyone focuses on transferring the energy into a physical object such as a necklace or a worry stone meant for a son going to Iraq.”

But while (some) Christians close the blinds and turn off the porch light, and while many Pagans prepare for their Samhain rites and Witches’ Balls, others prefer to be wet blankets about the whole thing.

“I don’t like Halloween’s gimme-gimme nature. A holiday celebrated by sending children out to ask for candy leaves me cold, to say nothing of the absurdity of encouraging gorging on sweets in a nation with a serious obesity problem. I don’t like the phrase “trick or treat,” even though the implied threat is rhetorical. But I also don’t like when kids don’t bother to say “trick or treat,” but just reach out to grab candy. Or when they don’t bother to put on a costume. Or when they are either very large children with facial hair and men’s voices, or they are adults. And the wastefulness is mind-boggling — from those individually wrapped packets to all the candy that gets thrown out because even children have their limits.”

Man. What a Debbie downer. It must be TONS of fun at her house. She must be suffering from my new favorite malady, “Samhainophobia”. Anyway, that is just tip of the journalistic iceberg, expect even more in the next few days. If you find a particularly good (or bad) Samhain-themed article, feel free to share it in the comments.

It just isn’t Halloween without some anti-Pagan Christian propaganda! Luckily, Jeremiah Films is ready to sate my need for schlocky scare-mongering with “Popculture Paganism: Neovampirism, Wicca, and the Occult”.

“Recorded in Britain, India, and the United States, this film brings together over 30 years of research and interviews with Occultic experts, high-ranking witches, druids, and a former vampire. It gives viewers an understanding of the roots and dangers of this newly branded strain of paganism with exclusive footage of real-life ceremonies from the heart of England, featuring druidic rituals from Stonehenge and many witch covens.”

Of course by “over 30 years of research” they mean a pastiche cobbled together from previous anti-occult films with a bit of  “Twilight” and “True Blood” thrown in to make it seem more timely. If all this “research” makes you hungry for more, you can always check out the 13-DVD “Pagan Invasion Series”, where everything from Mormonism to psychotherapy is thrown into the mix. Naturally, if you don’t want to give Jermiah Films any money, you can always wait until some crank reads a Chick Tract and decides to write an editorial for the local newspaper.

“Halloween, which is the witches’ New Year, originated among the ancient Druid priests from Britain and France. This pagan holiday is held to celebrate the end of summer and the beginning of the Celtic year. The festival is named after Samhain (sah-ween), the God of the dead. The druids believed that on this night the spirits of the dead would come back and walk amongst the living to terrorize and harass them, some even possessing the bodies of animals. Also, during this time human and animal sacrifices are common, the blood spilled believed to open the gates to the dead, releasing them. To ward off these evil spirits the druids dress up as witches, demons or in other evil costumes, some participating in satanic rituals.”

Samhain God of the Dead! It’s been too long old pal! See, now it really feels like Halloween. Forget Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb filming in Salem, this is the real mood-setter.

Ah October, the weather is getting cooler, the leaves are turning, and the best holiday of all, Halloween (aka Samhain to us Pagan types) quickly approaches. Since the Halloween season is only second to Christmas in spending and activity, it’s only natural that the journalists want to find a unique angle. This year’s theme seems to be about the holiday’s discontents.

“She hosts a monthly girls’ night out at a bar in Portland, Ore., and co-runs a plus-size vintage boutique called Fat Fancy. But there’s one thing that brings out the hate in her. Smith, 33, is among a contrarian contingent that takes a boo humbug approach to Halloween … Halloween haters aren’t as easy to categorize as that odd old lady on the block who always pretends that she’s not home on Oct. 31, or people who protest the day on religious grounds. The new Halloween Hater is young, loud and proud.”

Yes, the Associated Press found some “contrarians” and are calling it a trend, they even dug up Jerilyn Ross, president of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, to give us the awesome term of “samhainophobia”, the fear of Halloween. Yes, we were obviously having too much fun last year, so this year, in honor of the recession, we have to dial it down a bit.

“Last year, we collectively shelled out $5.77 billion on everything from fun-sized candy bars to plastic gravestones for the front yard. This year is another story: according to a study by the National Retail Federation, that number is expected to drop to $4.75 billion this year. The recession has hit home for many more of us this year, and escapism has given way to pragmatism. Close to one in three say the economy is impacting their Halloween spending. Similarly, a recent Pricegrabber.com survey shows that 35 percent of us plan to spend less this Halloween.”

The blood-curling terror of the tightening belt! Even this year’s hit scary movie is low-budget! Meanwhile, another paper turns up its nose at Salem’s witch-hats and plastic capes in favor of a more cultured, well-mannered, tourist-excursion.

“Go to Salem this time of year for the witches. But if you’re like us, the things you’ll remember are the culture, history and flashes of foliage … But consider making it an overnight, and getting all the city has to offer — high art alongside hokey tourist traps (Dracula’s Castle); fascinating history alongside kitchy kiosks selling T-shirts that quip, “Stop by Salem for a spell;” magnificent architecture playing home to the city’s annual dubious celebration (commemoration?) of a 300-year-old tragedy. It’s one of the oddest (and most effective) marketing strategies of any city in the world: Come to Salem where 19 innocent women and men were hanged for being witches, and while you’re here, enjoy a visit to the Witch Dungeon!”

But no matter how hard some may try to ignore the ever-booming Witch craze in Salem, it’s still their top tourist money-maker, and neighboring cities want in on the action. Naturally a wrap-up like this can’t end without some Christian hand-wringing over the occult overtones of Halloween, and thanks to the BBC we’ve found a real fire-breather!

“Derry City Council’s Hallowe’en carnival encourages Satanism and has brought a curse on the city, according to a Methodist minister. Rev Jonathan Campbell, from Newbuildings Independent Methodist Church, has launched an online petition to stop this year’s event. He said Hallowe’en celebrations “make evil look innocent”, and has appealed for families to boycott the festival … Rev Campbell said his church was opposed to Hallowe’en because it was “one of the two major days for Satanists”, and “God’s word clearly condemns and warns people about celebrating or glorifying Hallowe’en or the occult”. “One of the main reasons we as a church are opposed to the carnival is that children are being disturbed”.”

Someones disturbed, but I don’t think its the “children”.  Still, it almost doesn’t seem like a true Halloween without some Christian crank blowing a gasket in the press. As for the press, I could certainly do without all the subtle “maybe we shouldn’t have so much fun in these bad times” hoo-ha, because if you can’t put on a mask, eat a little (or a lot of ) candy, have a little fun, and honor the dead to boot, what’s the point of even celebrating Halloween/Samhain?

It is becoming ever more apparent that the Halloween holiday has become the biggest holiday outside of Christmas. Popular Halloween destination spots like Salem, MA gathers 75,000 people on that night alone, and retail sales for the holiday are breaking records.

“Halloween spending is estimated to reach $5.07 billion this year, compared to $4.96 billion in 2006. At $1.8 billion, costumes for adults, children and pets make up the bulk of spending, according to the National Retail Federation … The average person is expected to spend just under $65 on Halloween this year, according to the National Retail Federation survey. One-third of that – about $23 per person – will be spent on costumes and almost $20 will go toward Halloween candy.”

But with the growing popularity comes growing controversy. School bans of the holiday (and subsequent un-bannings) are becoming ever more common, and controversies over publicly displayed decorations are becoming heated and angry. It has columnist Ellis Henican wondering where all the fun went.

“Who needs to wait for another hyped-up “War on Christmas?” It’s only mid-October. And we’re already in the thick of a breathless national “Assault on Halloween.” Consider yourself warned, you precious little trick-or-treaters, you toilet-paper-tossing miscreants: Two weeks before the greatest kids’ holiday of the year, a bunch of nay-saying grownups are hell-bent on spoiling the fun … anti-Halloween eruptions are now breaking out everywhere … If it’s not one thing, it’s another on Halloween – from any interest group with its own fax machine.”

These complaints are echoed by Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi:

“The two most devastating words any red-blooded American kid is likely to hear are “Fall Festival.” It can mean only one thing: The War on Halloween is once again upon us. No, the War on Halloween won’t induce the same zealous indignation that, say, the War on Christmas can. For me, though, it’s far worse. We’re still weeks from this glorious pagan celebration, but you can already hear the sound of the pinheads sucking the fun out of life.”

Harsanyi talks to Harvard Halloween expert Lesley Bannatyne who explains why, despite the controversy, the holiday is more important to our society than ever.

“‘One of the main reasons the holiday is critical is because it’s perhaps the only holiday left where we actually open our doors to strangers … If we’ve ever needed that, we need it nowadays’ … Moreover, during Halloween kids can express and explore things that they find scary, Bannatyne explains. It’s healthy. It’s about Celtic mythology, popular culture, literature and the evolution of the American experience. It’s also about inclusion. Bannatyne claims that Halloween was used in the early part of the 20th century as a means of teaching immigrants how to acclimate to the American way of life.”

You can read a fascinating article about the different developing Halloween trends on Bannatyne’s web site. The larger point here is that Halloween has become too big to be owned by any singular conception of what it should be. Pagans no more get to define it than the anti-Halloween Christians promoting “fall festivals”, or the secular thrill-seekers looking to blow off some steam. We should all remember that this holiday, since the very beginning, has been about crossing boundaries and doing shocking things.

“While Samhain (and the phenomenon of death which it celebrated) was obviously the end of a cycle, it was more importantly the start of a new one. Because all true novelty springs from the chaotic freedom and vitality of the Otherworld, a new cycle could be inaugurated only by dissolving all of the structures of the old one — just as the moment of death dissolves our identity in this world, allowing the fresh energies of the Otherworld to impel us towards new life. This meant that, as happens in the feasts of renewal of many different cultures, certain types of social disorder were actively encouraged during the period of the festival, because they promoted the renewing influence of the Otherworld at the point in the yearly cycle where it would be most beneficial. Customs originating entirely in the world of cultural values — such as those relating to social rank or gender-appropriate behaviour — were the most likely to be violated. Disrespect could be shown to elders or to members of the upper classes. Cross-dressing was one of the most widespread and popular ways of expressing the dissolution of social categories, and in parts of Wales groups of young men in female garb were referred to as gwrachod (“hags” or “witches”) as they wandered through the countryside on Calan Gaeaf, indulging in all kinds of mischief.”

So shouldn’t this holiday, for Pagans anyway, be the one time of the year we accept the strange, gruesome, outrageous, and offensive? Let us all try to use the energies of this holiday to bind us all closer together as a society. The business of Halloween is getting bigger, lets be sure its true spirit remains a part of that growth.

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

Two different Thelema-related publications hit the Internet this week, the first is the August 2007 issue of Agape (pdf), the official newsletter of the U. S. Grand Lodge of Ordo Templi Orientis. The second is the brand new Journal of Thelemic Studies, a publication dedicated to fostering “the most modern, current thought in the Thelemic community”. You can download the current issue, here. Of particular interest is an exploration of Thelema & Buddhism by “IAO 131″.

“Essentially, we can see the profound influence Buddhism had on Crowley, especially in the years immediately preceding the reception of Liber AL vel Legis. For this reason the importance of understanding the similarities between Buddhism and Thelema, which is based around Liber AL vel Legis, becomes particularly apparent. An understanding of Buddhism will complement our understanding of Thelema and, likewise, an understanding of Thelema will complement our understanding of Buddhism.”

The entire journal issue is certainly worth a read for insights into current thought within the Thelema community.

Another recent online publication of note is the Fall Equinox 2007 issue of the Global Goddess Oracle. This Goddess-centric e-zine features poetry, botanical lore, a moon schedule, and a brief rumination on “The Wicker Man” by Dianic Priestess H. Byron Ballard.

“I love that old cult film “The Wicker Man”. The beautiful children dancing the ring, the lovely chocolate hares (“not silly old rabbits”), the singing, the sheer screaming sensuality. There was also great appeal in a place, even though fictional, where Pagans and Pagan practices were in the majority, where school children learned the lore that modern Pagans teach their children at the quiet places at their own hearths. There are remnants of English folk religion in the traditional May Day characters–the May Queen, the Guiser, and the Old ‘Oss–that are appealing to my amateur historian side. And now there’s a new version, transported to America’s Puget Sound and tweaking the story to feature a matriarchal colony of beekeepers, whose culture is based on the workings of a hive.”

I love that old cult film too, but I would advice her to steer clear of the remake. For more Goddess-oriented essays and articles, you can check out the Lammas 2007 issue of MatriFocus Web Magazine.

The worlds of Paganism and fine art converge in the UK as Lithuanian artist Arturas Raila maps the “geo-energy flows” discovered by a group of Lithuanian Pagan dowsers in Allenheads. This is the final stop in his “The Power of the Earth” project which has traveled to Frankfurt, Berlin, Vilnius, and now Allenheads. The opening of each stop in the exhibition is inducted by a Pagan priest or priestess.

“A Pagan ceremony was performed high on the fell top overlooking Allendale at the weekend – all in the name of art. Lithuanian Jonas Trinkunas had been invited to Tynedale by his fellow countryman, artist Arturas Raila, whose work is currently on show at Allenheads Contemporary Arts. The ceremony he performed, helped by his wife and daughters, marked the opening of Raila’s exhibition.”

Now that is an art opening I wouldn’t want to miss. The exhibition will run through October 21st at Allenheads Contemporary Arts. In other fine-art news, the Philapelphia exhibition “Monsters from Under the Bed”, featuring Pagan-friendly artist Kimberlee Traub, has been expanded and extended till November 3rd.

Showing that every system has limits, an Odinist inmate’s appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court to allow him a fire-pit in prison was turned down. Tony Lee Smith claimed that his Constitutional rights has been violated when the prison gave him a candle instead of allowing him a pine-wood fire pit.

“Smith, 38, said in the suit that state prison officials said he couldn’t have certain items connected with the pagan religion of Odinism, namely a pinewood fire in a small pit to observe certain rites, and use of a certain area of the prison for worship. According to the suit, prison officials instead gave him a candle. He was denied access to a worship area St. Clair Correctional Facility out of security concerns about potential violence against other inmates and because officials said the religion was a popular front for hate groups, according to the court opinion.”

Smith denies any involvement in hate groups, but despite this the courts ruled that the prison did not stifle his religious freedom by denying him the fire. Another recent case involving an Asatru inmate ruled that he could have access to runes. So it looks like somewhere in between runes and a fire-pit the balance is struck.

Finally, now that it is October the “silly season” of outrage over Halloween celebrations begins. Chas Clifton blogs about about a school administrator who has banned Halloween festivities and replaced it with a bland “harvest” rite.

“Cindy Kaie, self-righteous principal of Kohl Elementary School in Broomfield, Colorado, has decreed “no Halloween party” … The article was not exactly clear about the cause of the ban. Does “not leaving anyone out” mean “not offending rabid Christians”? Or what?”

Sadly this isn’t the only “silly” story about the forthcoming holiday, in the UK two retail giants have agreed to “tone down” their Halloween merchandise after they came under criticism from a Church of England Bishop.

“Bolton David Gillett claimed success Thursday in his efforts to bring a more positive spirit to Halloween. Gillett launched a campaign last year to persuade retailers to display products that sent a more positive message to children over concerns Halloween placed too much emphasis on the occult. English retailers Sainsbury’s and Asda told Gillett that they will be offering lighter fair this season.

Gillett is now turning his attention to the practice of trick-or-treating in an attempt to eradicate all fun from Halloween. Expect more “War on Halloween” from Christian crusaders on the right, and excessively sensitive folks on the left, in the weeks to come.

That is all I have for now, have a great day!