Pagans, Samhain, The Press

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 24, 2008 — 2 Comments

I don’t know if you had heard, but apparently there is a growing and diverse religious movement that is often labeled “Paganism”, and Halloween is, like, a major holiday for many of them. There are months here at The Wild Hunt where hunting down stories is a chore, then October rolls around and I have far too much to appropriately sum up without doing a “news of note” every other day (a prospect I don’t especially relish, I prefer the more sedate once-a-week or so schedule its been on). Let me just assure you that I’m doing my best to stay on top of things, and delivering what I think are the most interesting picks of this journalistic harvest.

Having said all that, let’s do a quick look at the flood of Halloween/Samhain stories involving Pagans. A mix of that runs from the remedial to the sublime. Featuring well-known Pagans, assorted experts and academics, and cast of unknown locals getting their first taste of press attention.

Reuters looks at a Samhain celebration in Milan, Italy, and marvels at the explosive growth of modern Paganism there.

“Organizers say numbers are elusive, but using sources like mailing lists, event registration and journal subscriptions, they place their ranks at between 2,000 and 10,000. The founder of Milan’s Circle of the Crossroads, Davide Marre, remembers when his group numbered “four cats,” an expression for virtually nobody. Six years later, he has 200 members, with conferences, study groups, a magazine, a book, even a monthly bar fest called the Witches’ Café.”

Interestingly, not a single mention of Stregheria, and one of the Pagans they do talk to seems to identify as Celtic. Is British Paganism gaining more traction in Italy than Italian-American Paganism? The piece also sources an article by Francesca Howell from The Pomegranate.

The North Wind (Northern Michigan’s student paper) covers an appearance by Pagan author and NPR journalist Margot Adler, who discusses the growth of the modern Pagan movement since the 60s and 70s.

“Adler kicked off her presentation by telling a humorous anecdote about her first visit to Michigan in the 1980s to appear on a Detroit morning show. Adler explained that she took extra care to look good for the television cameras and had cut herself shaving as she prepared for the event. At the end of the television appearence the audience was allowed to ask questions. ‘A question that came up from the audience was ‘Is that mark on your leg from some ritual?’ I had to explain that, I had just cut myself shaving while getting ready.'”

The headline proclaims that Paganism “continues to expand”, but nothing in the article follows up on that claim. Guess you have to take what you can get when dealing with student papers. The anecdote was good though.

A senior at the Pinkerton Academy has been barred from giving a planned talk on Wicca for the schools “diversity week” after complaints from parents (even though other religiously-themed talks are going forward).

“Pinkerton senior Jerica Haynes may not be able to give the presentation she prepared about the religion of Wicca during Diversity Week this year, but she is still hopeful she can dispel some myths about what it means to be a modern-day practicing witch … Robin Perrin, director of relations management for Pinkerton, said several parents called the school to complain that the presentation was inappropriate. Perrin said the issue for parents was that whole classes sign up for some Diversity Week presentations, and there was a fear that the Wicca presentation would be mandatory for students whose class signed up to attend the presentation.”

The school is currently planning to allow her to do it next week after school, after first performing her talk for a “diversity committee”. Haynes, who is a third-generation Witch, appears to be going along with this, and the school should thank its lucky stars she is. There is certainly grounds here for some sort of discrimination-based lawsuit.

Samhain is usually time for a flood of “meet the Pagans” type articles, and this year won’t disappoint. Burnaby Now interviews Jennifer Thrasher owner of Grimoire’s Books, The Spectator interviews Eau Claire resident Trae Dorn (and cites James Sharpe), The Skyline View attended a talk by Starhawk, The Jambar interviews Kyle Metzger and Torrey Derda, the Boston Phoenix interviews several Pagan students at Boston University, and The Southern Voice interviews Ken “Lord Thespis” Gunter (a member of Lady Sintana’s church).

“Wicca includes the study, respect and celebration of the ebb and flow between male and female, Gunter adds, noting the moon represents the female, while the sun represents the male. Wicca is also a matriarchal religion, where women are held typically in higher regard than male members. There is also room for transgender Wiccans, Gunter says. “We had a transgender woman as a member once and she was a priestess. She lived her life as a woman, so it was simple,” he says.”

The subtitle of this article? Why “Halloween means much more than costumes and candy” of course. If you think that was a lot of articles (and I probably didn’t get all of them), keep in mind we have another week of news stories to go before we hit October 31st.

Finally, I wanted to quickly mention two other articles you might enjoy, The Christian Post gives an unintentional guide to getting your house egged on Halloween night, and VPR marks the passing of Tom “Mr. Halloween” Fagan, founder of Rutland, Vermont’s famous annual Halloween parade, and a man who has appeared as himself in several comic books over the years.

“Tom Fagan was a reporter for the Rutland Herald when he encouraged the city’s recreation department to create the goulish celebration back in 1959. Fagan was crazy about comic books and he worked them into the parade, often dressing up as Batman. He was friend
s with many comic book writers and he encouraged them to come to Rutland, dress up in costume and appear with him in the parade. In the 1970s, Rutland’s Halloween parade achieved a degree of fame when it was used as the setting of a number of superhero comic books, published by both DC and Marvel. Tom Fagan was himself featured as a character in a number of these stories, usually depicted as an acquaintance of the lead character.”

He will, no doubt, be at his beloved Halloween parade in spirit.

That is all for now, have a great day!

Jason Pitzl-Waters