October is a time for all sorts of fun, frivolous and frightening experiences.
Chilly autumn football games, cheaply made Halloween costumes and haunted house adventures full of terrifying ghouls aid in making the 31 days of October unlike any other month of the year. As the days get closer and closer to Halloween, the anticipation can be felt through every drugstore seasonal aisle and haunted house advertisement.
Halloween represents many different nuanced ideas for many different people. For some, it’s simply an excuse to dress up and be someone else, and for others it’s a good opportunity to stay in and watch some horror flicks.
For the Pagan community, Oct. 31 represents a deeply spiritual holiday that centers itself around the idea of honoring the past while looking toward the future.
According to Rev. Charles Griffin of local Wiccan church The Order of the Red Grail, the Pagan celebration, or Sabbat, that is observed on Oct. 31 is known as Samhain (pronounced Sa-wein).
In ancient Celtic tradition, this is the day where the veil between the physical world and the spirit world is at its thinnest, thus providing an immense opportunity for otherworldly visitations and enlightenment for those who observe the holy time.
“To me, the time of Samhain is the time to remember the steps of our journey through the wheel of the year,” Griffin said. “It is a time of honoring family and friends who have passed through the veil and to commemorate their lives and their contributions to our lives today.”
Griffin explained that many Wiccans observe Samhain with what is called a dumb supper, in which an elaborate meal is prepared with an empty place setting. The vacant spot represents missing family or ancestors. During the meal, those participating eat in silent contemplation of those missing from the table that year.
Wicca began as a religious movement in the late 1950s with the English novelist Gerald Gardner as the founder. The religion was influenced by Gardner’s ancient pagan ideals, supplemented with rituals found in a number of esoteric practices such as free-masonry, and ritualized magic. Today, Kessler says that Wicca finds it’s cornerstone beliefs on the premises of free will, community and being one with nature.
“Wicca is an Earth-based religion, which means we honor the Earth and all that she gives,” said Rev. Philipp Kessler, who is a prominent member of the Lincoln Wicca community. “We are stewards of the earth and respect all living things and do our utmost to harm none.”
Essentially, Kessler and Griffin explained that many of the values seen in Wicca and other Pagan religions stem from an ultimate principle of love, respect and self awareness. In fact, according to Kessler, many Wiccans are activists who fight for the greater good of everyone, Pagan and non-Pagan alike.
This being said, Kessler explained that in a Judeo-Christian centric society, often times perceptions of paganism become skewed through a darker, much more sensationalized lens.
“The only thing that a Wiccan, or a Pagan for that matter, would sacrifice is time,” Kessler said. “We don’t sacrifice kids or pets and we don’t worship the devil. In fact, we don’t believe in the devil. We have hopes and dreams just like everyone else. When we get up in the morning, we put on our pants one leg at a time.”
Both Kessler and Griffin emphasized that it is important to know that Pagans are not the gothic, malevolent spell casters that Hollywood and even Halloween marketers would have one believe. Many Pagans live normal lives in the world just as everyone else.
As Halloween continues to creep closer, it may be best to remember that the witches seen in horror movies and seasonal aisle are as fictional as tooth fairies and easter bunnies. Real Pagans would much rather commune with nature in peace and harmony than cast a hostile spell on anyone in the streets.
“Wicca is a life-affirming, and earth-centric religion, We see ourselves as a part of nature, neither above it or below it.” Griffin said, “Personal responsibility comes first and foremost as we undertake the journey of personal transformation, we are ever striving forward within ourselves and without.”
This article was modified at 9:57 a.m. on Oct. 12 to correct the spelling of Samhain in the headline and lead paragraph.