When you think of Wicca, do you imagine a really weird pseudo-religion that involves creepy ladies surrounding a bubbling cauldron, tossing in human eyeballs and laughing like maniacs? This is pretty much the picture that I initially had in my brain.
After some research I wouldn’t say that I’m an expert in the field, but I do certainly have a newfound respect for the Neopagan religion after some quick Google searches. During my “research,” I came across a quote that I liked which nicely sums up the beliefs of Wiccan’s nature-based spirituality: “If you take [a copy of] the Christian Bible and put it out in the wind and the rain, soon the paper on which the words are printed will disintegrate and the words will be gone. Our bible is the wind and the rain.”
So why does Wicca get such a bad reputation? A spirituality centered around nature and the Earth doesn’t sound that controversial to me. Well, maybe it’s their practise of modern witchcraft which made my initial image not completely off the mark. This caused me to wonder, how does a modern day witch celebrate Halloween?
Surprisingly, Wiccans don’t officially celebrate Halloween, despite the fact that Oct. 31 will still have a star beside it in any good Wiccan’s day planner.
Starting at sundown, Wiccans celebrate a holiday known as Samhain. Samhain actually comes from old Celtic traditions and is not exclusive to Neopagan religions like Wicca. While the traditions of this holiday originate in Celtic countries, modern day Wiccans don’t try to historically replicate Samhain celebrations. Some traditional Samhain rituals are still practised but at its core, the holiday is simply a time to celebrate darkness and the dead — a possible reason why Samhain is often confused with Halloween celebrations.
Wiccans have eight seasonal festivals throughout the year (known as Sabbats), which are placed on a “Wheel of the Year.” The Sabbats celebrate the cycles of nature, Samhain being the most important one. Despite Samhain’s coinciding date with Halloween, the festival is more of a “new year” celebration than anything else because it is taken to be the beginning of the Celtic (and now Wiccan) calendar. Samhain literally means “end of summer.” It marks the end of the harvest as well as the end of the “lighter half” of the year and, therefore, the beginning of the “darker half.”
Samhain is one of two “spirit nights” found on the Wiccan Wheel of the Year. A spirit night is magical because the ordinary rules of time and space can be tossed out the window. The barrier between this world and the otherworld is at its thinnest — due to the dying of plants and animals, through harvest and slaughter respectively. This makes communication with ancestors and dead loved ones much easier. Because of this, Samhain is a time to celebrate the lives of people who have died. They do this by paying respect to those they know that have passed away. In some rituals, departed spirits are invited to take part in the festivities themselves.
The traditions of Samhain (as well as the Christian “All Saints’ Day” and “All Souls’ Day”) have had a large influence on modern Halloween traditions. The fact that these four celebrations fall within the span of a couple weeks has caused an intermingling of traditions and confusion as to what each celebration represents. It is for this reason that Wiccans are often associated with having strong ties to Halloween when in reality, they celebrate an entirely different holiday.
The telling of spooky stories, carving of turnips and wearing of disguises were all customary Celtic traditions performed during Samhain. However, these traditions are now more likely to be seen within the context of a Halloween celebration rather than a Wiccan’s Samhain celebration. The reality of the situation: you are more likely to be acting ridiculous on Oct. 31 (i.e. wearing a scary mask while holding a hollowed out pumpkin) than any Wiccan you may meet!