A Much Maligned Holiday
From a mostly pagan
and respectfully irreverent perspective...
No magic flame of bonfire glows;
But all around I feel them close
In ghostly company.
From Night in New Forest by Doreen Valiente
Shall we begin?
I usually try to avoid the influence of pop culture when I consider a topic but since I do not live life with my head buried in the sand that is near impossible. One evening recently I settled down to watch the Hallowe'en episode of the WB2 TV show Charmed (you know the one, with the three lovely sisters who are Witches with amazing magic powers) which, I might add, I find a bit light weight but about as entertaining as anything else on TV these days. By the way, I do not tune in to shows like this to analyze their authenticity or search for misrepresentations in the subject matter - I do not understand why anyone would demand that much from a commercially motivated media.
Anyway, at the onset of this particular episode there was a modest attempt to banish the stereotype of the Hallowe'en Witch as intolerable. A statement I can only assume was aimed at appeasing any modern day Neo-Pagans, Witches and Wiccan communities who might be tuning in. I am not sure it fully satisfied this agenda because by the end of the episode the Charmed Ones had whole heartedly embraced the stereotype, even succumbing to the temptation to fly around on a besom/broom with one of the beauties silhouetted against a full moon. Oh me!
I recognized the quandary presented though, because I am all too familiar with it. It has been brought to my attention that this web site (The Wyching Well - now the October Country USA blog) should be all-of-this or none-of-that depending with whom I am talking rather than just an exercise for my imagination and an amusing past-time. How do you gracefully represent Hallowe'en as a cheerful celebration without offending those who consider it a religious or at the very least, serious occasion? And if you cater solely to the serious aspect of the day you run the risk of annoying those who are simply present for the goodies and fun.
Hmmm... It is not as easy as it sounds. Is it? Today, it is really hard to be conscientious (without resorting to the horror of political correctness) and still be able to enjoy just being yourself. I am not sure why we bother (most of the time I do not) but sure as we did not - there would be someone here front-and-center pointing a finger at you and me saying, "I find this or that offensive!"
Moving along now... that's another rant...
I think the answer lies in whether or not you (the official, fully costumed Hallowe'en nut case) can embrace Hallowe'en (the orange and black, sugar-coated American holiday) with all the stereotypes and not give a hoot whether the Neo-Pagans or Wiccans or modern day Witches are chanting and dancing around a bonfire.
Or, whether you, the Neo-Pagan/Wiccan/Witch can attend to the business of Samhain (end of summer) celebrations without feeling guilty about not getting up in the middle of ritual to trick-or-treat the small invasion of neighborhood kids who are certain to label you a Grinch Witch or worse if you do not turn on your porch light at least for little while.
And, I always wonder about those of you out there who are simply going through the motions, who do not care one way or the other about Hallowe'en except that it costs you a couple of bags of candy and at least a small amount of space on the editorial pages of the newspaper (with people debating the pros and cons) for a few days.
I think the reason difficulties arise when commercial realism and spiritual ideologies -- like Hallowe'en vs. Samhain -- clash is that folks most often tend to take themselves and their beliefs and so it follows, their holidays, a bit too seriously. We DO take our holidays seriously in the USA or at least the time off allotted for them. Don't we?
However, on October 31 you get fireworks times three when the forces who observe this day for various reasons clash...
And these groups are:
1) those who love the commercial elements and celebrate Hallowe'en for the pure, childlike fun of it
2) those who are spiritually inclined and observe the day as Samhain, the Witches New Year
3) those others aka BT/Bible Thumpers who simply cannot resist meddling in order to promote their own agenda whatever that may be.
When you factor in this third combustible element (BT), then you really are stirring a whole new batch of worms into the pot. The result of this volatile Witches Brew is a specifically nasty brand of intolerance - especially when holidays for different factions, unfortunately, coincide with one another, for instance, when Hallowe'en/Samhain falls on Sunday.
What I find particularly amusing in this scenario is that you have those who celebrate Samhain at odds with those who celebrate Hallowe'en. Why? Because, I am told (by Pagans), Hallowe'en perpetuates and promotes the negative aspects of the day and casts a big black shadow over Samhain. Aspects, that the third element, the Bible Thumpers, assign to the holiday including its cast of stereotyped characters. So, you have modern day Witches getting angry at Trick-or-Treaters over being portrayed as evil, ugly hags - a mythos derived from the puritanical ranting of the third element involved.
Trick-or-Treaters get a bad rap
from modern day Witches who get a bad rap
from Bible Thumpers
who will not tolerate Trick-or-Treaters or Witches
who have a low tolerance for Bible Thumpers
and so on...
Talk about a vicious circle! Holy Widdershins!
So, what do you do when you find your spiritual occasion or holiday butting heads with another of equal importance which happens all too often in the USA? I mean Hallowe'en isn't any more about Samhain and modern day Witches than Santa Claus is about the birth of the Christ Child aka Christmas. You either celebrate one or the other or somehow magically combine the mysteries to accommodate the whole in America. It is just how it is done. So out goes the lighted plastic baby Jesus figurine in the front yard next to Santa and Frosty. No big deal - right? One might go crazy trying to disassociate from one to focus on the other.
Hallowe'en Witches vs. Pagan/Wiccan Witches, now there's a toughie! How do you separate the two in your mind or to their satisfaction? Well, here's a thought that may be perceived by some as an over-simplified answer.
One is fiction. One is not.
Or is it enough? Let us pretend for a moment that you are really informed and well-read on the subject. When you picture authors and self-proclaimed Witches -- Margot Adler, Starhawk, Janet Farrar, Silver Ravenwolf, Doreen Valiente or even the guys Scott Cunningham or Isaac Bonewits - what do you see? Real people? Professional people who could be your neighbors? Or do you see a toothless, wart-ridden hag on a broom and a scruffy bearded guy in a dress and pointy hat?
When someone mentions Witches do you envision the trio from Charmed or the trio from Disney's Hocus-Pocus? What answer one comes up with here is most likely based solely on one's experience and familiarity with the subject and that, in most cases, is directly related to one's exposure to current trends and pop culture - isn't it?
These pesky folk who allegedly perceive modern day Witches as evil because of dime store Hallowe'en stereotypes and Hollywood hype would have to be clueless wouldn't they? I think it is more likely and far more insulting that regular folk simply dismiss modern day Witches as a bit wacky and don't bother themselves beyond that. Now some take offense to not being taken seriously and granted, this particular problem becomes a very real problem when confronted by modern day Witches on their jobs and in other aspects of their lives. But, as with most things - education is the key - isn't it?
Then, there is the problem of that 3rd element again, poking around where (in my humble opinion) they do not belong and basically using Hallowe'en as a soap box. This faction refuses to be educated. Bible Thumpers are all too prevalent this time of year, using the media and other forms of hype to distribute their prejudicial propaganda that Hallowe'en/Samhain and anyone who celebrates it is evil with a capital E.
At no other time of the year do you get bombarded with good vs. evil rhetoric as at Hallowe'en. (Heads up folks! Witches do celebrate other holidays you know.) You do not hear BT's attack the iconic images of the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus, do you? Are they up in arms at the Summer Solstice, a celebration that for Pagans is equal in importance to Samhain?
So why I ask - pick on the Great Pumpkin?
In my opinion, because of the immensely popular imagery - it is a thinly veiled autocratic (not to mention lucrative) and opportunistic attempt to attack other religions and/or other spiritual paths that exist outside the mainstream fundamentalist agenda. So what else is new?
We, of the -- collective Witch mind -- can take a little comfort in being the proverbial thorn in their backsides... though, can we not? As long as they are thumpin' them Bibles...
We are not going away.
I remember once-upon-a-time when church sponsored haunted houses complete with ghoulish preachers and sinister nuns did not use the occasion to capitalize on fundamentalist political agendas about the perceived evils in this world. There were no Hell Houses using in-your-face political-oriented anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-death penalty, anti-witch scenarios as their main focus rather than the fiction of ghouls and vampires, Witches and spooks - Oh My! I find this particular tactic extremely distasteful. I object to the insinuation that Hallowe'en even in the abstract is somehow related to the ills of the world.
I, for one - as with many other holidays embrace combined aspects of Hallowe'en/Samhain and completely ignore the neurotic ravings of the third element. Shoo! BT! Shoo!
With that said, I love the Trick-or-Treaters! I love the stereotypes! Pumpkins turned Jack-O'-Lanterns! Ghosts! Assorted Monsters and Wickedly Grinning Witches! I do not try to separate the two - it is impossible! With a little careful planning you can squeeze both the fun aspects as well as the spiritual into the day. I grew up loving this time of year - the sights, the sounds, and the smell of it. The stories! The masquerade!
I never really grew out of Hallowe'en. Rather, I believe I have grown into it. Someone told me you are supposed to get over it, but I never did. And then, I found Samhain which explains the spiritual side of the occasion that I could never put a name to before. When all of it finally came together, I realized that I was more at home in a Punkin' Patch than any other place in the world.
It is true, so now it is Hallowe'en at my house all the time - at least in the basement room (Gramma's Witch dungeon as my grandson calls it - HA!) from which I work. It is where I sit typing this lunatic missive. The decor of the room is Witch Provincial. I have lost count of the pieces in the Witch collection accented with a growing population of Jack O' Lanterns, Ouija boards and tons of metaphysical books and Witch stories and other spooky elements that would be enough to set Martha Stewart on her ear (fortunately I am immune to the MS bug). Yep! I am right at home and downright comfortable in this gauche Witchy atmosphere. It suits me.
With that said, the point of the matter and the rather abrubt end to this diatribe is if celebrating the duality of the season means that I have "embraced" the stereotype, then I say…
Respectfully yours in caliginous chaos
An it harm none – do as you will…
© 2000 (text revised 2018) All rights reserved
An it harm none – do as you will…
© 2000 (text revised 2018) All rights reserved