Roman holiday, pagan tradition

Halloween is the holiday that most associate with witches and pagans, but it’s actually one of eight sabbats – or holidays – that pagans celebrate.

By Laura Selmek

While some may prefer the term Wiccan instead of witch, Wicca itself is only a small aspect of paganism.

“[The word] pagan is more inclusive,” said Colleen Guernsey, vice president of UT’s branch of the Egalitarian Society for Pagans and a sixth-year senior majoring in history. “Basically, it means ‘non-Christian'”

Her husband and ESP secretary John Guernsey, a graduate student majoring in computer science, chimed in and said paganism has unbelieveable connotations in today’s society.

“Wicca is the religion, witch refers to the practitioner,” said ESP President and a senior majoring in history Carl Beatty.

Another member, who goes by the single name Riordan, said those interesed in Wicca and associated traditions should simply type it into a search engine on the Internet.

“It’s not some big secret you have to look deeply for,” Riordan said. “The information is very available to anyone who wants to find it.”

According to the Web site, influences from multiple cultures over the centuries – including Celtic, Roman and Christian – have affected Halloween.

The holiday, as current society knows it, comes from Samhain, Pamona Day, All Saints Day and All Souls Day, according to the Web site.

During Samhain, Celtic druids stood atop hills, built bonfires to burn crop and animal saccrifices and danced around the fires.

During the celebrations, some people would use the heads and skins of their animals to make costumes to parade around it, making the first Halloween costumes, said.

People dressed up to ward off evil spirits because the veil between the realms of the living and dead is its thinnest at this time of the year, Colleen Guernsey said.

Disembodied spirits are able to roam the streets with the living, looking for bodies to posess, said Rick Werner, owner of Club Mars and a guest at recent ESP meetings.

Naturally, the living don’t want to be posessed, so the Celts began the tradition of dressing up in costumes to confuse and drive away the spirits, he said.

Samhain was a celebration of the third and final harvest of the year and also marked summer’s end, according to Lady Taliesen, owner of the pagan boutique Taliesen’s Boutique of the Unusual, previously located in the Toledo area.

“It’s a time of year when we trade information with people who have died and other spiritual beings as we give thanks for our loved ones,” Taliesen said. “That’s why divination is so common at this time, because the spirits are about us to help pass along the information.”

In 835 AD, the Roman Catholic Church made Nov. 1 a church holiday to honor all the saints. They named it All Saint’s Day, also known as Hallowmas or All Hallows.

Years later, the Church made Nov. 2 All Souls Day to honor the dead.

The word “Halloween” comes from a contracted corruption of the words All Hallows Eve, John Guernsey said.

ESP was officially recognized as a student organization in April, but began functioning this semester, Beatty said.

The organization was developed to dissipate negative information and reinforce positive information about paganisim, he said.

“You don’t have to be pagan to come to meetings, or to join,” Beatty said. “You don’t even have to be a UT student.”

Curiosity and respectful interest are all that’s required, he said.

Just because someone comes to a meeting doesn’t make him pagan; whatever religion one follows, do so because it feels right, he added.

“That’s why I’m Wiccan,” Beatty, who has practiced Wiccan for one year, said with a shrug. “It just felt right. I didn’t have to change my thinking. Everyone adds their own views to religion anyway – you adapt it to you, to make it personal.”

Egalitarian Society of Pegans
What they believe:

* Wicca is just one aspect of paganism.

* Wiccans add their own views to religion and adapt it to make it personal to themselves.

Meeting times:

* Every other Wednesday in the Student Union
Building room 3018 (near Phonecias); 7 to 9 p.m.

* E-mail Carl Beatty at for more information.

Roman holiday, pagan tradition – Independent Collegian – Arts & Life

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