Wicca devotee Chris Jones wants to clear the air about the symbols of Samhain, or “the night where the veil between life and death is the thinnest.”
BY BILLY COX
Ghosts: As witches became marginalized by newer Christian traditions, Wiccan beliefs that souls of the dead who returned each autumn to impart their knowledge upon the living were deconstructed. A latter version held that the spirits came to possess the bodies of the living for a year to forge a pathway to the afterlife; people who resisted such guidance dressed in grotesque costumes to frighten the spirits away.
“We’ve never believed in spirit possession,” Jones says. “Old Souls Day represents a benign sharing of wisdom. (The early Christians) turned spirits into spooks and goblins to strike fear into the world.”
Broomsticks: They were used to sweep the ground before Samhain worship services “just as you clean a church.” A coven — typically, 12 witches and a priest positioned in a 9-foot diameter circle — would then gather to receive guidance from the spirit world.
Flying broomsticks? Jones says that probably was confused with how Wiccan ground-sweeping heathens (techni-
cally, those who live in the country, or the heath) would jump as high as they could in the fields during the full moon. “They hoped their crops would grow as high as they could leap,” Jones says.
Pointed black hats: Conical hats with veils once were in vogue for women during the early part of the second millennium. They began losing their allure in the 15th century, but clerical Inquistors began assigning black hats to witches during the purges to hold them up to mockery.
Cauldrons: Traditional Samhain celebrations ended with regular stewed meals — not eye of newt or wing of bat — following the Hallows Eve rituals. Today, witches write negative aspects of themselves on pieces of paper, place them in a cauldron and burn them to signify new beginnings.
Black cats: Jones says Wiccans regard cats as their “familiars,” or kindred spirits. During the purges, cats were buried alive with witches. Planks and stones were placed atop the holes that would become their tombs.
Jack-o’-lanterns: Carved pumpkins likely are an Irish aspect of Halloween that migrated to America in the mid-19th century. Supposedly, an alcoholic prankster named Jack tricked the devil into climbing a tree, then trapped him up there by carving a cross into the trunk. Jack let the devil down after getting Satan to agree never to tempt him again. Jack was denied access to heaven and hell when he died, because of his mischievous ways, but Satan gave him a glowing ember — eventually placed inside a hollowed-out turnip — to shine a path through the night.
Jones says Wiccans “don’t believe in the devil,” and that gutted pumpkins were used to hold candles as witches hiked to the covensted, or meeting place. The firelight represented “the good spirit they carried with them for the night.”