Myths about witches: Pagan roots behind Halloween never were meant to be spooky

Like urban legends, the symbols of contemporary Halloween festivities make great theater, but bear little resemblance to their less fanciful origins. Malevolent ghosts, leering jack-o’-lanterns, witches plying the skies atop broomsticks — when it comes to embodying authentic traditions, they’re no more accurate than chocolate bunnies and plastic eggs in mirroring the Christian roots of Easter.


Although nature worship, or animism, has coursed through human history since the dawn of mysticism, the aspect known as Wicca — whose rituals form the undercurrent of modern Halloween — is the most popularly distorted in the West.

Even today, misconceptions of its adherents, known as witches, can perpetuate a clinical condition known as Samhainophobia, a fear of Halloween. And that, according to one definition, also can lead to ailurophobia (a fear of cats), phasmophobia (fear of ghosts), arachnophobia (fear of spiders), nyctophobia (fear of the dark), and coimetrophobia (fear of cemeteries).

Thirteen years ago, after getting hired as a nurse at the now-defunct Heritage Health drug rehabilitation hospital in South Brevard, Wicca devotee Chris Jones was abruptly terminated before she pulled her first shift because a staff member developed a case of Wiccaphobia. Jones sued on grounds of religious discrimination, won a settlement, and wound up telling her story to national audiences on “Larry King Live.”

Now working psychic hot-line calls from her home in South Patrick Shores, Jones says witches still face degrading stereotypes that can be traced to a 500-year-old Roman Catholic edict that made the worship of a nature goddess punishable by death. The papal bull was issued by Pope Innocent VIII in 1484, which led to countless executions across Europe. Additionally, Wiccan traditions — including the Hallow’s Eve celebration of Samhain on Oct. 31, which marked the Celtic new year — were subjected to a ridicule that extends to the iconography of today.

“The Church tried to demolish a whole religion,” she says, “and we’ve never received an apology from Rome.”

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