by MATT NEWTON
It’s Oct. 31, Halloween night. Children and adults dressed as monsters and movie stars are out trick-or-treating, or simply hanging out at a party. Maybe a few chaps are up catching a “Friday the 13th” marathon.
Elsewhere, in Williamsport, 16-year-old Amber Buechling is among many Wiccans and pagans alike celebrating a slightly different holiday, Samhain. Actually, most of what modern-day Halloween is has its roots in Samhain.
“I do celebrate Samhain. However, I also go out and trick-or-treat,” Amber says. The reason is simple: “Free candy!”
Reviving ancient practices
And why not? Wicca isn’t a religion of restrictions. It is a belief system and way of life based upon the reconstruction of pre-Christian traditions originating in Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Much of the information of how ancient peoples lived, worshipped and believed has been lost due to the efforts of the medieval Christian church to wipe out paganism. Modern Wiccans attempt to reconstruct those beliefs to the best of their ability with the information that is available.
Through that reconstruction, Wicca can become something different and personal for each practitioner. Many Wiccans consider themselves “eclectic,” drawing their beliefs and practices from many pagan practices and beliefs.
“I don’t know if I can describe what Wicca is to me. It’s so much more than a religion. It’s a way of life,” says Amber, a Wiccan for about nine years.
Earth is sacred
Contrary to common assumption, Wicca isn’t about “hocus pocus.” It is an Earth-centered belief system. Magic (or “magick,” as some pagans like to spell it, as a means of differing it from everyday card tricks and illusions) isn’t a core part of the religion.
To be true to the Wiccan view of nature as divine, Wiccans must treat everything on Earth as an aspect of the divine and harm nothing.
Along with this comes a belief in karma, which states that anything that you send out into the world shall come back to you three times stronger, whether it be good or bad. And thus, Wiccans have no Satan, because any act of evil would only return three-fold.
Not all Wiccans are witches, and not all witches are Wiccan. Wicca requires a conscious appreciation of nature, and an overall peaceful way of thinking. Wiccans believe that one spirit exists in all things in nature – typically in female and male form – and may take the forms of different deities, including ancient Greek goddesses and gods such as Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, Hecate and Hades.
Wiccan new year
At Halloween time, Wiccans recognize the changing of seasons in a ritual called Samhain (pronounced as “SOW-in” in Ireland, “SOW-een” in Wales and “SAV-en” in Scotland).
Due to Wiccans’ belief in karma, their Halloween nights aren’t spent egging and toilet-papering houses. Instead, they recognize the first of four Celtic fire festivals celebrated through the year largely by the pagan community. It’s the day between the old and new year, but it is part of neither.
Samhain also marks the end of summer and the beginning of winter, as well as the end of the light half of the year and the beginning of the dark. It is also a time for self-reflection and planning ahead.
And since it is a time between one year and another, Samhain is a very magickal time. It is a time when Wiccans believe that the living world and the spirit world become one. Often, deceased loved ones are honored and remembered, much like they are during the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
It is common for many Wiccans to try to contact loved ones, usually through meditation, visualizations or other types of rituals.
“Since Samhain is the time of year when most Wiccans remember those who have passed on, most rituals will contain some sort of offering – such as food – to the deceased,” Amber says. “There are many deities that can be honored during such rituals. The deities used are the Crone Aspects of the Goddess and the Gods of the dead. Personally, I honor Hecate and Hades.”
So, on a night filled with tricks, treats, parties, and suggestive television programming, Amber and many other Wiccans spend their time reflecting, planning, and honoring both the living and spiritual world.