Local Wiccans await a cherished holiday, Halloween.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Buried beneath the costumes and candy that have come to define Halloween lies a pagan ritual, the celebration of the witches’ new year. For some the fact that Oct. 31 is hallowed by would-be modern day witches is laughable – or just creepy. To others, including some Monterey County residents, the power of the occasion is deeply and personally important.
“To me, Halloween is a time of reverence to my ancestors and to celebrate the blood moon that starts the cold and dark season,” says Liane Langford, a Carmel resident who has been practicing the nature-based religion called Wicca for 20 years. “I create an altar with pictures and symbols of everyone who has died in my family. I also put out pomegranates, because they are symbols of our goddess Hecate [the goddess of fertility and the underworld].”
This Halloween – which Wiccans call “Samhain” and celebrate as one of four major annual festivals – Langford will light black candles to represent the letting go of loved ones, and orange candles to represent the attraction of a new season. She frequently practices “spells” – rituals which resemble elaborate meditation more than anything else – where she arranges incense, candles, salt and purified water representing the four elements central to Wicca (Earth, Air, Fire and Water). After drawing a circle them with a wooden wand, she either invites positive energies into the world (during a waxing moon) or expels negative energies (waning).
“It’s a lot like praying,” she says.
It’s also a tame sort of personal practice that doesn’t seem to square with the reactions that the mere mention of the word “witch” can incite.
“Being Wiccan is sort of like being gay,” says Kat Serafin, a solitary Wiccan from Pacific Grove who, despite having practiced for about five years, has only told a limited number of people. “I don’t share it with everyone, because I’m not sure how they are going to react.”
Unfavorable views of the religion stretch back hundreds of years to witch trials in Salem, Mass. and Europe. Serafin says that witchcraft has historically been falsely connected to satanism, when it is actually much more similar to a form of shamanism.
“Wicca shares many similarities with Native American shamanism, in that we are a part of the earth, and it is a part of us,” says Serafin. “The tenets of some religions emphasize man’s dominance over Earth and its inhabitants, but not in Wicca. It stresses living in harmony with respect for the earth, rather than bending it to [human] will.”
Langford also describes Wicca in natural terms. “People have gotten away from what is instinctual,” she says. “They need to be more in touch with our planet and to understand the natural flow of life. It doesn’t matter what path of spiritually you choose to do that, as long as you do it.”