It seems like anyone can get away with saying anything these days, so long as they hate something enough. We at CultWatch Response have seen article after article hating paganism and witchcraft, with no facts and not even very good fantasies, merely because pagans are a convenient group to hate. Many of these articles were directed straight at police, others were for various fundamentalist groups.
Why? Because hate is an offspring of fear, and people always fear what they do not know -- and they do not usually know much about paganism. Further, their hatred drives pagans into hiding, for fear of a return of the Burning Times of the Inquisition.
It is the primary goal of CultWatch Response to supply at least one reasonable, well-thought-out, and FULLY RESEARCHED article per issue, in order to promote understanding, because we do not believe that the followers of a God of Love should spend so much time hating something that they know nothing about. This first issue includes an excellent article on Samhain (Halloween) by Rowan Moonstone, and a set of "the laws of the Craft" that show how much different we pagans are than most Christians believe us to be.
WE ARE NOT SATANISTS!
Basically, Satan did not reach Europe until the coming of Christianity in the 3rd to 5th Centuries C.E. Paganism is a wide group of religions that existed in Europe prior to the Christianization of Europe; the fact that it was an extremely viable religion caused the Church to decide it needed to be eliminated, and so one major deity was singled out as being the equivalent of Satan and the persecutions went forth. This is not an act of God, but rather one of very greedy men who were pursuing temporal power in the guise of ecclesiastical power.
There ARE Satanists in the world. Most of them are harmless, and most of them do NOT consider themselves pagans. As pagans, we abhor criminal acts such as murder, child abuse, and the torturing or slaughtering of animals (not including feedlots, of course, although many of us are vegetarians and others have worked for more humane treatment of animals AT feedlots). We regard people who do these types of things as sick. Prosecute them, get them help, do something to stop "ritual crime". Most of us are willing to do our part to help find and prosecute these people, and it is evident to most police officers around the country that ritual crime does not involve pagans. It is usually found in gangs of children, led by other children or by sick adults.
WHAT DOES "GOD" MEAN TO WITCHES?
Nearly all Witches and pagans in America believe in one God. However, that God is usually felt to be totally beyond our understanding, and can only be understood by humans by looking at "parts" of God that we CAN understand.
The first division is obvious; Masculine and Feminine. We call these God and Goddess, and sometimes attach names from our heritage or from mythology to these aspects. (Indeed, most pagans prefer the Mother aspect of God to that of the Father, and use the term Goddess for the highest understandable form of God.)
We also look at what the highest attributes of ourselves are, and sometimes separate these into masculine and feminine (Hunter Aspect might be Herne for the masculine or Diana for the feminine). While we call these aspects and attributes "gods", most of us never lose sight of the fact that they are merely small parts of the one God. (C.G. Jung called these aspects "archetypes", and his theories have blazed new territory in understanding what it means to be human.) We also consider everybody (not just witches) to be a part of God. Our God is not merely everywhere, but even everyTHING. A common greeting in one branch of paganism is "Thou art God". This does not mean that we believe that every person is a god, but rather that all things are a part of God.
We even have our trinities. The Triple Goddess consists of Maiden, Mother, and Crone aspects; the Triple God might consist of Lover, Hunter, and Grandfather. Each group or individual might use different names for these individual aspects of God.
WITCHRAFT IS NOT AN ORGANIZED RELIGION.
Each individual is trained in the "Tradition" he or she finds access to, and upon completion of training is usually initiated into that "Tradition". Once that process is complete, it is expected of each person to think for and be responsible for themselves. There are no mind control games, no brainwashing techniques, no death threats, and, in most cases, no authority figures. There is usually a couple named High Priest and High Priestess for a ritual, but in MOST groups, this function is rotated among the members of the group.
American paganism has its roots mainly in English and Welsh forms of paganism, but we seem to have picked up extra material from a variety of sources (including American Indians), as well as pruning some of the things we found to be unnecessary and adding new material as it strikes us. Some American traditions sprang from the imaginations of people from seemingly nowhere, and other follow the "Old Ways" fairly strictly.
WE ARE NOT AFTER YOUR CHILDREN...
It is against our religion to proseletize (recruit). We do have bookstores open to the public, and we may be involved in open religious debates, but our gods do not need your souls.
BUT PAGANS ARE DANGEROUS, AREN'T THEY?
No. We believe different things than most Christians, but the differences are not great enough to cause the misunderstandings that exist. In fact, we are not very much different from the Unitarian Universalist Church or the Society of Friends (Quakers). We believe in going where our own conscience takes us, and each Tradition teaches ethics at a level not usually found in Christian denominations.
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Gerald Bliss, Editor and Co-Founder
In recent years, there have been a number of pamphlets put out by various Christian organizations dealing with the origins of modern day Halloween customs. Being a Witch myself, and a student of the ancient Celts, from whom we get this holiday, I have found these pamphlets woefully inaccurate and poorly researched. In an effort to correct some of this erroneous information, I have spent several months researching the religious life of the ancient Celtic peoples and the survivals of that religious life in modern day times. Listed below are some of the most commonly asked questions concerning the origins and customs of Halloween. Following the questions is a lengthy bibliography where the curious reader can go to learn more about this holiday than space in this small pamphlet permits.
1. Where does Halloween come from?
Our modern celebration of Halloween is a descendant of the ancient Celtic fire festival called "Samhain". The word is pronounced "sow- in", with "sow" rhyming with cow.
2. What does "Samhain" mean?
The Irish English dictionary published by the Irish Texts Society defines the word as follows: "Samhain, All Hallowtide, the feast of the dead in Pagan and Christian times, signalizing the close of harvest and the initiation of the winter season, lasting till May, during which troops (esp. the Fiann) were quartered. Faeries were imagined as particularly active at this season. From it the half year is reckoned. also called Feile Moingfinne (Snow Goddess).(1) The Scottish Gaelic Dictionary defines it as "Hallowtide. The Feast of All Souls. Sam + Fuin = end of summer."(2) Contrary to the information published by many organizations, there is no archaeological or literary evidence to indicate that Samhain was a deity. The Celtic Gods of the dead were Gwynn ap Nudd for the British, and Arawn for the Welsh. The Irish did not have a "lord of death" as such.
3. Why was the end of summer of significance to the Celts?
The Celts were a pastoral people as opposed to an agricultural people. The end of summer was significant to them because it meant the time of year when the structure of their lives changed radically. The cattle were brought down from the summer pastures in the hills and the people were gathered into the houses for the long winter nights of story-telling and handicrafts.
4. What does it have to do with a festival of the dead?
The Celts believed that when people died, they went to a land of eternal youth and happiness called Tir nan Og. They did not have the concept of heaven and hell that the Christian church later brought into the land. The dead were sometimes believed to be dwelling with the Fairy Folk, who lived in the numerous mounds or sidhe (pron. "shee") that dotted the Irish and Scottish countryside. Samhain was the new year to the Celts. In the Celtic belief system, turning points, such as the time between one day and the next, the meeting of sea and shore, or the turning of one year into the next were seen as magickal times. The turning of the year was the most potent of these times. This was the time when the "veil between the worlds" was at its thinnest, and the living could communicate with their beloved dead in Tir nan Og.
5. What about the aspects of "evil" that we associate with the night today?
The Celts did not have demons and devils in their belief system. The fairies, however, were often considered hostile and dangerous to humans because they were seen as being resentful of men taking over their lands. On this night, they would sometimes trick humans into becoming lost in the fairy mounds, where they would be trapped forever. After the coming of the Christians to the Celtic lands, certain of the folk saw the fairies as those angels who had sided neither with God nor with Lucifer in their dispute, and thus, were condemned to walk the earth until judgment day.(3) In addition to the fairies, many humans were abroad on this night, causing mischief. since this night belonged neither to one year or the other, Celtic folk believed that chaos reigned and the people would engage in "horseplay and practical jokes".(4) This served also as a final outlet for high spirits before the gloom of winter set in.
6. What about "trick or treat"?
During the course of these hijinks, many of the people would imitate the fairies and go from house to house begging for treats. Failure to supply the treats would usually result in practical jokes being visited on the owner of the house. Since the fairies were abroad on this night, an offering of food or milk was frequently left for them on the steps of the house, so the homeowner could gain the blessings of the "good folk" for the coming year. Many of the households would also leave out a "dumb supper" for the spirits of the departed.(5) The folks who were abroad in the night imitating the fairies would some- times carry turnips carved to represent faces. This is the origin of our modern Jack-o-lantern.
7. Was this also a religious festival?
Yes. Celtic religion was very closely tied to the Earth. Their great legends are concerned with momentous happenings which took place around the time of Samhain. Many of the great battles and legends of kings and heroes center on this night. Many of the legends concern the promotion of fertility of the earth and the insurance of the continuance of the lives of the people through the dark winter season.
8. How was the religious festival observed?
Unfortunately, we know very little about that. W.G. Wood-Martin, in his book, "Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland" states, "There is comparitively little trace of the religion of the Druids now discoverable , save in the folklore of the peasantry, and the references relative to it that occur in ancient and authentic Irish manuscripts are, as far as present appearances go, meager and insufficient to support anything like a sound theory for full development of the ancient religion."(6) The Druids were the priests of the Celtic peoples. They passed on their teachings by oral tradition instead of committing them to writing, so when they perished, most of their religious teachings were lost. We DO know that this festival was characterized as one of the four great "Fire Festivals" of the Celts. Legends tell us that on this night, all the hearth fires in Ireland were extinguished, and then re-lit from the central fire of the Druids at Tlachtga, 12 miles from the royal hill of Tara. This fire was kindled from "need fire" which had been generated by the friction of rubbing two sticks together as opposed to more conventional methods common in those days.(7) The extinguishing of the fires symbolized the "dark half" of the year, and the re-kindling from the Druidic fires was symbolic of the returning life hoped for, and brought about through the ministrations of the priesthood.
9. What about sacrifices?
Animals were certainly killed at this time of year. This was the time to "cull" from the herds those animals which were not desired for breeding purposes for the next year. Most certainly, some of these would have been done in a ritualistic manner for the use of the priesthood.
10. Were humans sacrificed?
Scholars are sharply divided on this account, with about half believing that it took place and half doubting its veracity. Caesar and Tacitus certainly tell tales of the human sacrifices of the Celts, but Nora Chadwick points out in her book "The Celts" that "it is not without interest that the Romans themselves had abolished human sacrifices not long before Caesar's time, and references to the practice among various barbarian peoples have certain overtones of self-righteousness. There is little direct archaeological evidence relevant to Celtic sacrifice."(8) Indeed, there is little reference to this practice in Celtic literature either. The only surviving story echoes the story of the Minotaur in Greek legend. The Fomorians, a race of evil giants said to inhabit portions of Ireland before the coming of the Tuatha de Danaan, or "people of the Goddess Danu", demanded the sacrifice of 2/3 of the corn, milk, and first born chil- dren of the Fir Bolg, or human inhabitants of Ireland. The De Danaan ended this practice in the second battle of Moy Tura, which incidentally took place on Samhain.
11. What other practices were associated with this season?
Folk tradition tells us of many divination practices associated with Samhain. Among the most common were divinations dealing with marriage, weather, and the coming fortunes for the year. These were performed via such methods as ducking for apples and apple peeling. Ducking for apples was a marriage divination. The first person to bite an apple would be the first to marry in the coming year. Apple peeling was a divination to see how long your life would be. The longer the umbroken apple peel, the longer your life was destined to be.(9) In Scotland, people would place stones in the ashes of the hearth before retiring for the night. Anyone whose stone had been disturbed during the night was said to be destined to die during the coming year.
12. How did these ancient Celtic practices come to America?
When the potato crop in Ireland failed, many of the Irish people, modern day descendents of the Celts, immigrated to America, bringing with them their folk practices, which are the remnants of the Celtic festival observances.
13. We in America view this as a harvest festival. Did the Celts also view it as such?
Yes. The Celts had 3 harvests: Aug 1, or Lammas, was the first harvest, when the first fruits were offered to the Gods in thanks. The Fall Equinox was the "true harvest". This was when the bulk of the crops would be brought in. Samhain was the final harvest of the year. Anything left on the vines or in the fields after this date was considered blasted by the fairies, or "pu'ka", and unfit for human consumption.
14. Does anyone today celebrate Samhain as a religious observance?
Yes. many followers of various pagan religions, such as Druids and Wiccans, observe this day as a religious festival. They view it as a memorial day for their dead friends, similar to the national holiday of Memorial Day in May. It is still a night to practice various forms of divination concerning future events. Also, it is considered a time to wrap up old projects, take stock of ones life, and initiate new projects for the coming year. As the winter season is approaching, it is a good time to do studying on research projects and also a good time to begin hand work such as sewing, leather working, woodworking, etc. for Yule gifts later in the year.
15. Does this involve human or animal sacrifice?
Absolutely NOT! Hollywood to the contrary, blood sacrifice is not practiced by modern day followers of Wicca or Druidism. There may be some people who THINK they are practicing Wicca by performing blood sacrifices, but this is NOT condoned by reputable practitioners of the modern day NeoPagan religions.
(1) Rev. Patrick Dineen, "An Irish English Dictionary" (Dublin, 1927), p. 937
(2) Malcolm MacLennan, "A Pronouncing and Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language" (Aberdeen, 1979), p. 279
(3) W.G. Wood-Martin,"Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland" (Port Washington, 1902), p. 5.
(4) Kevin Danaher,"The Year in Ireland", (Cork,1972), p. 214
(5) Alwyn & Brinley Rees,"Celtic Heritage" (New York,1961), p. 90
(6) Wood-Martin, p. 249
(7) Rees & Rees, p. 90
(8) Nora Chadwick, "The Celts" (Harmondsworth,1982), p. 151
(9) Madeleine Pelner Cosman, "Medieval Holidays and Festivals," (New York, 1981), p. 81
Bord, Janet & Colin, "The Secret Country", London: Paladin Books, 1978
Chadwick, Nora, "The Celts", Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1982
Coglan, Ronan, "A Dictionary of Irish Myth and Legend", Dublin, 1979
Cosman, Madeleine Pelner, "Medieval Holidays and Festivals", New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1981
Danaher, Kevin, "The Year in Ireland", Cork: The Mercier Press, 1972
Dineen, Rev. Patrick S.,M.A, "An Irish English Dictionary", Dublin: The Irish Texts Society, 1927
MacCana, Proinsias, "Celtic Mythology", London: The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited, 1970
MacLennan, Malcolm, "A Pronouncing and Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language", Aberdeen: Acair and Aberdeen University Press, 1979
MacNeill, Maire', "The Festival of Lughnasa", Dublin: Comhairle Bhealoideas Eireann,1982
Powell, T.G.E., "The Celts", New York: Thanes & Hudson,1980
Rees, Alwyn and Brinley, "Celtic Heritage, Ancient Traditions in Ireland and Wales", New York: Thanes & Hudson, 1961
Sharkey, John, "Celtic Mysteries", New York: Thanes and Hudson, 1975
Spence, Lewis, "British Fairy Origins", Wellingborough: Aquarian Press, 1946
Squire, Charles, "Celtic Myth & Legend, Poetry & Romance", New York: Newcastle Publishing Co, Inc. 1975
Toulson, Shirley, "The Winter Solstice", London: Jill Norman & Hobhouse, Ltd, 1981
Wood-Martin, W.G., "Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland, Vols I & II, Port Washington: Kennikat Press, 1902
ALTERNATIVE CRAFT LAWS
1. These laws are guides and aides to a better understanding of ourselves and the Craft.
2. The Craft is made of the interaction of people and divinity.
3. This interaction must be in perfect love and perfect trust.
4. The foundation of perfect love and perfect trust is found in balance.
5. Balance is achieved through understanding of the cycles of life and death.
6. A coven is a group of two or more people who have joined together for the purpose of interacting with one another and divinity.
7. There shall be no limit to the number of members a coven has, but balance becomes more difficult to achieve as the number of members increases.
8. The final arbitrator of the membership of a coven is the membership.
9. The authority of a coven comes from the interaction of its membership with one another and divinity.
10. Authority must be balanced by the total membership of the coven.
11. Imbalance of authority will corrupt individuals and destroy the effectiveness of the coven.
12. Balance is achieved through taking responsibility for your actions and the actions of the coven.
13. Because each member of a coven is responsible for self and coven, the only authority the coven can exercize is authoritative authority.
14. No one can assume the leadership of a coven without the approval of the membership.
15. The membership is the final authority of a coven.
16. A coven which is in balance has little need of perpetual leadership from one person or couple.
17. Each full member of a coven must facilitate some aspect of the coven.
18. If only a small percentage of a coven's membership is actively responsible and facilitating within the coven, there is little chance of balance. (NOTE: A coven may choose to maintain a hierarchy, priesthood, system of initiation grades or other similar devices to encourage individual development. These trappings often cause imbalance in a coven through the combination of unnecessary authoritarianism and the relinquishing of personal responsibility.)
19. A coven has need of only two ranks: Probationer, a member who is still in training, and Initiate, a member whose training is complete. (NOTE: This should not be construed as having ended studies, but rather as having begun them by virtue of having gained basic information.)
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