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A Wiccan

Here's an interview with a godless pagan in which we discuss Satan's birthday, resurrecting the dead, and drinking the blood of babies.

by Rocco Castoro; Photos: Dana Goldstein
Oct 1 2008, 12:00am
PUMPKINHEADS BY SEMEN SPERMS



Here’s an interview with a godless pagan in which we discuss Satan’s birthday, resurrecting the dead, and drinking the blood of babies.

Just kidding. Here’s an interview with a very nice Wiccan lady about Samhain (the peaceful harvest holiday, not the band), giving praise to your deceased ancestors, and... actually there’s no parallel at all to the drinking-baby-blood thing in here. Sorry.




Vice: Do you view Halloween as completely separate from Samhain?

Nicole Cooper:
I tend to. It’s kind of like what happens around Christmastime. We celebrate the winter solstice, and then a lot of us who have relatives who are not Wiccan will do a Christmas dinner with the family as a cultural thing. It’s the culture that we grew up in so we can engage with it as well as our chosen spiritual beliefs.

Give us some background on Samhain and its significance to Wiccans.

Samhain is the last of the three main agricultural harvest festivals. It originated as a Celtic New Year festival. For modern Wiccans it’s the beginning of what we call the dark half of the year, which lasts until Beltane on the first of May. It’s often referred to as the meat harvest, because back in the days when everyone was a farmer it was impossible to feed and sustain all their animals throughout the winter so they were slaughtered. For this and other reasons there are a lot of connotations of death during this time of the year, which has definitely carried over into the modern definition of Halloween. Wiccans celebrate people we love who’ve died—it’s a time when we can honor them and do rituals to strengthen their presence in our lives. It’s directly tied to what the ancient Celts did. They believed the changing of seasons to be a time when the boundaries between this world and the other world were very thin.



What sorts of rituals take place?

There’s something we call the Dumb Supper. One side of the table is individuals with plates of food and across from every person is an empty seat with a plate prepared especially for their ancestors. We eat in complete silence—hence the name—so we can commune with the spirit of the ancestor who’s been called upon to be there. Some also conduct rituals using scrying, which is sort of a form of divination that involves using a medium to see things. The energies are high around Samhain and it’s very conducive to casting omens and divinations for the upcoming year. You can do it with a crystal ball or a bowl of water or a candle flame.

Have you witnessed anything spooky during one of these rituals?

A couple of years ago one of my friends lit a candle for one of his ancestors and when he stood up it blew out. He just went “Huh?” and looked at it for a few seconds. Then out of nowhere it caught fire again. It was like a movie, but real. And you know, if you’re involved in a ritual with a couple hundred people in a closed temple space and every single one of them has called upon a dead person whom they honor, there’s a very palpable energy in the air. It’s hard to describe unless you’re there.



Is there any Wiccan significance to pumpkins and other gourds?

Pumpkins are specifically a North American thing. It carries over from a tradition long ago in the British Isles when they would carve turnips into lanterns and put it in a window to guide the dead home.

How about jack-o’-lanterns?

It got all torqued around. People who are Christian have a very different approach to the dead than pagan reincarnationists. If you look at death from their perspective, wandering spirits are unhappy because they’re supposed to be in heaven. The idea of a jack-o’-lantern with a big scary face is used to frighten the dead away so they don’t bother you. It’s completely opposed to the Wiccan practice of welcoming them into your house.



Are you bothered by the increasing commercialization of Halloween?

I used to be, but I think most Wiccans reach a point where they can enjoy the kitsch to a certain degree. It’s a good time to get fun and spooky stuff if you like that sort of thing. But it’s not like we decorate our spaces with Halloween stuff from the dollar store. A lot of us enjoy it because we have very fond memories of Halloween as children.

Do you find it offensive when people dress up like witches?

No. The modern stereotypes of witches come from a completely different place than Wicca. People are deliberately setting out to be mocking or offensive. It’s just like if they decided to put on a clown or a scarecrow costume.



Have you ever got into it with a fundamentalist Christian who opposed your beliefs?

Oh yeah. Unless they’re completely illogical and rabidly biased, we usually sit down and end up having a nice long conversation. At the end they usually say something like, “Oh, you’re sane and reasonable. That wasn’t at all what I thought. You guys are all fantastic. This religion is great.” A lot of times they become pagan afterward [laughs]. I think they’re missing out on a lot of the fun of Halloween, frankly. Some people will really go out of their way to be offended. I don’t often have to deal with people like that. When I do I just try to be courteous and hope to get the same back. It’s usually not an issue because it’s not like I’m really hanging out with fundamentalists that much.

Is there any truth to rumors of human or animal sacrifice in Wicca?

No. There are always some crazy kids who want to thrill-seek and scare other people because they read it in some dime-store paperback. It’s certainly been laid on our doorstep in the past, but the only animal sacrifice I’m going to have this Samhain will be a pork chop.