As most of us know, Samhain is the best time of the year for
introspection, intuition, and divination. The ways we celebrate the completion
of the old year and the beginning of the new are as many and varied as we
ourselves. But considering the volume of both bad press and bad-mouthing that
inevitably accompany it, it is also a good time to do a little public education
about what Pagans believe in and practice, especially at this, our most sacred
and symbolic observation.
In its secular incarnation as "Halloween," Samhain
is second only to Christmas in the volume of related sales. Pumpkins, costumes,
yard decorations and of course candy are put out on store shelves well before
summer has gasped its last. And yet, if you asked the average shopper what the
true origins of Halloween are, chances are you won’t get the same answer twice.
This is what makes it such an ideal time to dispel the rumors and lies that are
as plentiful as candy corn.
A few years ago, I received a disturbing reminder that
religious intolerance can proliferate anywhere, even in a sleepy, easygoing
town like the one I live in. As a matter of fact, it was my daughter who drove
home the lesson for me when she became visibly upset upon my query about how a Wednesday
night youth group meeting she had attended with a friend at one of the local
Protestant churches had gone. A bit of
further questioning revealed that the pastor of the youth group had admonished
the attendees against celebrating Halloween.
“He said it’s the Devil’s night and that nobody should go trick-or
treating!” she said miserably. “I didn’t
DARE tell him that WE celebrate it, or that we call it Samhain!" Under the circumstances, I don’t think I
would have, either.
Of course, I hastened to assure her that the youth group
pastor didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. But it got me to thinking
that aside from my daughter, many other kids were being fed the same propaganda
by this pastor, and possibly the pastors in other churches as well. Armed with
the dogma of their faith and their prime objective of “saving souls,” I doubt
that any of them stopped to think that they were insulting members of a
minority religion by bashing our most important holiday. I felt that they all needed a little
"wake up call," though at first I wasn’t sure of how to administer
it. For a while, I considered my options.
Calling or writing the pastor directly didn’t seem to be a good idea since it would probably only serve to start a quarrel. I then considered sending a letter to the editor of our local newspaper, but I thought that the mandatory three hundred word limit might make it difficult to get my point across. So I decided instead to send an email to the reporters’ main desk to explain what had transpired at the church and why, as a Wiccan, I wasn’t comfortable with it. I quickly received a reply from one of the reporters with an offer to interview me! For me, it was an offer that was too good to miss, so I met with her one day that week. What fun it was to be regarded as the city’s “official SpokesWitch” (even though I never claimed to be speaking in any kind of official leadership capacity). We talked for a good hour, and her sincerity and open-mindedness were very gratifying. In fact, at the conclusion of the interview, she expressed interest in learning more about Samhain and Wicca OFF the record, with which I happily complied.
The resulting article was actually printed on October 31st
and was a lengthy, almost word-for-word account of the interview. Though the
reporter told me that the newspaper feared receiving some negative response
from it, I never heard about any from her, nor were there any
"bashing" letters to the editor. However, I DID get a lot of POSITIVE
feedback from the few local Pagans I have met. "How brave of you!"
these firmly “broom-closeted” folks said. And yet, I didn’t feel especially so;
I just wanted to set the record straight, and I feel that I accomplished my
Though I have always tried to promote activism for all Pagan
faiths, I know that a lot of people don’t feel comfortable doing so. While I
understand their position, I also feel that unless more of us step up to this
important task, we’ll forever feel obligated to remain in the "broom
closet" and continue to allow those of mainstream faiths to hold sway over
us. They do so because they fear us and our beliefs, and fear is the mother of
hatred a great deal of the time. With the distinct lack of readily available
correct information about Paganism they have an excellent excuse.
Beginning with the Pagan Pride day celebrations in September
and running at least through Halloween, many Pagan groups opt to run festivals,
fairs, environmentally related events such as tree plantings and roadside
cleanups and sometimes even public rituals.
All of these help to educate the public about us as well. Solitaries needn’t feel left out,
however. While we Pagans pride ourselves
on the fact that we do NOT proselytize, there are still a lot of ways to
disseminate information about our religion.
How you do so, in addition to how you tackle accusations, stereotyping
or plain old bigotry all depends upon how “out of the broom closet” you are
willing to be. Regardless of whether
it’s writing a letter to the editor of a publication, joining Internet religion
discussion groups or getting a study group together at the local bookstore or
library, every little bit you can do will ultimately be reflected in more
tolerance of our beliefs by those whose main reason for their intolerance is ignorance. Be assured that you won’t just be helping
yourself but ALL of us.
A Blessed Samhain to all!