As Halloween approaches, I would like to talk about the relationship between Paganism and Witchcraft, and some of the confusions and misconceptions. I would also like to discuss Samhain, and how this all fits together.
One of the big things to understand, is not all Pagans are Witches, and not all Witches are Pagan. Much of this generalized confusion comes from clergy of Abrahamic faiths teaching that Paganism is Wicca, Wicca is Witchcraft, so Paganism is Witchcraft (And other similar anti-paganic teachings). When in reality, Wicca, is simply one of many denominations in Paganism, and it should be further clarified that there are Pagan Witches who are not Wiccan.
Paganism, is a collection of many belief systems. Unfortunately, many traditions from many Paths (denominations) were appropriated while at the same time the origins were diluted and obscured. It is a smear campaign that played out over several generations and centuries until many people around the world eventually lost connection to their native faith. Halloween is one such holiday.
Samhain is a time of honoring ancestors, a time where the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead is thinnest. Samhain is not marked really on a solar calendar with a static day, it is actually an astronomical event that is known as a “cross quarter” or time between a solstice and an equinox. This particular cross quarter takes place when the Sun reaches 15 degrees Scorpio for Pagans in the Northern Hemisphere. This year that happens on November 7th 2019 at 12:14 PM Eastern Time. There are also indications that Samhain was celebrated at the culmination of the Pleiades. However, Samhain and other Pagan traditions that took place around this time of year got melted together into Halloween under Christian appropriation to create All Saints/All Hallows Eve, with All Saints/All Hallows Day falling on November 1st. The goal, as with many calendar holidays, was to appropriate the folk traditions and customs into Christianity when it was colonizing into a region to be more acceptable for conversion of the locals, this even included taking deities from Pagan faiths in a region and making them Saints. One of the few reasons dates no longer line up properly is because of the corrections to the Julian calendar by switching to the Gregorian calendar. As necessary as it was for these corrections for date-keeping, it still caused dates to go out of sync with traditions and celebrations. It is important to understand Pagan holy days are marked by astronomical events and not by a solar calendar, so the dates tend to change from year to year. It is also important to mention that many notes taken in history with specific dates mentioned were usually using the Julian calendar, and usually notated by someone who was not of a Pagan faith.
However, this post is about Samhain, Paganism, and Witches. The next big misconception about Witches is biological sex. Biological sex and Gender Identity have no affirmation to being a Witch. There seems to be a hard pull that being a Witch is only for biological women, that it is a sisterhood, and this is simply a terrible misconception. Neither biology nor Gender Identity has any bearing on being a Witch, that stereotype needs to go into the dustbin. In the simplest and broadest terms, a Witch is any individual who works with spiritual forces or energies of nature. So you can begin to understand how not all Pagans are Witches, and not all Witches are Pagan with this understanding. Some Pagans simply desire to live their life in harmony with nature and some people who are of other belief systems work with spiritual energies every day.
As for Paganism, though generally recognized as a system of beliefs, it is far more complex. In and of itself, it is applicable to consider it as a sincerely held religious belief, especially for Eclectic Pagans. It is a sincerely held belief system in such regards. However, as mentioned earlier, there are Pagans who simply desire to live in harmony with the natural world. Living in harmony with the natural world requires no deity or theology. It is about taking care of the world around you, like picking up litter, making more sustainable choices, and limiting actions that cause a carbon footprint or produce waste. There are also paths that have no deity but do hold a theology. Paganism started out as a label to cast everyone who was not of an Abrahamic faith into. So there are many belief systems in Paganism, and there are many walks of life in Paganism. It is not as cut and rigidly defined as Abrahamism because it was designed to be an insult and slur to those who resisted Abrahamic conversion. But it is that defiant resistance that has also become a blessing. We did not simply end our traditions and customs. Left behind were bits and pieces to bring us and future generations to the old ways and the old Gods and Goddesses.
Pagan and Witch are not interchangeable words, but for many in Paganism, being a Witch is a major religious aspect of their faith identity. Just as Samhain and Halloween are not interchangeable words, though many traditions associated with Halloween are directly from Samhain along with traditions and customs of other Pagan observances and celebrations taking place this time of year in the northern hemisphere from many Pagan paths.
The best thing to do this season is enjoy it. Watching the changes in nature, enjoying the treats, enjoying time well spent with friends and family. Remember fondly the friends and family that have passed on, and remember your roots, your family line. For me, there is a simple pleasure in the crisp air, the crunch of leaves under foot, the sights, and smells of fall all around. But the best part for me is the cozy evenings spent at home with my family and a warm mug of spiced cider before bed. However you celebrate this season, be safe, and bless each other with kindness.
~High Priest Odin