For growing ranks of pagans, October 31 means a lot more than Halloween
A pagan altar constructed for Samhain, the pagan new year, which is October 31.
October 31st, 2011
09:54 AM ET

For growing ranks of pagans, October 31 means a lot more than Halloween

By Susanne Gargiulo, Special to CNN

As pumpkins, witches and faux cobwebs have taken over much of North America for Halloween, Clare Slaney-Davis is preparing an October 31 feast that some would consider much spookier, with table settings for her grandparents, a great-aunt and other relatives who have passed away.

As she and her living guests eat, they'll share stories and memories of loved ones they've lost.

The Christian debate over Halloween

Slaney-Davis, who is based in London, isn't preparing the feast for Halloween. Instead, she and pagans around the world are celebrating Samhain, the beginning of the pagan new year, a night when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is believed to be the thinnest of any time during the year.

That's why it's a night devoted to ancestors. "We honor them, and we recognize that we don't live in a world of people who are merely dead or alive," says Slaney-Davis, 46. "Ancestors are central to us."

Along with the Catholic holiday All Saints' Day, Samhain is considered an ancient forerunner of Halloween. Samhain began as a Celtic celebration marking the end of harvest and the beginning of winter's hardship.

Today, pagans play down the Halloween-Samhain connection. But the growing popularity of the pagan new year in Europe and North America is part of what many experts say is a global revival of paganism.

Slaney-Davis, who trained as a witch and a druid, says her religion has nothing to do with ghosts and ghouls. "To me, being a pagan means being in divine balance with nature and being responsible for my actions," she says. "I understand that my behavior has an effect on people I don't even know exist. It is not a theology of perfection but one of belonging."

Over-the-top jack-o'-lanterns

But it is a theology that's gaining ground. According to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, the number of members of "other religions" or "new religious movements," categories that include pagans, more than doubled between 1990 and 2008, to 2.8 million.

The survey, conducted byTrinity College in Connecticut, reported that the numbers of Wiccans and neo-pagans had also doubled in that time.

Contemporary pagan religions like Wicca and druidism are considered neo-pagan movements.

"(Paganism) is one of the fastest growing religions in the world," says Michael York, a retired religious scholar from Bath Spa University in the UK. "True numbers are impossible to come by because many people are wary to admit they are pagan, and reliable statistics just don't exist."

Movies that scare the people who scare us

While paganism covers a range of individual religious groups, including Wicca, druidism, and shamanism, they're bound by some common denominators, such as roots in ancient, pre-Christian beliefs, and their view of nature and the whole physical world as sacred.

"In traditional religions you have a conflict between God and nature," says York. "But for pagans, nature becomes the truest expression of the divine."

That, he says, is a big reason why paganism is seeing a revival: "If nothing else, because of the impending destruction of our environment, and our focus on finding a way to live in balance with nature."

Another key pagan belief is the freedom for each person to determine his or her own way to and view of the divine. "Paganism doesn't put restrictions on what you can and cannot believe," says Jason Pitzl-Waters, co-founder of the Pagan Newswire Collective and the pagan blog The Wild Hunt. "It grows out of an ethos that there isn't just one sacred way to understand the world."

But that lack of dogma has become something of a stumbling block for the movement. "Because paganism is very individual, it creates the problem of not having a unified voice, because nobody speaks for the movement as a whole," says York.

Another problem pagans face is one of image: For centuries, including during the Roman Catholic inquisition, pagans were denounced as heretics and devil-worshippers.

"One of our greatest challenges is to overcome the hostility of groups that still see us as evil," says Pitzl-Waters. "To some conservative Christian groups, we are an early warning sign of societal collapse."

Just last week, an opinion column in The Christian Post, an online newspaper, warned that the "dark festival" of Samhain is an invitation to the devil. The column said that "even though you don't consciously call upon Satan, his demons are nevertheless present any time a Wiccan goes through a spiritual door by using magic." It calls on Wiccans to ask forgiveness for their sins and to turn to Jesus.

"Part of what is scary for conservative religions is that as a pagan, I consider myself part of the divine," says Holli S. Emore, executive director at South Carolina's Cherry Hill Seminary, which has one of the world's first graduate-level programs for pagan ministry. "That means God lives in me, and that is blasphemous to some. To me, it's a big responsibility to do good and act right."

Scholars say that the neo-pagan view of God being everywhere and in everything is not a foreign idea on the global religious stage. "Much of modern paganism looks to older religions like Shinto, Hinduism and indigenous religions, which see spirit in everything," says Jenny Blain, senior lecturer in sociology at Sheffield Hallam University in England and author of several books on paganism.

"If you add all those to modern paganism, that is a considerable part of the world that does not live with traditional Abrahamic views," she says.

There are signs that paganism is gaining some acceptance in the nonpagan world. For the first time last year, the government of Britain recognized druidism, an ancient pagan belief system, as a religion.

"People either see paganism as dangerous or as a joke," says Pitzl-Waters. "But it is a serious global movement. Paganism has arrived as a world religion. It's not just a bunch of counterculture types playing witchcraft games."

That said, traditional witchcraft rituals, like gathering in circles and uttering spells, have an important place in modern paganism, which further unsettles more traditional religious believers.

"Because Christianity is more conservative, anything seen as supernatural or magic automatically becomes of the devil," says York. "Because of that dichotomy, paganism is automatically seen as satanic."

"People fear what they don't understand," says Emore. "But spells are basically prayers with props. What we call magic is the intentional use of power to achieve change, and just like with prayer, what you are doing is tapping into an inner resource. Gathering in a circle and acknowledging the four elements is nothing new - this is something Native Americans and many ancient nature-based religious people did as well."

For neo-pagans, the four elements - earth, air, water and fire - are closely linked to their view of a sacred planet. "The attributes associated with each element become tools in our meditation and in practices such as spells," says Emore. "Water is associated with emotions and intuition, air with intellect and communications, earth with foundation and stability, and fire with passion and action."

To York, paganism's ancient rituals also help bring a sense of enchantment back into life.

"The ancients had a sense of the magical, but with Christianity came a diminishment," he says. "The magical was denied, everything became inanimate, and from a pagan perspective we lost our connection with the sacred. I think we are rediscovering that now."

"Pagans understand there comes a winter, which is a time to ready for rebirth," York says. "For us, the last 2000 years has been the pagan winter."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Halloween • Paganism • Uncategorized

soundoff (1,367 Responses)
  1. pull your heads out of your @sses

    LOL...stupidity is everywhere!!!!!! run!

    October 31, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  2. J

    We should make this a national holiday so that we can get this day off. Too much to do when kids want to go trick-or-treating, especially when you get off at 5 or 6pm.

    October 31, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  3. Red

    I'm still not understanding what everyone is so afraid of...

    October 31, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • Stanley

      The free practice of religions OTHER than Christianity. LOLOL

      October 31, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  4. Rebecca

    Calvin, you're right, it doesn't seem logical what I said. I guess I went a little too far with that statement. I guess I meant that since God created everything, then God...oh gee, I can't seem to get it out what I mean...Oh well, God Bless everyone!

    October 31, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • Chris

      Right because your mind is to simple to understand complex logic and statements. Hence you being a christian....

      October 31, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • GodPot

      Everyones discussion of God is both logical and illogical. It's logical from the point that people feel they have been given a complex equation for life where they have a s s igned "X" all the unknowns of the universe and renamed "X" to "God" and then try to live the rest of their equation accordingly. It's illogical from the standpoint that a s s igning "X" any real qualities or substance with so little universal data is like asking a 2 year old for their english lit thesis because they were able to say "mommy". Infact I'll bet two year olds know far more about language than we humans know about the universe.

      October 31, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  5. dsdgdgdsg

    Get it straight – these are NEOPAGANS, not PAGANS. Actual European paganism was nonsystematic and died out with the systematic theology of the Western Catholic Church. Neopagans are about as culturally relevant to Halloween as ketchup.

    October 31, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • GodPot

      Funny you should mention that, but you may be interested to know that a certain Henry John Heinz who founded the Heinz Co. decided to start his empire in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the company has been located since 1890, and the company's "keystone" logo is based on that of Pennsylvania, the "keystone state". And as we all know, A keystone is the wedge-shaped stone piece at the apex of a masonry vault or arch, which is the final piece placed during construction and locks all the stones into position, allowing the arch to bear weight. The term is used figuratively to refer to the central supporting element of a larger structure, such as a theory or an organization, without which the whole structure would collapse, and was used often by the Freemasons both in symbols and terms, who also had ties to the structured pagan religions of old Europe. It is obvious to anyone who cares to look into Mr. Heinz's past ties with the Masons and his obvious use of red tomatos to make his tasty sauce that just so happens to resemble blood, especially when squeezed from a packet, that he was trying to push the evil pagan holiday on those righteous early Americans, and by all accounts, succeeded. And how close have these subversive pagans come to ruling us all? Can anyone say John Kerry?....Hmmmmm?....

      October 31, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • GodPot

      By the way, for all the nutters out there, that was intended to be a joke and is not factually accurate 🙂

      I don't want to have been the one who starts some right wing conspiracy theory about pagan democrats and their evil ketchup ways. Of course they would just rename it to make it ok so they could still dip their freedom fries in their Jesus Blood (TM)pending...

      October 31, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  6. jim

    plenty of very religous christians in other countries celebrate the day of the dead ... so how can you call it a pagan holiday?

    October 31, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • jay

      Because they celebrated it long long before the christian religion even started... simple answer.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • Sheldon

      Like other pagan holidays such as December 25 and Easter (the date it is on, rather that the Christian meaning of it), the Church took Pagan holidays and recast them in a Christian light. It was the early Church's way of getting rid of Paganism - steal their holidays and "Christianize" them. It doesn't surprise me the same thing is happening with Hallowe'en.

      Of course, Christians who ignore history will reject what I am saying. Take a basic university course in the history of the Church and you will learn all of this.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
  7. Les

    Excellent well written article. It's very refreshing to see an article containing the basis concept of pagan ideology without the ignorance that usually creeps in. Good job CNN. Keep up the good work.

    October 31, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • Lindsey

      I second that motion! Thanks for the great article!

      October 31, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  8. mohammad yassine

    instead of calling the inner self, one should follow logic . all religions based on emotions. religions are man made. it is a part of our body thant wants to follow the heart and not the brain. religion is more like hope and need more than fact and reality.

    October 31, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • Dave in Portland

      Thank you! I agree wholeheartedly. That is the issue that I have always had with faith of any kind. I just don't see how anyone can follow a belief system with no factual base and write it all off as "faith". The fact is, someone worshiping Zeus has just as much basis for their belief as someone following the Christian god. Logically, neither is likely to exist, as there is no proof.

      October 31, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  9. Uncle Dave

    Wow ! The world is full of pagans. But pagans have their greatest observance of beliefs on APRIL FIRST !!

    October 31, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • GodPot

      Just about everyone knows by now that if you have celebrated Christmas, Easter or Halloween you have celebrated a pagan holy day. It's just that simple.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  10. ELR

    Praying for more people to get a sense of humor.

    October 31, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • GodPot

      Laughing that so many people think prayers have real effects on actual events.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  11. Rainer Braendlein

    Throne of Satan (now located in Berlin/Germany)

    Revelation 2:12-13: "Pergamos, where Satan's Throne is"


    The Pergamon Altar is a massive structure originally built in the 2nd century BC in the Ancient Greek city of Pergamon (today Bergama in Turkey). The temple was dedicated to the greek god Zeus. The Pergamon Altar was shipped out of the Ottoman Empire from the original excavation site by the German archeological team lead by Carl Humann, and reconstructed in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin in the 19th century, where it can be seen alongside other monumental structures such as the Ishtar Gate from Babylon.

    "Since the deified Augustus had not opposed the founding at Pergamus a temple to himself and the city of Rome." – Tacitus Annals Roman Historian

    October 31, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      Was there a real satanic person, which was adored in Pergamon? Answer: Yes, it was the Roman Emperor Domitian (after Domitian's death the Roman senate made a law that all inscriptions, reminding of Domitian, had to be destroyed, because he had been such a nasty monster)

      The Book of Revelation was probably drafted, when Domitian (51-96 a. D.) was Emperor of the Roman Empire. John, the originator of the Revelation, mentions the Throne of Satan in Pergamon (today Bergama in Turkey).

      The successors of Domitian Trajan and Hadrian were worshipped like the pagan god Zeus (Jupiter in Roman language). That can be proved by historical science. Possibly also Domitian, who lived a little earlier than Trajan, had yet been worshipped by the pagan Greeks and Romans like Zeus or Jupiter.

      A lot of Christians were murdered by Domitian, because the refused to adore him as a God. Thus, Domitian was obsessed by Satan himself. The famous ancient city of Pergamon was a center of pagan adoration of Zeus or the Roman Emperor. Hence, John had to praise the Christian Romans and Greeks of Pergamon that they had not adored Zeus or the Emperor or Satan like their pagan fellow citizens. The Christians of Pergamon kept their faith and adored Jesus Christ as Lord and God:

      Revelation 2:

      12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; 13 I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • GodPot

      Or not. I love your weaving of fact and fiction, but that doesn't make your fiction any more factual...

      October 31, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • Quid Malborg in Plano TX

      @godpot: truth out.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Quid Malborg in Plano TX

      But Nero was The Beast 666.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  12. Truth

    Two things: These various pagan practices don't pre-date the truth of the bible. The term Pre-Christian only refers to the time period when Jesus was on this earth where he set up the divine path for his followers. He had a pre-human existence that pre-dates all creation. There were faithful followers of his father's right at the beginning with Adam, his name was Able. Shortly after, pagan worship began.
    As a Christian, I don't fear what I don't understand. I understand perfectly what these spells and incantations are that is why I fear them. What is not talked about on this article are all the adverse reactions that this kind of worship bring. Once they reel you in, it's too late. You may or may not get a nice demon that works with you.

    October 31, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Lucidz


      October 31, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • hippypoet

      wow, you realize that your insane right? dude, seek help, if not for yourself then for the rest of us.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • GodPot

      As a non-attorney, I don't fear what I don't understand. I understand perfectly what these laws and torts are that is why I fear them. What is not talked about on this article are all the adverse reactions that this kind of knowledge brings. Once they reel you in, it's too late. You may or may not get a nice lawyer that works with you...

      October 31, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Stanley

      1) Christianity started as a pagan, polytheistic religion. Rather, it's based on them.

      2) While neo-pagan religions are in fact newer than Christianity, they are best on pagan religions that DO predate Christianity. Much like Christianity's pagan origin predate it.

      3) I've never seen a pagan kill an infidel or heretic. Enough said...

      4) Anyone with more than 2 brain cells knows the story of Adam and Eve is just a story... 1 couple could not populate the earth. Learn some biology.

      5) Point in fact, MANY religions existed before \. Try reading about say the Sumerians...

      October 31, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • Les

      Your post is completely filled with errors. It is a scientific fact that Xtianity did not exist as a religion before the historical Jesus died. Pagan traditions can be affirmed all the way back to Neanderthal times. The entire body of Jewish tradition is directly lifted from ancient Egyptian and Sumerian traditions. Most importantly is that the early Roman Xtians were killed and imprisoned for criminal acts such as burning down Roman Temples of smashing the religious statues and altars of the prevailing religion. The seaths of early Ctrians while sad were not conducted without just cause. We call it sedition and acts of terrorism. The only mistake the Roman empire did was not finish the job they started.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • KLS

      Seriously?? Why do some Christians take the bible to be a literal truth? It astounds me that in today's era of knowledge and science that people can read the stories from the bible and believe them to be absolute truth. Even small children learn the truth about Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny, yet some will not grow up to question the validity of Jonah and the Whale? I was raised Christian and value the moral code it represents, but I cannot take anyone seriously who believes the bible to be an absolute truth. I for one have always looked at the bible as a collection of stories to teach values and morals, much like the stories of Greek Mythology... afterall... "God" didn't write the bible correct? And who knows if "God" hasn't created life elswhere in infinite space? Theology often gives people answers to the unexplainable, because humans are curious by nature, and not knowing is not all that appealing to man kind....

      October 31, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Truth

      And the flood gates of the crazies are off!! lol

      October 31, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Quid Malborg in Plano TX

      The "Bible" is nothing more than a colelction of Judeo-Christian myths and legends with very little in the way of anything that could be considered "truthful."

      So there.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Truth

      Why are you all so upset? No peace in your heart? You chose your course and the fact that you reply with such irritability is a testament to your heart condition.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • bella

      people existed for thousands of years before Christ. They honored the earth, the stars, the sun, and all of nature, it was the DIvine for them. I am a pagan, which means that I also honor the earth...'God' is in everything, not some bearded guy sitting up in the sky. I was raised Catholic, so I understand the parameters of religion. In terms of what you refer to as 'spells'...they are prayers. i pray for every suffering person each night before I sleep. Do you?

      October 31, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Truth

      Oh, you cut me deep Shrek! You cut me deep! Oh the pain. Just mentioning 'Judeo-Christian' must mean you know what your talking about. I digress. 🙂

      BTW: I don't support christianity as you know it. That type is false. Another product of the devil's plan. You're on the false side and so is the modern day christendom. Funny thing, the devil pits you two groups together and you argue till your blue in the face. sad

      October 31, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  13. Rick Springfield

    People, Against, Goodness, And, Niceness.

    October 31, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • SueS

      "People Against Goodness And Niceness"

      Really Rick, you should do more research before you comment. My Pagan/Wiccan friends are some of the nicest, most charitable folks you'll meet. Why? They believe that everything they do, and say, will return to them 3 times over. They advocate for personal responsibility of one's own actions. Not a bad philosophy to follow... no matter what faith you follow.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  14. Red

    I think we all need to wait until this season of Dexter is over to make a good commentary on faith...

    October 31, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • ELR


      October 31, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • manyfacesofmoney

      you so funny

      October 31, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • KLS

      I love it! 🙂

      October 31, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  15. Rebecca

    Julie, I was thinking the exact same thing. God is nature and nature is God. He created it all. We all should respect what He created.

    October 31, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • Calvin

      uh, if he created nature, how can he be nature? Not logical. Respect his creation but worship God!

      October 31, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • GodPot

      The only thing about God that is natural is for self obsessed humans to want one. It's natural to invent things to explain the gaps in our universal understanding, to fill in the blanks to make ourselves feel like like "we get it" or even "were really super special important specks of carbon if the Creator of the universe did it all for us, yup, once we were finished he took his day of rest..." That does make one wonder if it's a day of rest or permanent retirement...

      October 31, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • BoldGeorge

      The Bible so clearly says:
      Romans 1:25 – "...who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever."

      October 31, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  16. Iqbal Khan


    October 31, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • Quid Malborg in Plano TX

      Word to this CLOWN- there were no "Celtics" with your "S" pronunciation in Europe now or ever. The word is CELT, the pronounced with a hard K, after the ancient Greek word "keltoi." Also, Julius Caesar (pronounced Kaesar, like the German word "kaiser") claims that those peoples of Transalpine Gaul and Germania called themselves Celts, again pronounced with a hard K since in Latin the letter C is pronounced like the English letter K, and the letter S is pronounced as a the English soft C. Try getting a decent education.

      I stopped right there seeing as this boob sounds little more than the religious fool that he is.



      October 31, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  17. Leaf on the Wind

    I view neo-paganism as a belief system every bit as delusional as the Abrahamic religions, but a lot more harmless. If I had to choose (and I am so glad I don't!) between believing that "the devine" is in all of us and we should live in harmony with our environment, or believing that Jesus is my personal savior and if he isn't, I'll burn in hell for eternity, I'll take paganism any day. The few wiccans and druids with whom I am acquainted are thoughtful, kind, empathic people, while most of the evangelical Christians with whom I am acquainted are judgemental, arrogant, and in some cases cruel.

    October 31, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • Patriot

      Is what I just mentioend below delusional? Or, natural.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • hippypoet

      define interesting – oh god oh god we're all gunna die!

      October 31, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • ChihuahuaPirate

      Well said, and I'll take Pagans any day over conservative "Christians", who are the most judgemental, ignorant people I know.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Babs

      Thank you

      October 31, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  18. Patriot

    Samhain (as do other related pagan holidays) makes total sense for humanity. Paying homage to the changing season and to ones ancestors. Now what's wrong with that!

    October 31, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • Leaf on the Wind

      Not a thing wrong with that, IMO. I don't know many neo-pagans, but those I do know NEVER say that they are right and everyone else is wrong. They usually tend to lead by example, if at all.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • Curtis

      You sound like a typical American who doesn't care for the origin of these rituals. You just perform them because of the Majority. And then you will probably say "NO I'm not a follower, I do what i want." When really you are brainwashed and a follower of evil. Satan the Devil is clever on how to desquise such evil things by like you said "Its just nature..and ancestors" Poor brainwashed human. But hey! Do what's easy right. Fit in. gain the praise of humans. "Everybody's doing it, so it must be ok" Typical ignorance.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  19. Red

    Minds are like parachutes, folks...they only work when they're open.

    October 31, 2011 at 12:51 pm |

    Good informational article that didn't lead the reader with a christian overtone. . . it's about time!

    October 31, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.