home
RSS
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. allison

    Everyone is SO gung-ho these days about embracing native americans and their sacred ancestral culture. Samhain is a part of many, many many white american's sacred ancestral culture, and yet it just gets lobbed in with the rest of paganism and called made-up and people make jokes about it like it's a bunch of fantasy crap. Samhain is from ancient Celtic european tribal ways, something that we loosely refer to as "paganism"- I think this article should be more specific. it's not just "paganism"- it's a part of paganism, some of which comes from our european ancestry, and some of which doesn't. And I think there should be respect for Samhain as just that, an ancestral tradition.

    October 31, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  2. FajitaBob

    i am a hypocrite to my religion and give myself over to the devil inside me. plus i am a loser who is full of hate and judgment!

    October 31, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • FajitaBob

      You're not FajitaBob, you're a stool sample.

      October 31, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • Joe

      But you like fajitas so you can't be that bad of a guy!

      October 31, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • bob

      yup, that makes me better then you. oh and that was a judgment, to which by your belief your doomed to hell....also you suck at life.

      October 31, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Sheik Yerbouti

      You know the problem with fajitas are the veggies, they are all soft and gross. I go without the veggies.

      October 31, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  3. Linus

    Please report on Paganism another day, do not confuse thiese sun worshipping folks with the REAL meaning of Halloween. Candy and the Great Pumpkin! Tricks or Treats!

    October 31, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • Sheik Yerbouti

      Aw RATS!

      October 31, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  4. heather

    i have no baleave of this pagan to me thay gest worship the devil so i have no worrys that god well get them one way or anther with a plegg then thay will see who is all and mitey

    October 31, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Sheik Yerbouti

      I hav no berief you are abel to tok....

      October 31, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • Joe

      Heather you need to believe in a dictionary

      October 31, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • Jeremy

      Let me guess, you were home schooled?

      October 31, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Jeric

      Wow. You are a moron.

      October 31, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  5. Christina

    Honestly, the article doesn't quite cover all the truth. Samhain, as Pagans call Halloween, is the third harvest festival before the winter comes. Originally it had nothing to do with the dead other than if you weren't able to harvest enough food for the winter, you might starve to death. The original day of the dead was Lemuria and was May 13. Roman Pagans would pour milk on the graves of the dead to prevent/keep them from rising out of their graves. The church didn't like this and decided to rename it "All Saints Day". Over time, it was decided to move "All Saints Day" to November 1st to offset Samhain and take attention away from Samhain. To further this cause, November 2 became "All Souls Day", created by the church to further cement their hold in converting us heathens.

    What is known as Halloween in our modern times has actually been shaped and formed by the Christian sects and opportunists who decided to mass market the whole idea. So, when I hear of a group denouncing Halloween, I have to chuckle a bit since it was originally their idea to make Halloween what it is today.

    Samhain is no more the devil's holiday than Thanksgiving. Think about that when you sit around the table with the Turkey in a few weeks time.

    Brightest Blessings to you all, regardless of the path you choose to follow 😉

    October 31, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • Sheik Yerbouti

      So will you be dressing up as the slu-tty school girl, nurse or maid? I like the slu-tty maid the best.

      October 31, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • Laurie

      Well said Christina!

      October 31, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Sheik Yerbouti

      I know but what about the costume. The true meaning of Halloween!

      October 31, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • Christina

      Sheik Yerbouti,

      Costumes did not come into the whole Halloween theme until the 20th Century as a form of giving children something to do other than causing mayhem ( see this for more history Sheik Yerbouti ). Originally, Pagans would dress in their finest, to dress as what they wanted to be (successful, and financially secure).

      Now, I will not be dressing up in the costumes that you suggested as that is not what I want to be for the full year to come (this is also the end of the Pagan year and the beginning of our New Year). However, should you wish to try and find me to see my costume. I'll be the one with the black cloak, pointy black hat and broom with running lights in red and green. (have to be visible to other flying craft out there, according to FAA guidelines, you know.)

      😉

      October 31, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • Christina

      Sorry, forgot the link for you...

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izfwvrA4V-I&w=640&h=360]

      October 31, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • Sheik Yerbouti

      Ok, but it will be a slu-tty witch costume right??

      October 31, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  6. Laurie Shields

    Did any one read what Barbara said? Paganism is NOT a religion~!!!! There is no dogma, no need for a building to worship in and no book written by man. We honor the Earth, our Mother I refer to myself as an Earth-tender more so than pagan, but it's the same thing. We live by one rule only: "Harm None, Do What You Will."

    October 31, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • Matt

      It is still supernaturalistic...

      October 31, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  7. toleen

    pagan... just look up the word. Pagan is pagan.. no need to gloss over it

    October 31, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • Sheik Yerbouti

      I need to gloss over it.

      October 31, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  8. hippypoet

    when the last pumpkin finishes off, when the first leaves start to turn, when the weather at night bites at your skin, you know its time to begin, the harvest festival is now untill the food and drink be gone, all the night be lite by fire's song, let the fair folk dance and sing for they rule this time of merriement and take your soul if you do them wrong!

    just an old harvest song.

    October 31, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • Sheik Yerbouti

      Take your drink and have a smoke, and with sun rises get naked and lather on that SPF fiddy!

      October 31, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  9. sav

    Let's tolerate and respect outer people's world views and believes. It's our human right to believe in whatever we like or to not believe at all. If someone is forcing his or her opinion on others, those people are close-minded fanatics. Let's live in peace. We are more than just what we confess or don't confess. We are human beings, and that what matters the most.
    To all who claim that only their religion has right to exists: any religion, even Islam and Christianity, has a lot to do with traditions taken from paganism. Even if you deny it, "ignorance is not an argument". Just take a religion class.

    October 31, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • Sheik Yerbouti

      sav stop forcing your opinion on me dammit!

      October 31, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • leelanau

      On account of there being so much tolerance for Christianity on this orb......Egypt, Darfur, secular Europe just to name a few.

      October 31, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • heresy

      @ sav – well said. may the spirits bless you all the days to come.

      October 31, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  10. I am the Goddess you Seek

    Here the bag I hold and see,
    Bag presented unto me,
    That no wicked witch may come
    To do me evil in my home.
    In the stone which it contains,
    Are so many veins and grains,
    That no witch can count them all,
    And so many fissures small,
    That she cannot cross the door
    And do me evil any more;
    May I have good luck and love,
    Which I prize all things above!

    October 31, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  11. DB in Illinois

    In history, we find that Christianity "borrowed" various Pagan holidays and festivals in order to attract and convert those who weren't "Christians" in their eyes. Pagans who resisted renouncing their Pagan beliefs were declared agents of Satan, witches, and heretics. The zealousness of these early Christians further eroded the very message of Christ by acts of cruelty so abhorrent (torture, burning at the stake, etc.) I believe that even Christ wept at such abuse and cruelty being carried out in his name. Even today, many "Christians" practice an intolerance that does not allow for any views except theirs and leads to misconceptions and false conclusions about what Paganism really is. Thanks for a balanced news article on this subject!

    October 31, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • FajitaBob

      DB: who is being intolerant here? read the comments here and HONESTLY see who is intolerant. All I se is people bashing Christianity (and please–the crusades?).

      October 31, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • Sheik Yerbouti

      FajitaRobert is intolerent, I will NOT tolerate that!

      October 31, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  12. Harrow, Ween.

    A bowl of radishes, a bell, and a sage stick. Did it work?

    October 31, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • Jules Winnfield

      About as well as a tasteless wafer and a swig of cheap wine.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • lol

      don't forget cutting off the foreskin

      October 31, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • Bizarre

      Harrow,Ween, I was told that they are sacred turnips, not radishes or beets. And you forgot the "Oh, No, Mr. Bill" guy!

      October 31, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • FajitaBob

      juleswinnfieldhumpshiscat.

      October 31, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • twelveacres

      I think those are turnips.

      October 31, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Harrow, Ween.

      eating tasteless wafers and swigging cheap wine has its perks. who wants a stinky dirty foreskin.

      October 31, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  13. joe

    pagan? Such an antiquated word. It should go in a museum along with witches and sky gods.

    October 31, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • barbara o

      Ah, I see reading Hansel and Gretal when young still has you scared, eh? ; ) No worries, you were fed a line of b.s. when you were a child. We all were. All part of the story ... Pagans are held by the tenet "An ye harm none, do what ye will." Even insects are held in high regard. By that measure, I'm a bad witch. lol I suck up spiders with my vacuum cleaner, and always feel guilty as hell about it. Ah well, it's not a spiritual practice extolling perfectionism. For of you unfamiliar with this spiritual practice, it really just boils down to respect your home (that is, our planet. It's the only one we've got. We screw it up, that's it!) and be a good person. Anyone who's got a problem with that I'd have to question the content of their character, for sure.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • humbug

      ...along with burning bushes, parting seas, and zombie from nazareth rising from the dead.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • Laurie Shields

      If you don't like it, don't read the article. We don't judge people in paganism-–we leave that to the christians

      October 31, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • FajitaBob

      @ Laurie: you just cast judgement on an entire group of people based on their religion.

      October 31, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  14. Bill

    Take a look at D.C. monuments. This country is run by pagan sun worshipers.

    October 31, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • hippypoet

      now now, there is nothing wrong with worshipping the ALMIGHTY SUN! afterall its what you ACTUALLY owe your life to!

      October 31, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • Matt

      Haha takes me back to the George Carlin joke about religion!

      October 31, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  15. hippypoet

    Horvath

    @hippy That's great. So everyone else can share their beliefs, but not Christians? Imagine that, a double standard.

    you missed what i said – i am tried of this BELIEF BLOG being turned into a christian blog... i don't care if you wish to spread your lies as long as it is evenly spread out thru the lies of others and there beliefs... thats called playing fair!

    October 31, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • FajitaBob

      hippypoet: this blog is anything but a "Christian blog." All I see is people bashing Christian beliefs here. You have your beliefs, let others have theirs. I believe you are a hypocrite.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • hippypoet

      how am i a hypocrite?
      i said it seems like a christian blog, and i say that being here on this blog now for some 4 months...and all i see is christians and as you said people bashing christians... thats only two sides – i said i wanted to see more religions on the BELIEF BLOG – whats hypocriticle about that?

      October 31, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Answer

      Equating the word 'belief' with 'christianity' is a sure fail.

      October 31, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  16. benny and her jets

    question: Why are people so angry at christians all time. such anger...such hostility..christians..true christians understand that there are 2 points central to our beliefs.."love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind...and the second is like it..love your neighbor as yourself"...after that...there really is nothing as important...Why is everyone so angry at a group...myself included in this group..that believes in this....how does this offend or upset you....Curious?

    October 31, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • Jules Winnfield

      Very few of them actually practice the teachings of Christ. Almost none of them hold with humility and charity, much less helping the unfortunate, forgiving your enemy, loving your neighbor, you know, that whole tolerance and understanding jive. Nearly all professed christians want to be the judge, just like little wannabee gods.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • Nonimus

      I suspect that usually it isn't hate or at least not hate directed at individuals. The antagonism toward Christianity is not because of the beliefs necessarily, but more toward the impact of Christianity on our society. For example, how do the two precepts of Christianity lead one to banning gay marriage or allowing Creationist ideas into the public school's science class or demanding preferential treatment for displays of religious symbols?
      I would think that Christians can love their God without forcing it on others and I definitely think allowing people to chose their own way would be loving your neighbor and teaching inaccurate science is just plain wrong in any sense.

      October 31, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • leelanau

      @Jules Winnfield, pretty narrow approach, I must say....seems clear that you believe what you wish to believe about Christianity, and don't understand much of history really.

      October 31, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  17. Insert Name Here

    Apparently, there is a decline in atheism in the past couple years.. That sucks. Relegion causes more arguments than there really needs to be. Just imagine a world without relegion, a world without countries... Wait, where have I heard that before?

    October 31, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • Matt

      I think atheism is growing and that is great! Because atheists are treated worse then crap, it is hard to get a firm number on how many of us there are, but I can only hope that it is on the rise 🙂

      October 31, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • Someone

      no one can imagine a world with out Religion. Humans have to have something or someone to believe in.

      October 31, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  18. Eric

    Didn't pagans kill millions of people to spread their beliefs and force them on people...oh wait

    October 31, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • barbara o

      *All* ancient people were more primitive and violent than we are now (even though we're all mighty violent towards each other still) I believe the term typically used to describe some of the Middle Eastern religious traditions still being used – oh, and African, too – is biblical), including some Pagans. But to be pointing out the violent behavior of the Pagans is ludicrous when you have the Crusades, the Inquisition and a witch hunt right here in the US several hundred years ago to be talking about (all perpetrated by the ... ahem ... Christians).

      October 31, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • A

      Barbara, I think you missed the sarcasm there. What you said was exactly the point – that it was not the "pagans" that ran around forcing their beliefs on others at the point of a sword.

      October 31, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  19. Mohammad

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_0Kr78lpEg&w=640&h=360]

    October 31, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  20. barbara o

    To be clear ... paganism is NOT a "religion," nor does it have a singular "theology." This is a very basic thing (and something all Pagans greatly appreciate. re ""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.), and something the people being interviewed and reporting on the subject need to get through their heads before anything they say can be considered credible.

    October 31, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • Bob

      "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."

      Is he talking about paganism or Occupy Wall Street??

      October 31, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Grundoon

      I don't care if think I'm credible or not, Babs.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • mathetes

      Hmm, so pagans get to be their own gods. Seems like I've read something about that somewhere......Oh, I remember now, the Bible. It's JUST Baal & Grove worship (cheeky grin). I'd rather talk to a pagan than a Baptist.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      Sounds kinda pointless to give it a name at all, doesn't it?

      October 31, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • Grundoon

      I retract that. I may be I misinterpreted your point. . . .

      October 31, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
Advertisement
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.