The True Spirit of Halloween, for Real Witches

Halloween is here again. Pumpkins deck our porches and Witches in pointy hats swoop across the walls of classrooms and … Continued

Halloween is here again. Pumpkins deck our porches and Witches in pointy hats swoop across the walls of classrooms and offices. Children accost one another, asking “What are you going to be for Halloween?” and grownups stock up on candy.

But for real Witches, Halloween has a deeper, spiritual meaning. Who are the real Witches? Those of us who practice the pre-Christian, nature and Goddess-centered spiritual traditions indigenous to Europe and the Middle East. For us, Halloween, or Samhain (pronounced Sau-in) to use the old Celtic term, is our New Year — the end of harvest in agricultural communities and therefore the beginning of the new cycle. At this time, we say that ‘the veil is thin’ that separates the seen from the unseen, the world of the living from the world of the dead. So this is the season when we honor the ancestors, mourn those who have died this year, and celebrate life.

Here in San Francisco, our Reclaiming tradition of Wicca (another term for the religion of the Witches) creates a big, public ritual, with art, music, poetry and dance weaving together to create sacred space. We name those who have died this year, and offer a chance for mourners to grieve with the support of our community. For us, death is a natural part of life. We acknowledge the sadness of our losses, but death itself is not something to fear. It’s simply one stage in the great cycles of birth, growth, death and rebirth that to us are sacred.

The heart of our ritual is the spiral dance, when over a thousand people dance together in a double spiral that symbolizes rebirth and regeneration. Moving together, passing one face after another, we enter together into a state of deep connection and ecstasy.

This year marks the 30th Anniversary of our Spiral Dance ritual — and of the publication of my book, The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess. In those years, our community has grown from a handful of us celebrating in our living rooms to an international network. Thirty years ago, information about Wicca and the Goddess was difficult to find and most Witches practiced in secrecy. Today, books, music, videos and networks abound — in part thanks to the internet. Wicca and our related Pagan traditions have begun to take the place they deserve among the spiritual traditions of the world.

So this Halloween, we urge you to take a break from the ghouls and the ghosts and learn something about real Witches. Below are links to my website, where you can find my books, including my latest, “The Last Wild Witch,” a picture book for young children published by Mother Tongue Ink, as well as many other resources. Enjoy, and may this season bring you comfort in grief, hope in sorrow, a strong vision for the future and the strength, support, and resources you need to act in service of what you love.

On my blog for October 28 you will find many links to videos about Halloween and our Spiral Dance ritual.
Our website for our international network. Find classes, rituals and community contacts near you.
Information, history, pictures and videos from the Spiral Dance.
Witches’ Voice–a great resource for general information on Wicca and Paganism.

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  • Athena4

    Wow, 30 years? Dang, I feel old! Blessed be and a Blessed Samhain to all!

  • fishcrow

    Neo-paganism has no unbroken lineage to pre-Christian roots. It’s a 20th century invention of the brit Gerald Gardner. Read Hutton’s excellent “Triumph of the Moon.”That said, whatever floats your boat.

  • unstablefan

    Honestly, I’m surprised to see that Starhawk blogs here at the Washington Post. She is at the forefront of a movement to obfuscate the “neo” in neopaganism and falsely claim that her contemporary, manufactured religion has strong ties to ancient Europe. Many of my friends are practicing Wiccans, but they understand that they are participated in a cultural dialogue and spiritual conversation with each other, with nature, and with their environments, even in the heart of New York City where several of them now live. They do not see the need to pretend to be connecting to long-dead traditions.I also find it interesting that Starhawk refers to her faith specifically as “pre-Christian.” I understand that Christianity is the dominant American religion, but to single it out suggests to me that she may have a political adgenda.

  • DoTheRightThing

    “Starhawk” has a paying gig that interests some grown-up adolescents enough to fork over their dough to her. Unfortunately, there is a powerful, malevolent reality at the base of paganism and witchcraft whose name is well-known but ridiculed today – all to the advantage of the Father of Lies and to the detriment/peril of humanity.

  • lynnec

    Jobro1 wrote: The “true spirit of Halloween” is rooted in a Roman Catholic holy day–it’s the eve of the Feast of All Saints.

  • AxelDC

    They call themselves “witches”, but have no more magical powers than I do.

  • Homunculus

    Note to kids this Halloween: If the house is made out of gingerbread… RUN!

  • wiccan

    Merry Meet and Brightest Blessings to all!

  • arminius3142

    Hi, Wiccan,Last year I lit a candle – I will do the same this year. No bad thing, in my opinion!

  • arminius3142

    “Quite true. We Christians seldom give our Pagan friends the credit they deserve.

  • pgr88

    How is “truth” derived in the Wiccan religion? Like most new-age things, there is no tradition, it’s all “pre-christian” so there is no continuous or written history, probably no “scripture” and certainly no academic history or consensus to build on. As such, I imagine Wiccanism is simply “anything goes,” made up pretty much on-the-spot, and subject to the whims and fancy of any mentally unstable practioner.Am I wrong?

  • Potter2

    Wingardium Leviosa!

  • sarahabc

    Thanks for the link; it’s always nice to learn about this interesting and peaceful religion.

  • adamnedsoule

    Wicca is “fun” religion, and it speaks to me as an Irishman. But the above commentator is quite correct: Wicca, as we know it, was invented by Gerald Gardner in 1950s England.

  • adamnedsoule

    Oops, almost forgot: Joyful Samhain, Miriam!

  • gibo

    Are you a stupid parent?If you allow your children to practice witchcraft even Harry Potters ‘junior stuff’ the child will eventuially open doors…and out come the spirit powers.

  • gimpi

    “…it’s all “pre-christian” so there is no continuous or written history, probably no “scripture” and certainly no academic history or consensus to build on. As such, I imagine Wiccanism is simply “anything goes,” made up pretty much on-the-spot, and subject to the whims and fancy of any mentally unstable practioner.”Pgr88, I’m no expert, but I have read that what I understand is the Wiccan equivalent of the golden rule is: “As you harm none, do what you will,” and “What you send out into the world will return to you eight-fold.” So, harming none should take the edge off those “whims and fancys,” and that eight-fold return should act as a bit of an insentive for doing good, and a disinsentive for causing any harm. I know Starhawk herself has quite a record as a volunteer, building housing, doing disaster relief and such.Also, I assure you, “mentally unstable practioners” populate any religion, and indeed, any group on the planet. Were you unaware of that?In general, speaking for myself, I find a religion that encourages people to do good things in the world, be careful of harming others, and give the dogma a rest kind of refreshing.

  • arminius3142

    “Agreed, gimpi. I am Christian, but the Wiccans and Pagans I have met here on line are all hugely decent people. This is more than I can say about many of my fellow Christians. People should listen to MLK, and judge people by their character, not by preconceived notions.

  • kathryn_dc

    I always appreciate hearing from Starhawk. The list of links provided, however, reminds me that we have many active leaders in the pagan community right here in DC. It would be great if the Washington Post could approach them to provide a more local perspective on the events that take place in our area during Samhain and the upcoming winter holidays.

  • spamsux1

    Starhawk speaks of “real witches”.Did Starhawk use her supernatural powers to “hawk” her wares here instead of the classifieds?

  • jonthom

    Kathryn is right. Witches meet in the shadow of the Capitol as well as Coit Tower. Why not a post from Washington attorney and Wiccan Hecate, who blogs about this every day?

  • carlaclaws

    pgr88 wrote: “”…it’s all “pre-christian” so there is no continuous or written history, probably no “scripture” and certainly no academic history or consensus to build on.”

  • carlaclaws, synonyms? (Sorry!)

  • carlaclaws

    spamsuz1 wrote: “Did Starhawk use her supernatural powers to “hawk” her wares here instead of the classifieds? “

  • jobro1

    The “true spirit of Halloween” is rooted in a Roman Catholic holy day–it’s the eve of the Feast of All Saints. Of course the word “Halloween” come the contraction of “All Hallows Evening.”

  • jobro1

    Ooops! below is the edited version…The “true spirit of Halloween” is rooted in a Roman Catholic holy day–it’s the eve of the Feast of All Saints. Of course the word “Halloween” comes from the contraction of “All Hallows Evening.”

  • compchiro

    Gibo,Actually is is your stuff that is foolish. “Many pentecostal christian churches still do exorcisms to set people free in the Name of Jesus.”They are fools conning gullible folk.”Dnt be THICK…keep your child away from witchcraft!”The only thickness here is your garbage.

  • elizdelphi

    Wicca is not in any reasonable sense pre-Christian, though its founders drew on eclectic religious sources including accounts of ancient religions. Wicca was the brainchild of Aliester Crowley, a flamboyant turn of the century Brit who had decisively rejected the Christianity of his youth and dramatized that rejection through his invention of an array of decidedly counter-Christian religious philosophies, which also included some vaguely satanic variants on the “neo-Pagan” theme, complete with “black mass” and centered on the amoral precept “do as you will shall be the whole of the law.” I saw a news article recently that the angry young son of a Christian family massacred several people at a church with one of Crowley’s books in his pocket, which promoted this concept. I’ve personally met some committed practitioners of Crowley’s “Thelema” religion who practiced a black mass and I found these individuals chilling and their beliefs abhorrent.Wicca is centered on the related precept “do as you will if it harms none.” This is one step up from “do as you will” but it would be very absurd to claim this moral vacuousness is equivalent to Christian teaching which requires a total rejection of evil, and total commitment of oneself to do the loving will of God (even when that’s truly counter to one’s self-will, as when Jesus prayed “Father, if it is possible let this cup [his torture and death by crucifixion] pass away from me, nevertheless not my will but your will be done.”).Starhawk has made a career as an apologist or “theologian” for neo-paganism but there is no way to dress up this tradition as comparable in moral content and human and social value (much less truth) vs any of the major world religions. There are people with good qualities and many good intentions and good human values involved with neo-paganism, along with people with baser motives. It doesn’t do a great deal to call anyone beyond their selfish tendencies, in the end, it is primarily a philosophy spiritualizing selfishness, sensuality, and ego, that values doing good insofar as it makes the person feel good, but without particularly insisting that one must do good.

  • Frustratededucator

    Here in Washington, D.C., we have school Chancellor Michelle Rhee and her famous broom. Programeed to sweep any educator over 39 out of a job, no matter how significant their contribution. It doesn’t get much scarier than that.


    GOD LAUGHS at the silliness of Pagan rituals and their idols ! ISIAH 44:8

  • mike85

    I disagree. Nancy Pelosi scares the hell out of me.

  • bevjims1

    Oh but people do fear witches and other pagan religions. Not atheists though. It takes the ability to believe in spooks to believe other spooks exist.

  • arminius3142

    The name

  • eaglehawkaroundsince1937

    I consider myself a good christian who has 3 good wican friends. We compliment each other. Now I have Penticostal friends also but find that they are so busy chasing satin they forgot who the Father/Great spirit and Jesus are. I love what Mother Theresa said. ” I love all religions, I just happen to be in love with mine” .

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    noHUCKABEEnoVOTE says,people are quick to spot the silliness of others’ silly beliefs, but can’t see the silliness of their own silly beliefs.jesus even warned of this phenomenon with his “plank in your own eye” comment.

  • sgitana

    @ Gibo:I grew up with my parents reading ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ to me. If anything with the name ‘witch’ in it is considered witchcraft, then these books would qualify. Or the Trilogy of the Rings. Or anything having to do with fairy tales.Back when I was in fifth grade, I was taught the biblical story of King Saul and the Witch of Endor. King Saul had issued a decree that all witches should be put to death. However, there was a time when he was in great fear for his life due to the popularity of David who soon would become king after him. Saul went to consult the witch who recognized him. Saul didn’t kill the witch, and she summoned the spirit of Samuel, a great prophet long deceased. She was quite frightened upon seeing this spirit. The thought was that this was the real spirit of Samuel, not one of her ‘familiars’. Why do I share this story with you xtians? Because I was taught that yes, witchcraft was evil and wrong and bad. But I was intrigued by this story.I immediately went home and tried my hand at necromancy. It wasn’t fiction that sparked my interest in the occult. It was the Bible. Far more interesting stuff in there than any child’s book, especially if you keep reading where the Sunday school teacher stops the flannelgraph lesson.

  • willandjansdad1

    Rabbi Hillel:Wicca:I work with campus outreach in the UU movement. The Wiccan students are universally polite and considerate. The leader of the group here volunteered so much time to the upkeep of the church that at the age of 23, he was put in charge of buildings and grounds. He has a budget and organizes all clean-up days and contracted repair and housekeeping.My experience with the Wiccan/Pagan community has been overwhelmingly positive.

  • andrew23boyle

    I find all superstition frightening in this day and age.

  • willandjansdad1

    unstablefan wrote:Un…I administer the facilities use at a Unitarian Church. I am totally non-spiritual. My personal beief is that any world view that includes “spiritism” is pretty much “voodoo”. That includes Christianity, Hinduism and yes Wicca.Having said that, my job is to provide a welcoming place for all while “cheerleading” for none.Starhawk is the first speaker I’ve hosted that required off-site parking, traffic wardens and a closed-cicuit-audio overflow room. There is obviously a following for “long dead traditions”. We’ve hosted noted speakers from all faith traditions and Starhawk has broken all attendance numbers.

  • willandjansdad1

    Axeldc…They call themselves priests and until the 6th or 7th century of their faith, magic was pretty common…Read your Bede for a contemporary account.Sadly, in our modern age, the priesthood is known more for pedophilia than magical power.

  • doom_of_cthulhu

    I’m glad to see that Starhawk, the supposed ‘anti-capitalist’, again takes advantage of the opportunity to promote her books. Why is this woman even relevent anymore? There are plenty of credible pagans who are literate and can put together a piece of work for the Post. Let’s hear more from them and not from someone like Starhawk, who sold out long ago.

  • dotellen

    The Wiccan symbol has recently been added to the list of symbols that can be placed on the tombstones of our war dead in the national cemetaries. But apparently those who want to place a cross on public lands don’t want company.

  • patrick3

    Speaking of real is Satan real?

  • sgitana

    and @noHUCKABEEnoVOTE:’Hexing’ isn’t practiced as far as I know by Wiccans due to the general idea of ‘First, do no harm’ idea. This goes hand in hand with the command of ‘Love the LRD your G-d with all your heart, soul, and mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ which Christ commanded. No one would wish to harm his neighbor intentionally unless he were a sociopath. Hexes are cast as an intent to harm. And when I practiced, I did so on my own. I didn’t consort with others, I didn’t gather with others. I didn’t worship a god or goddess. I made up my own laws and rules. I then did my research and learned what it meant. Many Wiccans self-style or borrow from other cultures, just as xtianity did. Compare the stories to the creation myths of other religions, the virgin births of other cultures, the resurrections of other gods. There are many forms of Wicca just as there are many forms/denominations of xtianity. They do not create an image of their own as you proclaim. Oh, and the whole ‘May Pole’ thing has nothing to do with Samhain. That’s May Day which was a fertility festival (what do you think a maypole was supposed to represent?). As an xtian/pagan and Wiccan/current xtian, please do your research before you start giving my religion a bad name. Or at least get off my side.I am not G-d, I never will be G-d, and I do not place myself in his place. It is not my place to judge what he thinks, will do, or how everything will end up. Nor will I stand aside and let someone speak for him in such a manner. It is Pharisaical. To the rest, Blessed Be, Merry Meet and Merry Meet Again. My apologies for any conversion by concussion that may happen. This is not how we all are.

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    sgitana, you said,are you saying that you

  • Athena4

    “If you allow your children to practice witchcraft even Harry Potters ‘junior stuff’ the child will eventuially open doors…and out come the spirit powers.”Oh, please. The HP books teach about fighting against prejudice, friendship, loyalty, and the value of family. They’re “Star Wars” for this generation. It’s no more real than Jedi Knights and lightsabers. That being said, if the HP books ARE true, where the heck is my house elf? :D

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    starhawk,in the old days, when people believed in magic and “witch”craft, witches were much scarier…

  • Athena4

    In the old days, as in some countries today, people were taught to fear the local healers by the Church and medical establishment. Any person, but mostly women, who knew how to heal with natural remedies was dubbed a “witch”, and tales were told that they cast evil spells on people, consorted with demons, etc. It was all propaganda to force them out of business. That’s not to say that there aren’t such things as hexes, love spells, etc. But any ethical practitioner will tell you that you can’t force anyone’s will, and that what you send out comes back 3x over.

  • Paganplace

    Ah, as I drop in with a few belated holiday blessings, I see lots of confused stuff here. A lot of it’s pretty much summed up by a statement early on: “As such, I imagine Wiccanism is simply “anything goes, etc etc””Our detractors generally vociferously rail against what they *imagine* about us. That’s no way to understand anything :)Blessed be, everyone. ;)

  • Athena4

    Any kind of conscious manipulation can be considered unethical. Most witches will say “for the good of all, according the the free will of all” or some permutation whenever they do magick. While a lot of our religion is cobbled together from a variety of sources, including the Freemasons, Golden Dawn, and other “secret societies” that were prevalent in the early 1900’s, the idea of “harm none” is actually much older. I would assume that it was a safeguard against repercussions if a person that came to you for healing died. Unfortunately, there was a lot of blame and scapegoating back in the Middle Ages, and the traditional healers bore the brunt of it.

  • jobro1

    While it is true that “…the pagan celebration of Samhain predates Halloween and All Saints’ Day,” most Americans are celebrating an event whose origins are rooted in a Catholic holy day, not its pagan precedent.Not that any of that matters. Halloween, these days is an excuse to dress up in silly costumes and gorge on candy and/or alcohol. I doubt many people are in church praying or participating in Starhawk’s spiral dance ritual.

  • arminius3142

    The Onion video was outrageous! I’m still laughing!!!

  • walter-in-fallschurch