You guys are gonna think I’m so weird…
First off, before you get too far, it’s pronounced \SOW-in\. ("Sow" rhymes with "cow.") Quite similar to what a deep southerner would answer if you asked her what she was doing with that needle and thread. (Although, after a little research, I think I prefer the Welsh pronunciation: Shah-VEEN.) And yes, it’s the Wiccan (or Pagan, if you prefer) holiday from which modern Halloween stems.
But let me begin at the beginning. (Hmm, this could be a long post…)
You all probably know about my on-again/off-again battle with my spirituality. When my mother left the Mormon Church while I was in high school, I clung to my own beliefs like a lifeline. In fact, at times I was so suicidal (reference teen angst poetry) that my belief system was all that kept me from attempting it. (That’s really creepy when I think about it now. *shiver*) When I came to college, I located the local Mormon church and kept attending services, but somehow it felt different. I stopped going after a semester or two. After taking Sociology 101, I came to realize that religion was mainly a social structure, a grouping of people with similar beliefs, and that religion at its most base and fundamental level was a means of teaching and controlling a population. By or around this point in my education, I was living with Amy, who basically turned from agnostic to atheist before my very eyes while we roomed together. All these factors together — Soc class, long talks with Amy, online research about my crackpot religion — eventually made me discard my Mormon upbringing.
No, not just Mormon. Christian. My mom about swallowed her tongue when I told her a couple years back that I didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God. I even had a long discussion with Gary (who holds an Associate Degree in Theology) about whether Jesus was a con man, a liar, or just plain crazy (or perhaps misled). I’m sure Mom and Gary think it’s a phase. I’ll let them go on thinking that.
Now, hoping I haven’t alienated any of my readership, I’ll move on…
About the same time I was discovering what I no longer believed in, I met Kelly. Kelly was a VCT major, and was in several of my classes with me. Kelly was also a Pagan, and had no qualms about telling you all about Paganism. (Interesting sidenote: Kris H. actually dated Kelly just before I met her, and she’d turned him off by talking incessantly about her religion. So, she is known in our circle of friends as "Pagan Kelly.")
Kelly introduced me to the Pagan Society at BGSU, and invited me to a meeting. This only reinforced my idea of religious meetings as social gatherings, although I felt more welcome there than I would have at Church. The dozen members of the Society (which has since split and disbanded) all had varying beliefs: some were Wiccan, some Druid, some were Taoist to an extent, and some (out of sheer perversity, I do believe) followed Norse practices. More than anything, that made me realize that a.) my belief system is my own, and b.) as such, I need to discover it for myself.
So, here I am. Back to my original topic of Samhain.
To preface (and I’m paraphrasing from what I’ve read and researched), Wicca is a neo-Pagan religion which gained popularity in the hippie era of the 60’s and 70’s. People felt a need to commune with nature, to shed their prohibitive Puritan upbringing, and opted to revert to the oldest form of nature-worship they could discover. Unfortunately, most non-Christian European religions were nearly obliterated during the early Christian Era, and no true followers of ancient religions remained. (A few isolated covens still operated in Europe, however, believing themselves the only remaining practitioners of their faith.) Through research, interpolation, and a little creativity, modern man managed to imitate the ancient religion of the Celts as early as the late 1800’s, albeit under an extreme vow of secrecy. Most Wiccans believe their version of the ancient religion to have been founded in the 1930’s or 40’s.
Wiccans observe eight holy days, or Sabbats, during the course of the year. The first of these is Samhain, October 31, which marks the final harvest and the beginning of Winter and the Pagan/Wiccan/Celtic New Year. This is a time where one communes with one’s ancestors, remembering those gone before, and makes resolutions for the upcoming year. Wiccans believe this is a time to invite ancestors to revisit the world of the living; hence, the creepy overtone of the undead.
Since learning a little about Wicca and Paganism in general, I find that, around Halloween, my thoughts gravitate toward those have passed on, and toward my genealogy and family history. I used to think only of my Granny (1911-1990) and my stepdad (1948-1995), but now I have my Memaw to think of, too (1933-2003). I don’t know what’s happened to them, or where they’ve gone, if anywhere. Heaven? Purgatory? The Elysian Fields? The Spirit World? Another dimension?
Wherever they may be, I am bound and determined to keep their memories alive — even those ancestors I didn’t know. There are a few that I feel a certain kinship to, and I’m not quite sure why. My Mormon friends would tell me that they’re urging me from the Spirit World to finish their genealogy and Mormon temple work for them. I personally think I just find their lives and circumstances fascinating, and I can relate well to some of them.
So, I think I’m going to celebrate Samhain this year. I think I’m going to get out my three-ring-binder of genealogy and study my ancestry for an hour, surrounded by candles and photos of my family. Afterward, I’ll dig out the Tarot cards (and my trusty reference book) and give myself a reading — although Amy was always better at that than I. Then perhaps I’ll write a brief list of things I want to eliminate from my life in the coming year, and symbolically destroy the list (by fire if I’m feeling pyromanic). No, I won’t "cast a circle." No, I won’t "call the corners." No, I won’t supplant the Horned God or call upon the Ancient Ones. But it’ll be a nice little evening of reverance and remembrance while the rest of the nation is eating candy and burning couches.