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The Truth About Witchcraft Workshop

The Truth About Witchcraft
By Darla Kaye Wynne and Dean Harris

According to the dictionary “Witchcraft” is defined as the following:

Witch-craft (-kraf’) n. [wicchecrafte SYN. Magic

This definition was found in both the 1996 edition of the Webster’s New World College Dictionary and the 1970 edition of the Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, showing that not a lot has changed in regards to the perception of the religion known as “Witchcraft” in today’s society.

While this definition may be found in dictionaries and encyclopedias, this is not the factual or truthful definition of Witchcraft, but one that the church and the power of the church has bestowed upon our society.

In the third (3rd) century A.D., Constantine is the first known individual that began revising the biblical text to make the practice of Witchcraft by it’s practitioners illegal with this one line verse from the bible:

Exodus 22:18 Thou shall not suffer a witch to live.

The original word was poisoner and was changed by Constantine to witch to begin the reign of terror and murder against the practitioners of Witchcraft that even today to some degree still exist within our society.

Originally the practice of witchcraft, sorcery, wizardry, diviners, observer’s of the times, enchanter, charmer, consulter with familiar spirits or necromancer were all classified as a violation or curse from the Christian god.

By the fourth (4th) century A.D., the art of all the above mentioned was a civil offense punishable by fines, imprisonment and banishment. Once the church, both the Catholic and Protestant began to control much of the lands, money, and power, they began to build strong alliances with kingdoms and nations that entitled them to govern the once civil laws, which turned them into laws against not only the church but the state. Soon after this happened the art of practicing Witchcraft became a crime of heresy punishable by death with strong fines attached to every detail of torture to get confessions until the last detail of death. It may have cost someone a fortune they did not have or own to be accused, tried, tortured and murdered for practicing their religion of their ancestors.

While church records on a historical level has recorded the practice of Witchcraft in a very negative and untruthful manner; times are beginning to change with the science of anthropology and archeology. Both of these sciences studies ancient cultures and are beginning to paint a more realistic view point of the ancient peoples from which all of us originate from. Witchcraft can be traced back to the ancient Indo-European tribes of Europe, Asia and Africa. Depending on the cultural background of a person will portray the type of shamanic practices they use within their art of Witchcraft.

The word “witch” or “witchcraft” originates from the word wicche or wicce a feminine aspect of wicca; sorcerer akin to MDUwicken to use magic. When you look up the origins of this word it will tell you evil, but is it really?

The church chose this word at a time when women were being removed from positions of status and power. The church through out its history has attempted to make woman a lesser individual than man. It is no wonder that the church would use a feminine form of the word evil, while allowing the masculine version to portray the concept of a wise man. Many believe that the witch hunts were nothing more than a form of genocide to murder strong, independent women while at the same time performing forced conversions to the new founded Christian faith. The majority of the people murdered during the time now known as the “Burning Times” were women and the men who loved, supported and eventually died for them. Also, if you look at the church records from that time period, you will be able to see that with each murder the church gained new land and other offerings from the individuals that they murdered and if you look even closer, you will see that when the church wanted a certain area or province they sometimes murdered whole villages and tribes to acquire the lands they desired.

A fine example of how the science of archeology and anthropology has begin to change the meanings of ancient cultures and their forms of worship and practices can be seen within this one word, witch doctor. I will provide you with the meaning obtained from both the 1970 and 1996 Webster’s Dictionary.

1970 Edition: witchdoctor- among certain tribes, especially in Africa, a person practiced a primitive medicine involving the use of magic, witchcraft, etc.

1996 Edition: witchdoctor-in certain primitive societies, a person supposed to have the power of curing disease, warding off evil, etc. through the use of sorcery, incantations and etc.

As you can see from this example, anthropology and archeology has made a distinct difference in the definition, meaning and perception of this word that once had a negative connotation to all that heard it.

While we must admit to ourselves and others that we cannot change the views of the church, we have managed to receive a public apology that has never been done by any other Pope within history, the church has finally admitted that they were wrong for murdering and forcing the Pagans to convert through the use of force. While we acknowledge the above we can still hope that we as practicing Witches can provide you with a truthful perspective to the art and practice of Witchcraft.

Introduction to Witchcraft

Witchcraft will be referred to by many by the names of Wicca, Paganism, Old Religion and The Craft. Some will even argue that none of those terms are the same as Witchcraft. But the key to this aspect of understanding the terminology is the individual and their form of worship, so when in doubt, ask. To me, they are all the same religion and nothing more than a preference in terminology, but I am just a single individual and cannot nor will I even attempt to speak for every practicing Pagan, Wiccan or Witch in our society.

Witchcraft is an earth-based religion, life affirming, and vital and spiritual religion reviving the ancestral roots of the indigenous people of each individual’s heritage. Today Witchcraft is a wonderful blend of ancient concepts with modern knowledge and information.

Witchcraft is a religion that can be shaped to fit the needs of the individual and has no strict dogmatic structure. There are universal concepts that practitioners share, but only a few of the codes, ethics or principles are mandates as a per-say requirement to follow the path of Witchcraft. Witchcraft is a religion designed to fit the needs of the individual and is a path that only the individual can walk to find their form of spirituality.

There is no one name for the concept of divinity or deity. It is believed that the divine is both male and female and the way of creation, so therefore there is a God and Goddess. Both are equal and important within Witchcraft. What an individual decides to call divine will have a lot to do with their cultural background and heritage.

There is no Satan or Devil within the deity structure of Witchcraft and never has been. Satan was created within the third (3rd) century A.D. by Zorastor and for some reason the Christian faith incorporated this deity. Witches are not Satanist. Satanist are reversed and perverted Christians. To believe in Satan you must believe in the Christian concepts, which Witches do not.

Within Witchcraft evil is the intent of the individual and not a deity that has control over us or our actions. We do not believe that anyone or any deity has the ability to make us do something against our will. The concept of evil is the individual intent and not a supreme being. Within Witchcraft only the conscious decision to harm another can be classified as negativity or better known as evil, but the individual will be held accountable to and for their actions. To harm another is against the belief system of a Witch.

Witchcraft has no one book that detail our one and only belief system, such as the Christian faith’s Bible. We record our journey in what is known as the Book of Shadows. The Book of Shadow may be from an ancestor with each ancestor’s journey recorded within it or a new one created for each individuals journey. At one time, before the Burning Times, our belief system was an oral tradition passed down from mother to daughter and father to son, but once the genocidal acts of the church began, it became necessary to record our families traditions and to protect them for our children’s future leaning process of our faith system. This is the only way we have survived into today’s society.

Beliefs of a Witch

This is a common list of basic beliefs held by most Witches. This list is not a complete list and nor is it a statement that all Witches share this belief, but a generalized concept of the people I know and surround myself with and what I do teach and believe in.

1. All life is sacred.
2. All life must be respected
3. The Earth is not just for this time, but for all times and should be treated as such.
4. Respect the Earth and help maintain our environment
5. Respect for human, animal and plant life
6. Changing of the seasons mark the Sabbats
7. There are eight (8) Sabbats
8. The moon marks the Esbats
9. The phases of the moon correlates with certain rituals and spells
10. Full moons are usually used for healing
11. Witchcraft is a legally recognized religion
12. Witches do not attempt to convert anyone
13. Witchcraft is a personal journey and only the individual can decide to follow the path
14. It is the personal decision of the individual to be in or out of the “broom closet”
15. Witches respect all forms of diversity within all people, whether it is racial, religious, cultural, teaching, traditional or sexual
16. Spells are similar to the power of prayer and do not involve conjuring up evil spirits or the devil to assist us in our needs
17. The circle is a sacred space and similar to that of a church, synagogue or sacred lodge
18. The divine concept is both masculine and feminine
19. There is no one name to call the divine in either gender
20. There is no one and only path in life that is for all people
21. Witches value religious freedom and desire to stop the persecution of our children and us
22. Witches strive for knowledge through out all of their lives
23. Witches attempt to be law-abiding citizens and live in harmony
24. Witches believe in some form of reincarnation
25. The male and female are equal in all aspects of life, including divinity
26. Witches use tools such as herbs, tarot, astrology, etc. to better their lives and to attain and honor that which is divine.
27. Witches do not believe in a deity known as Satan or Devil
28. Witches do not do any form of human or animal sacrifice
29. Witches do not kill children for their fat to make a flying potion
30. Witches do not use their rituals for sexual depravity, but for religious worship, but do accept our sexuality and express it in a positive manner
31. Witches do not use drugs or alcohol to attain or honor the divine
32. Witches do not commit acts of violence in the name of religion
33. Witches are not against any religion, specifically Christian
34. Witches are not at war for the souls of Christians or their children
35. Witches do not participate in ritual abuse of any kind
36. Witches do not practice black magic of any kind
37. Halloween is not a satanic holiday
38. Witches do not make pacts with the devil
39. Witches do not have sex with the devil
40. Witches do not break nay laws to practice their religion
41. Witches do not force their children to follow their path of religion

Ethics of a Witch

Many non-Witches have agreed that people who practice Witchcraft have no morals or values. This is not a true statement. The religion itself has a very strict moralistic code that is unwritten with the concept of reverence for all life, including plant and animals. Being a Witch is more than going to church on Sunday and asking for a divine being to forgive you week after week and never changing your habits. A Witch lives a certain moralistic life and has a code of ethics that encompasses all aspects of our divine and mundane life.

“An it harm none, do as you will.” This statement is classified as the Wiccan Rede pronounced reed. This means exactly what it states. Do no harm to none. Considering the fact that we are human, we will make mistakes and unfortunately, sometimes people will get hurt. The difference from being human and the Rede is the intent of the individual. To intentionally harm another is against all that we believe in.

The Threefold Law is the belief that all that an individual does comes back to them three (3) times over, whether it be good or bad. If you send out negative energy you will receive negative energy back three times over, if you send out positive energy you will also receive it three times over. Not everything you experience in this life is due to the Threefold Law. Some experiences are life’s lessons, things you must learn to move forward in not only this life, but also your next life and to also resolve past lives issues

Love spells are not acceptable due to the manipulation of one’s will and true desires. To attempt to control another’s will, mind or emotions is harming that individual and making them do something that they would not normally do. To create a love spell for all human kind to be loving, kind, caring and understanding to all individuals is not classified as a love spell but one of healing and one that needs to be done to heal our world and the anger and hatred within it.

Witches do not use their natural or abilities that they have developed to further their existence with greed. A Witch must learn to use their abilities to aid their community, its people and themselves in a positive manner and not to be greedy or selfish. Greed and selfishness promotes harm in the long run.

As Witches we must learn to work within and abide by the laws of the land, if the laws of the land are just and fair to all, which includes the practice of Witchcraft and our practices. While we strive to be the best that we can within our community, our community must be willing to accept us and abide by the same laws as us. We will and do use the laws of the land to protect us and feel strongly we have the right to self-defense. No matter what the reason for breaking the laws of the land, we feel strongly that the individual will take responsibility for their decision in violating the law.

“Perfect Love and Perfect Trust” is the concept of unconditional love and trust to each individual we meet. This concept is becoming harder with each passing day due to the violence of our world, but yet we still attempt to practice this concept in its original concept by listening to our inner self for guidance. We always enter into Circle with perfect love and trust of our coven brother and sisters.

More than anything else, the basis of Witchcraft is that we must accept personal responsibility for our actions and decisions. We cannot do something and then shift the blame with a simple, “My Priestess, Priest, the devil or she or he made me do it or society wouldn’t let me.” We are the only ones who have made the decisions to base our action and must accept that responsibility.

Goals of the Witch

The goals of the Witch may vary from individual to individual, but here are a few concepts that most Witches share. All Witches have a common thread that bonds and bounds us to our chosen path.

1. To know one self
2. Know your chosen path
3. Never stop learning
4. Celebrate life
5. Honor the divine in both aspects of the God and Goddess
6. Attune to the Earth cycles
7. Exercise the mind
8. Exercise the body
9. Maintain personal balance from within
10. Keep our words in a positive order
11. Keep our thoughts in a positive order
12. Learn to listen to all things
13. Let there be knowledge with wisdom
14. Meditate
15. Live life according to the Wiccan Rede
16. Maintain optimum health in all realms
17. Breathe correctly
18. Eat correctly
19. Acceptance of all things we encounter
20. Turn all experiences into positive learning tools
21. Love thyself
22. Heal our world and environment
23. To create a tolerant society for all living beings

Practices of the Witch

Training: Witches are not bound by a strict dogmatic structure. There is no book that we classify as the book of knowledge. Witches may search out individuals to learn from, join covens to undergo initiated changes of growth on a personal and spiritual level. With the constant change of communications, we are experiencing a growth on resources that we may enter into training of all different aspects of our religion. The Internet has opened the doors of communication and sharing of one’s ideas and ideology. There are approximately 5,000 or more sites on the Internet that deal with the Old Religion and every day new ones are opening up. Training is no longer a limited concept to a specific teacher, book or solitary concept. Even the solitary Witch has ways of learning from others without ever having to come into contact with people and maintaining their solitary status.

Book of Shadows: Witches call their personal journey diary the Book of Shadows. This is the most sacred and special tool of the Witch because it records their journey, which includes lessons they have learned from others, dreams, meditations, rituals, spells, poetry and when and how they made their tools or did their initiations and so on. In addition, this item can be passed down from generation to generation to keep the flow of information alive and well within a family or coven and becomes somewhat of a family heirloom.

Dance: Dance is an important aspect of the Old Religion because it allows one to express their sexuality in a positive manner and to raise the natural electrical currents within our bodies into the concept of raising the “Cone of Power.” Dance is also used to celebrate life and the changes of the season.

Bardic Aspect: In the days of our ancestors all of the stories that were important were told by word of mouth. Until the Priest of the Christian religions began to record the stories, it was the Bard’s job to tell all that he met the stories that he knew so the information would continue to thrive and live on to be what we know today as legends. Today the bardic aspect is still alive and strong, but also recorded. The stories of today has the concepts of the modern world and people that will one day be viewed as legends, such as Robin Hood and so on.

Being Creative: Using our creative energies to make our tools, whether they are for the altar, dress, and poetry or art work is a very important practice of Witches. Witches have a need to express themselves in any manner they can and they usually do it in a ritualistic manner that makes everything they do more personal.

Priest and Priestess: In the days of old a Priest or Priestess was someone who trained all of their life to fit into their role into society, a form of hereditary practice. As time progressed and people quit living in close knit tribes and communities, it became a way only through initiation. Today many people are becoming Priest and Priestess through self-initiation and from solitary training.

Spells: Spells are a form of prayer, but is used by Witches to direct their personal energy for a specific purpose. Spells are not of the supernatural, but of the natural energies from within nature, divine and one’s self.

Rites of Passage for the Witch

In all cultures around the world, there is some form of rites of passage that one must go through to grow within their society in some manner. When a child receives their driver’s license for the first time, that in itself is a form of a rite of passage which leads them into our society with the acknowledgement that they are becoming an adult. There are several different periods of these rites of passage into the different aspects of our lives, which usually begin at our birth, which is considered to be the first rite of passage. You have grown from a seed and lived within the safety and protection of the womb and then one must travel the birthing canal to be born and taken away from the safe and protected womb of the mother. Being born thrusts you out of the uncertainties of life.

Wiccaning: This act is very similar to the baptismal rite of the Christian religion and can be performed at the time of birth or at a time when the parents designate. The ritual is usually performed by someone close to the family to insure that the child is blessed and protected and all is asked to willingly aid the goddess in the protection of the child. The child becomes the responsibility for the whole of the community and the God and Goddess.

Coming of Age-Female: This is represented by the young girl’s first menstrual cycle. She is no longer the innocent child, but a child that has passed into womanhood and capable of giving life. Depending on the tradition there may be the art of Dragon Time, which is what the menstrual cycle is called by some or the bleeding onto the Earth.

Coming of Age-Male: Young boys have a hard time on this concept because it is not defined by age or any physical aspect, but by maturity and the ability to handle more responsibility. If the child is living in a hunting society it may be based on his first kill to feed the family or his first need to shave or to have an orgasm. Both genders of the coming of age passage truly about the sexual maturity of that gender.

Initiation: This rite can be done any time in life that a person desires to follow the path of Witchcraft. The initiation into the Old Religion has several steps with the first being dedication of one’s self to their path. Afterwards there are three levels of initiation into the Old Religion that eventually leads to the accomplishment of third degree, which entitles the person to the title of High Priest or Priestess, which shows they have studied all that they can within that path and now have earned the right to begin their own circle and to lead it with honor, wisdom and respect.

Handfasting: This is a celebration of two (2) people’s commitment to each other. There are no guidelines that state the couple must be male and female. Witches and Wiccan ceremonies of Handfasting are for any two (2) people who chose to dedicate their love and life to another being, whether they are of the same sex or the opposite sex. This ceremony is similar to a wedding is legally recognized as a marriage ceremony.

Unbinding: This is similar to a divorce, but breaks the cord that binds the two (2) together so that they may search and find happiness. This can usually be done in a positive manner where there is a celebration from what each learned from the other and many even consider this as resolution of a past life issue. Therefore, this is a ceremony that makes way for new and positive change into both people’s lives.

Passing Over: This is similar to a funeral or basically the death and dying process and how we honor this process. Death is an accepted part of the cycle of life. Death is not seen as the final step in life, but one that will lead to a continuance of life, through the belief of reincarnation. When someone dies, we believe the Hounds of Annwn will carry into the underworld and others call this place the Summerland. Going into the Otherworld to be reborn into their next cycle of life.

The Witches Wheel of the Year

Witches live, worship and celebrate according to the changes of the seasons and lunar cycles. The year is cyclical and that is how it was coined the Wheel of the Year. There are eight (8) Sabbats and 12-13 lunar Esbats, which represent the full and new moons of each month.

Samhain October 31st. (Pronounced sow-win): This is more commonly known as Halloween, All Hallow’s Eve, Day of the Dead, the Celtic New Year. To Witches this is the actual Celtic New Year and the first day of the year and our most holies of days. We celebrate it as though it was New Year’s Eve. A new beginning. It is also the day when the veil between the worlds are the closest. Our loved ones who have passed on to the other life are honored and greeted with open and loving arms. A time when the masculine energy of the divine (the representation of the Sun) has been lost tot he other world and the Goddess is in her Crone aspect.

Winter Solstice December 21st.: This is a time of family, telling stories, sharing the final feast from the last harvest. Tonight you will burn the Yule log all night until nothing is left but ashes to cleanse the old. Tonight is the longest night of the year and the time when the God of darkness and light battle for the return of the Sun. Decorating the Yule trees in memory and honor of the fertile time that will soon be here again.

Imbolg, Imbolc, Candlemas, Brigid’s Day February 2nd.: This is the celebration of the sun and winter is fading quickly. Soon all things will grow and be bountiful again. A time when ritual blessings are done for cleansing, growth and preparation for the planting season. The Goddess is in her Maiden aspect.

Eostara, Ostara, Spring Equinox, March 21st.: This is the first day of Spring. All of the Earth is beginning to come alive with life again. A fertility rite usually involving the symbolism of the egg, for rebirth, life and new beginnings. The Goddess is in her Mother aspect.

Beltane, Beltaine, May Day, May 1st.: This is the second most important Sabbat. It is a great fertility rite and an ancient time for handfastings. In retrospect today is the day when the God and Goddess make love and plant the seeds of our harvest.

Summer Solstice, Litha, Midsummer, June 21st.: Today is the longest day of the year. The Sun is at its strongest and today signifies the sun beginning to lose its energy. The Goddess is in the Mother aspect about to give birth to our harvest.

Lughnasadh, Lammas, August 1st.: The Goddess has given birth to our harvest and we celebrate all that she has provided to us. We feast on all that has grown. We share with our families, friends and family. The Old Harvest Kind is fed the finest foods, made love to and willingly sacrificed so that there may be growth in the community. A new Harvest King is appointed by games of skill and challenge. We honor self-sacrifice through the harvest we experience life.

Autumn Equinox, Mabon, September 21st.: This is the last harvest of the year and mainly grains, grapes and other such items. We make bread and wines in celebration of his harvest and prepare for the winter to take hold. We prepare for the Wheel to turn its final turn.

The Witches Altar

The Witches altar is very important and sacred to the Witch. The altar is an expression of the self and how the individual worships and honors the divine. The altar expresses how the individual sees the divine and themselves within the cosmic role of our Universe. Many of the items laid upon a Witches altar are items that have been used through out the history of the Old Religion and some may even be of the present times, but none the less sacred to the individual. There are certain tools that are laid upon the altar that are universal in concept, but none of them mandatory, but does allow the individual to freely express their form of worship in a positive manner.

1. Altar Table Is any flat surface within the sacred space. Used to hold altar items.
2. Altar Cloth Is laid over the table acting as a veil to protect the altar items.
3. Altar Tile Often a pentagram representing earth, air, fire, water and the spirit.
4. Athame A knife used to bless the juice and represents the union of the God/dess
5. Book of Shadows The diary of the learning of the individual or group
6. Cakes An offering to the God/dess
7. Chalice Represents water and the feminine aspect
8. Cauldron Used to burn incense and a symbol of rebirth
9. Crystal Used to represent the Goddess and is used to for healing
10. Salt Represents the Earth and is used to purify and cleanse
11. Candles They represent the elements
12. Red/Gold Candle UIs seen as a representation of the God and used to honor him
13. Wand Phallic symbol and is elemental and often used to cast circle
14. Goddess Statue Represents the Goddess in her many different forms
15. God Statue Represents the God aspect in his many different forms
16. Altar Plate Holds the cakes that are for honoring and offering to the God/dess
17. Altar Bell Summons the God/dess, elements, keeps negativity, defines the starting point
18. Altar Flowers To honor the God/dess and to attune with nature

This is just some of the items a person will and may have on their altar or what they feel is important for them to have upon it to properly worship. For each Sabbat and Esbat there will be different items brought to adorn the altar that will represent the season and ritual purpose. Below is an example of some of the items that may be on an altar during the Sabbats:

1. Samhain Pumpkins, squash, apples, purple flowers and black candles
2. Yule Mistletoe, holly, green sprigs, white, red and green candles
3. Imbolc Lilies, pastel colors, reds, seeds
4. Ostara Eggs, seeds, rabbit symbolism
5. Beltane Phallic symbols, ribbons, roses, rose quartz
6. Summer Solstice Sunflowers, gold sand, garters
7. Lammas Fruits of the harvest, colors that represent the seasons, seeds
8. Mabon Corn dolls, corn, apples, wine, dried flowers

For the Esbats, depending on whether it is Full Moon or New Moon there will be crystals and other healing tools during these rituals.

The History of Samhain

The History of Samhain
By Jeanette Cooper

Druids would not know this night
And Witches would in wonder gaze
To see the festive costumed souls
That dash about the night in play
Where ancient magick ruled the land
Children’s laughter fills the soul
Yet in this way the night is honored
Much like the ancients long ago.
*1999 David O. Norris

Samhain comes from two Gaelic words. “Samh” which means summer and “Fuin” which means end. Today the month’s of May and November are in Irish Gaelic called Beltaine and Samhain respectively. It is believed that the Christianization of Ireland and their celebration of All Saints Day are the reason why Samhain is November instead of October.

Through this workshop we will delve into the history of this sacred day. We will journey through time to see how Samhain evolved into the holiday we commonly know as Halloween. What were the original intentions of this celebration? How long have people celebrated Samhain? When did it change from a harvest festival to a festival honoring the dead? When did Samhain/Halloween become synonymous with Witches? Ghosts? Black Cats?

As we travel upon our journey into the history of this sacred day, it is my hope that many of these questions will be answered.

Follow me as we begin our journey into our distant past................

The time is 4000 BCE. The tribal people of this era split their year in a way that they could understand. These were the warm or light half of the year and the cold or dark half of the year. The light half began in the spring and the dark half in the fall. In the spring they celebrated the return of life to their crops, the birth of animals that would sustain them, and the warmth of the sun.
At this time their celebrations had no name, that would come later.

Now, we journey forward to yet another ancient time, 2300 BCE. The Celts are migrating to Europe in waves, conquering the native people as they advance through Europe. This migration took several centuries and the loss of life to the native people was extremely high. The Celts though carried with them their own customs and weaved them with the tribal people of Europe.

Lets move forward a bit and take a look at how the Celts merged their culture with that of those they conquered. 350 BCE, The Celtic people have now settled Europe and combined not only their customs and culture but their blood as well. Here is where we trace the four great fire festivals: Imbolg, Beltaine, Lughnasadh, and Samhain. At this time Samhain is a festival of the last harvest. A time to celebrate the bounty of the crops and to prepare for the long, cold winter ahead. This festival typically lasted 3-5 days. There was feasting, music, and community. A time to suspend worries of the long, cold days and nights ahead. Either you had enough to see you through or you didn’t but whatever your situation it was still a time to let go of your worries and feast with family and friends.
Our journey now takes us to 41 CE. The Romans are conquering Britain and bring with them new customs, culture, and blood.

It is at this
Time that the Roman harvest festival of Pomona is merged with the Celtic
Celebration of Samhain. The Romans honor their goddess and seek blessings for a good harvest the following year.

314 CE. This is the time of Constantine, who declares the now established Roman Empire, a Christian one. This was essentially the time when the door began to close on the ancient Celtic religion. The last of the Celtic lands to fall to Christianity was Ireland, and by the 4th-5th century CE, what was now known as Celtic Christianity began to filter slowly into Ireland by way of St. Patrick.

Our journey from here takes us through the trials and tribulations of the Celtic people as they attempt to preserve their culture and their religion against the more powerful and dangerous foe of Christianity.
The Pagan people at first, openly welcomed Christianity as they had always welcomed the beliefs of other people. They did not believe however, that they needed to give up their beliefs to accommodate others. It was at this point that the Christian church realized that there might be a problem convincing the Celts to convert to Christianity, as they seemed quite content with what they had.
The Church’s answer to this was simple: bribe them. They did this by absorbing the Celtic customs and traditions into the Christian church. The Church took the Celtic festivals of Yule, Imbolg, and Samhain and turned them into Christmas, Easter, and All Hallows. This however, was not enough, as the Celtic people were tenacious about holding onto their gods and their traditions.
Now the Church begins to attack the heart of the Celtic religion and culture.
They turn the faeries into angels and demons, their gods into the epitome of evil, and introduce the concept of Heaven and Hell. This was all done to instill fear and copulation into the hearts of the Pagan people. When even this showed no sign of compliance by the Celtic people, the early Christian church incorporated a myth created by Zoroaster. This myth involved turning the main Celtic Deity into Satan (The Christian God’s mortal enemy).
Also at this same time, the Christian church began to hunt down and murder the priesthood of the Celts, the Druids.

By the 7th century CE, the Church had come to the conclusion that the Pagan people were simply not going to forfeit their sacred day of Samhain.
It was known by the Church that the Celtic people set aside certain days to honor their dead, so what began was a move to incorporate all of the Celtic tradition into one holiday acceptable to the Church. They started by moving the Christian celebration of All Saints Day from its original date in May to November 1st. From there they went to Hallowmas, which was the Christian celebration of honoring ancestors. This then merged into All Hallows and October 31st being All Hallows Eve, which then evolved into All Hallows Even and would eventually become what is known today as Halloween.

Today as Pagans, we recreate the ancient festival of the Celts, known as Samhain. We combine the culture of the ancient Celtic people with our own culture and traditions, yet maintaining the spirit of the original celebration, by honoring our dead, feasting, dancing, and sharing with Deity.

The History of Samhain
Part 2
The Various Customs and Symbols

By now you are probably wondering how a simple festival celebrating the last harvest and honoring the dead became a holiday associated with Witches, Ghosts, and Black Cats as well as being synonymous with evil and magick?

Lets explore how these concepts were slowly, over the centuries, incorporated into the Celtic festival of Samhain, which eventually evolved into what is known today as Halloween.

We will begin our journey with the introduction of Witches. How did Witches become associated with Samhain/Halloween? When in history did this occur? Who were the men and women everyone called Witches?
Men and Women of magick, healing, and prophecy have been present in every culture and social structure throughout the world. Prior to the 20th century, Witchcraft, in itself was not a religion. Witchcraft was a system of magick inherent in the Pagan religious structure. It is believed that this evolved out of the decimation of the Druid caste, therefore putting the practice into the hands of the community itself. The meaning of the word Witch is still, to this day, hotly debated. It is generally thought that the root word “Wicce” is an old Anglo-Saxon word, meaning, “ Wise One”. Pagan was a word that comes from the Latin word “Paganus” which simply meant “Country Dweller”. Whatever the root of the word, it came to refer to anyone whose beliefs were different from Christianity’s, no matter what or whom might fall under that heading at any given time in history. Therefore, in the simplest of terms, Witch simply means Witch.

So, How did Witches become the epitome of evil and darkness that is now associated with Samhain/Halloween?

Let’s go back to Celtic Europe around 350 BCE. The Celts were a very freethinking people and their women were the strongholds of family and community. Celtic women were allowed to own their own property, fight along side their men, and generally think for themselves.
Now by the 4th century, Christianity began to rise to prominence, with their patriarchal religion and society. This new religion was not into freethinking or women having such a prominent role in society. Those who refused to convert, women who owned property, and the infirm were branded as Witches. This was not even really about religion, but about the hunger for power, land, and money. It has never really been about religion and even now is not about religion but about control. Today, the central theme of Christianity is still about power, land, and money. Since the Church had already begun associating Satan/Devil with the Celtic Samhain, and Witches were known to be consorts of his, it was only a small step to tie them all together. Those who suffered the torture of being accused Witches were likely to have born a marked resemblance to the image of what we currently know as the Halloween Witch. Disfigured and bruised, barely clinging to life, this is the image of the Witch that is so much a part of the modern Halloween tradition.

What are Ghosts? How and When did this concept merge into the Samhain/Halloween traditions?

Every culture, be it 2000 years ago or yesterday, contains it’s share of ghost stories. Now the word Ghost comes from the Germanic word “geist” which
originally meant a “ spirit of a dead ancestor”, which was invited to tribal celebrations. Technically, a ghost represents a human or animal that has passed from the earth plane into the Other World and are able to communicate in some way with the living.

We know that Samhain was associated with the honoring of the dead, in a time and place where the dead are unchanging from their earthly existence. It is natural for our American Halloween and modern Samhain celebrations to carry with it an association with ghosts, ancestors, and spirits.

We come now, to our feline companions. Their history is far reaching and tied inexplicably to ancient Goddess worship.

We find cat mythology in association with the Teutonic Freya, who rode in a chariot drawn by cats. Artemis/Diana, who often appeared in cat form. Let us, also, not forget the Egyptian Bast.

The domestic cats we have today weren’t introduced into Northern Europe until 1050 CE. As we dig deeply into history, we find that there is only one fully developed religion that honored cats. The Egyptians, whose history of honoring our feline friends extend back 2000 years and is still in existence today. The Egyptian religion believed the cat to symbolize the goddess energy of their religion.

The negative association with our cat friends may have begun with the rise of the Roman Empire, when a foolish Roman soldier killed a cat and then a mob broke into his home and removed him from this earthly plane.

Several centuries later, the Inquisition surfaced with the belief that cats were demons in discquise and associated with Witches. In 1387, Lombard Witches were said to have worshipped the devil in cat form. At certain festivals such as Midsummer and Easter, cats were burned in wicker cages in accordance with Church teachings and beliefs.

As cats became scarce in Europe, the rat population thrived, bringing on the worst plague in history; the Black Death. This killed over 27 million people during the Middle Ages. Revenge of the cats, perhaps? Or at the very least, bad karma. The cat with it’s association with goddess worship and therefore women, whom the Church had already decided were the epitome of sin and evil, and were by this time being persecuted as Witches, was also persecuted.

This perception of cats, being evil and demonic, finally began to abate around 1930, in America. However their association with Witches and the day that celebrates their history never has.

We come now to the practice of Trick or Treat. How did this modern practice evolve out of ancient traditions?

Wearing masks and costumes has traveled from Celtic mythos into present-day Halloween practices in America. The masks associated with the Celtic mythos were believed to be representative of Deity and Nature, the main driving forces of the Celtic peoples. The practice of wearing masks and unusual dress reflects the socialization of any era. Lacking hard evidence, we have mountains of supposition from both the religious and scientific worlds covering the past 2000 years. Were masks created by Paleopagans and the early Celts? No one really knows for sure.
The practice of Trick or Treating itself, can be found in the Celtic practice of leaving special food for the dead. Going from house to house is not a new practice at all; this was the rule of both Pagan and early Christian holiday revelry. House-begging was the norm throughout the original Celtic territories. It is this custom that is at the root of our modern Trick or Treat practice. The earlier practices involved not only children but adults as well. While general practice did exist, the customs and traditions were highly localized. Usually the house to house involved giving a performance of some kind. In Ireland, the payment for such performances was money in some form. In Britain and Germany, the payment was usually in the form of food.

As we come to the end of our journey, we find that Samhain and in turn, Halloween has a very ancient and somewhat complicated history. From the early Celts through the Roman Empire, From the rise of Christianity to the return of the Old Religion, we find that beyond the various superstitions handed down from all the different cultures that touched it, the spirit and meaning of this day has changed little. We still honor our dead, feast, dance and laugh. Our children still honor the day by wearing their costumes and going house to house to gain treats. Samhain, whose celebration is ever-changing, according to the cultures and people who touch it, whose meaning remains clear, is a gift of sight into our distant past from the ancestors we now come together to honor.

Death and Dying

Death and Dying
By Darla Kaye Wynne

Death and dying has been a mystery through out the ages for all the cultures around the world. As humans we have a need to understand all aspects of our life, including the dying stage and what happens once we die.

What happens when we die? How do you know when you are going to die? Is there any heaven and hell and if so, how do I know where I am going? What if my religion is the wrong religion to get me to the next stage of the dying process? What becomes of me once I am dead? If I do reincarnate, what will I become? Do I have a choice on what gender I come back as? What if I dont want to reincarnate? How does karma affect me? How do I know what lessons I have learned and what ones I need to work on? Will I become a ghost?

These are just some of the questions that many people may have today and face at the time they are passing into the Other World. Since Samhain is the time of the Celtic New Year and the day the Celtic people honored their dead; this is an appropriate workshop to conduct at this time of year. Today we will not go into the history of Samhain during this workshop because that is a workshop in itself. Since this is a Celtic holiday, this workshop will reflect the Celtic view and that of the Tradition of the Sidhe.

There are many aspects of death and dying that one must reflect upon to come up with any of the answers to the death and dying process in both this world and the Other World. There are no clear-cut answers that any one can give you, but the only answers you may receive are ones that you accept as fact for yourself. The concept of death and dying has never been an easy aspect of our life cycle to accept. Many people fear the unknown.

In all of the Celtic lore there are reflections of Gods and Goddesses going to and from the Other World for mythological and battle purposes. There have been recorded myths that reflect mortals venturing into the Other World to discover secrets that only can be found within this realm on a shamanic level.

Death is the beginning process of change. Death is not always a word meaning leaving this realm, the physical aspect of our world. Death can be a process of the old you, changing into a better person by changing the habits that you seen as negative aspects within your life.

Symbolic Death

Death can be achieved through an initiation process. Initiation is a process meant to create change that comes from visions of the Other World in a higher state. It is a journey into the subconscious, a higher state of being, a shamanic trance, or euphoric state of being. The initiation process is meant to bring about an inner and outer change on an individuals state of being in both this world and the Other World. Initiation can come in the form of joining a group and learning of the spiritual path and achieving the right to enter through the guidance of the group into the Other Worldly realm or one can perform a self initiation to willingly go beyond this realm on their own accord.
Symbolic Death is the process of creating change by allowing the old you to be left behind so that a new, open, spiritual, enlightened individual may take the physical presence of your physical vessel. the body. Change and the willingness to create and experience change is a must for any form of spiritual journey.

Physical Death

Death in the physical sense can be a long drawn out process brought about by a serious illness and this is usually a time when most people begin to confront the issues of what happens next and the fear may set in of the unknown. Death can come in the form of a quick accident, a violent crime, or an act of Nature. There are consequences to all aspects of these forms of death.

Death through illness is a reflection of the individuals life. This reflection is of a persons happiness, sadness, moral and ethical lifestyle; a reflection of how one has lived their life and sometimes even a lesson to be learned . This is no way meant to say that one who suffers is suffering for their wrong doings in this life because only that person who is experiencing the suffering can state why they feel they are suffering and be correct about it.

Long illnesses gives us the time to reflect upon our lives and prepare for the next life. We have the ability to put our affairs in order and this is not meant just by the material world, but also our connection with our friends, family and loved ones in this life and past lives. Reflecting and correcting our daily life allows us to release the baggage of this realm in good conscious.

Death through accidents are quick, unexpected and often painful for not only the individual that experiences the death. Depending on the kind of accident can reflect a past life confrontation that has come to pass in this life. If death is by a means of transportation it could possibly reflect that the same accident occurred in a past life and a lesson was needed to be learned and you had to experience it again so that you could learn what was necessary. This concept can be reflected on all accidents.

Death through acts of nature are a reflection of your relationship with nature. Nature is wrathful, quick and unforgiving. This can be seen as a lesson needed to be learn in this life, that will be useful in your journey into the Other World. This lesson will be one that shows your respect for and of nature, skills and knowledge of the natural forces within nature or one of simply; humility or to humble ones self within their own reflection. As humans we often become over confident in ourselves and believe that we have harnessed all the powers of knowledge and we must understand that knowledge never is completely harnessed within this realm.

Death by murder is a lesson for the guilty. The individual murdered must remain in some form within this realm until the guilty party is found, punished and experienced remorse. The individual murdered is a teacher of gentleness, humility, unconditional love, conscious, accepting responsibility for ones actions, and karma.

Premonitions of Death

A premonition of death does not always mean that there will be a death in this realm. It can be of the symbolic death or of the actual physical death. A premonition comes in the form of a vision while awake or in a shamanic trance telling the individual that the person wants them to know and become prepared for the experience. This action usually happens within a week or so, but always within a year.

Dreams of Death

Dreams of death of come in symbolic form or the actual viewing of the event in a manner that the individual can understand. This can be done due to the emotional attachment to the individual; the love or bond that one has to the individual. This is also to make the individual aware of the action that is pending, so that they may prepare for the passing.


Reincarnation is what most Witches believe occurs after death. It is believed that after death we go to the Other World. While within this realm we are no longer in the physical body, but as a state of essence or spirit form.

While in this form, we as a collective and living conscious have the ability to decide whether we want to come back to this realm, move on to another realm, or to not be reborn.

Why would one decide to come back to this realm? One may decide to come back to this realm to finish some lesson or karmic aspect or task that needs to be experienced. Many believe that we chose to come back to this realm because it is fun and due to our emotional attachments that we refuse or are not ready to release. If we chose to come back to this realm, we also have the ability to decide what lessons we are ready to experience, what debts we want to pay, what gender we want to be, what environment we desire and so on. We as individuals are in control of our ultimate destiny and have a choice in all that we experience, even in death.

Choosing to not be reborn does not mean that you have achieved the ultimate enlightenment, but that one needs time to make the correct decision for our next journey. To possibly re-evaluate ones choices, patterns, lessons, skills and so on. There can be many reasons why one may decide to not be reborn at that time or maybe not ever. To decide to not be reborn ever, is to remain in one constant state of being or consciousness that one prefers.
What is the right religion and how do we know who is right?

This is probably one of the oldest questions in the world! The concept and desire to be right is just human nature and we can not or rather will change this desire with in ourselves, no matter how we try on this realm.

There is no right or wrong within faith and spirituality. This is an individual and personal choice that only the person can make for them self. Religion is much like an adult parent for us. We need something good to believe in, to aide us on our journey; an ethical and moral guideline.

No matter what religion one is practicing, when it teaches a positive aspect of living ones life, it is the correct religion for that person. We have many names for the divine, but there isnt but one collective conscious that we all are a part of and that creates the concept of deity.
Is there a heaven or a hell?

This is a question that only the individual can answer because it is a personal perception of an individuals reality. If a person truly believes in either of these concepts, then it will exist for that individual. Witches do not believe in this concept because of the concept of hell being related to the living quarters of the deity of Satan, which is not within a Witches deity structure.
The Celtic View of Death

The Celtic people viewed death as a great reward, honor and symbol of courage. So much so , that the most significant holiday of the Celtic people is about death and honoring the ancestors.

Death was a reward because it showed self-sacrifice and the readiness to move into the Other World. To die in battle was the greatest reward a Celtic warrior could have because he went with honor and pride. Courage was a symbol of death because one confronted the unknown and died in their chosen method.

The Celtic people built notches that held the heads of their enemies or individuals that were family or known for their wisdom within their homes. These notches had dualistic meanings; for the enemy it was meant as a warning and to absorb their enemys strength, and the ancestor or friend gave the individual their gifts they possessed within this realm

This body was only a vessel to travel within this realm and could be replaced when needed. When death was knocking at the door, it was greeted willingly, and acceptingly.

This workshop may not have answered all of your questions regarding this subject, but hopefully it has given you something to think about and hopefully explore on your own.

We as responsible humans need to learn to live our lives with the idea that this could be the last moment within this realm. Let our actions reflect our spiritual being. When we do make mistakes, take the time to correct them to the best of our ability. Always tell the individual you love, how you feel that day. Never go to bed angry with a friend or a loved one. Nothing is more important than resolving issues and living life to the fullest and happiest that one can. Think about what you want to happen during your dying or death process in this realm and make arrangements for your wishes and desires to be carried out during both processes.

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