Witches of the Wild Wild West Art: A Hey-How for Halloween!

It’s autumn again! The season of golden leaves, chilly air and carved pumpkins! It’s my favorite season. Autumn never looked so colorful where I come from, so I have a sincere appreciation for all the colors autumn’s experienced brush leaves on everything here in Vancouver. I love waking up in the morning to absolute mist engulfing my neighborhood, or listening to the crunchiness of the dry leaves decorating the sidewalks and breaking underfoot. Even the solemn black crows look more in place in autumn. The romanticism and melancholy of coats and gloves and boots warms me somehow, and my secret desire of wanting to spread the fallen leaves, lie down on the ground, and move my arms and legs frantically to make leaf-angels always resurfaces when I go out for walks.

October for me is synonymous with Halloween. I’ve never celebrated Halloween, which is a pity really because it looks like so much fun; one very amusing way of unleashing your creativity while being with your friends and bloating on candy at the same time… not to mention the Halloween recipes and decorations! But prior to moving to Canada, October for me was Samhain; the Gaelic Harvest Festival, just like May was Beltane. Not because I am a Celt or because I am a Wiccan, I am neither, but simply because when I was younger I was fascinated by those two things, and in a way, still am.

Samhain (Pronounced Sa-wen– Gaelic rocks!) is one of four medieval Gaelic festivals. It marks the end of the harvest and is still celebrated today by Pagans and Wiccans as one of the four big Gaelic Sabbaths. It’s also still considered in Celtic cultures as the Celtic New Year. The date of the night of Samhain is, as you may have guessed by now: October 31st! The death of the sun and the beginning of darkness is marked by Samhain, a time when the gates between realms are open and spirits are free to wander and cross thresholds for a few hours before the gates are shut again. The church calendar has its own day associated with Samhain, and that day is Hallow’s Day or All Saints’ Day on the 1st of November. The 2nd of November is All Souls’ Day, a day to remember the dead.

So how was Samhain celebrated back in the olden days?

Animals were slaughtered for food, and their bones tossed into huge bonfires which were lit in villages. BoneFire, can you now see where the word ‘Bonfire’ comes from? The fire was thought to relieve the pain of souls stuck in purgatory. People would walk around wearing scary costumes and masks, in an attempt to appease to evil spirits and keep them at bay. Kids would spend their time carving faces into turnips and leaving them on their doorsteps, another way of warding off wicked spirits. It was common in the nineteenth century for children to go “a-souling” in Samhain, collecting offerings for deceased souls. Knockings on doors they’d offer music, pranks, and amusements of all sorts, all in exchange of treats, a drink or money. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Fortunetelling was also part of the festivities, with fruits, eggs and nuts used to divine something about the future; a spouse’s name, the number of children you were going to have, where you were going to live, etc…

Probably the most prominent of all Halloween costumes and decorations, is the Witch. Back in the day, witches, or those poor women accused of sorcery were normal women who didn’t dress much differently than those around them. In certain cultures, witches were thought to wear earth colors, browns and greens or even dress like fairies, all due to their associations with nature and with other supernatural realms. So if that was the case then, where did this inaccurate and insulting image of a cone-hatted crone on a flying broom come from?

Well, the color black is commonly linked to darkness and evil in the West! It is said by some that pointed hats alluded to the devil’s horns and that’s how that conical headwear became connected to evildoers. After all, the easiest way back then to condemn someone and turn everyone on them was to affiliate them with Satan. Wearing conical hats was also a sign of vulgarity and backwardness as those hats, once fashionable in Europe, were suddenly being worn by peasants. Historical finds also portray the lunar hunting Goddess Diana, revered by some Wiccans and Neo-pagans, as wearing a pointed-hat decorated with sun and moon symbols, and it is suggested by scholars that some 3000 years ago, wizards and wise men wore those hats.

Disney’s Merlin suddenly comes to mind…

Okay. I need to stop with the cartoon references. But you get the point.

It’s worth mentioning that the few Wiccans I’ve met in my life who actually practiced the craft were people very much in tune with the world, who held the earth in the highest regard, and for whom I have tremendous respect. I understand why many of them would be troubled by these unjust perceptions of witches.

Maybe I’ll make it a first and play with some ideas for costumes and Halloween decorations this year. How young do you have to be to go trick or treating?

A blessed and happy Samhain… I mean, Halloween!

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