This is a busy time for Wiccans as they prepare for the pagan New Year.
Samhain (pronounced “sow-in”), which falls on Oct. 31, is the celebration of endings and beginnings and of remembering the dead. Pagans believe it’s the time when the veil between the worlds of the living and dead becomes thin and people can attempt spirit communication.
“It’s the witches’ New Year,” said Rudy Alderette, who has recently spent extra time at the Wiccan altar in his northeast Fresno home to prepare for the occasion.
Wicca is a neo-pagan religion that honors god and goddess, reveres nature and celebrates the seasonal changes of the year.
There’s a lot of misunderstanding about Wicca and alternative religions, said Penny Verin-Shapiro, who teaches an anthropology of religion course at California State University, Fresno, and is writing a book on pagans.
“People aren’t out to sacrifice animals,” she said. “Most are animal lovers. They carry pet insurance. They, basically, want to be allowed to practice what they believe.”
Verin-Shapiro, who isn’t a pagan, said Samhain means various things to Wiccans and others depending on their traditions.
“In addition to the New Year, it’s a harvest festival, a time of celebration and reflection,” she said. “If they choose to, they can think about loved ones or call upon them, but not everybody does that.”
Many perform rituals that free themselves from negative things that occurred in their lives in the past year – and welcome into their lives the positive things that they want to see happen in the coming year.
“It’s a time for meditation and to do a lot of internal work with the subconscious and conscious,” said Alderette, a tarot reader and teacher of the Wicca Faery tradition that emphasizes faeries, gnomes and elves.
He said home altars play important roles in Wiccans’ everyday lives because the altars serve as “doorways to other realms,” where energy can be raised to come in and go out.
Alderette’s altar includes a cauldron bearing the five-pointed star, or pentagram, the symbol of Wicca.
At the Temple of St. Brigid’s Doom, Wiccans also will perform rituals to release negativity in their lives and welcome things that are positive.
“It tends to adjust our attitude, help keep us focused,” said the temple’s high priest, Doc Farrell.
Wiccans also will perform the circle of the dead, a quiet ritual in which participants can step into the circle for the purpose of communicating with friends or relatives who have died.
“It sounds ominous and ghoulish, but it’s nothing like that,” Farrell said.
Alderette said he’s eager to celebrate Samhain: “We always give thanks to our ancestors, do oracle work and ask for blessings for the harvest for the New Year.”