Perhaps the upcoming Halloween holiday is an appropriate time to explore a bit about witches and what now is called the Wiccan religion.
After all, as this Seattle Times article reports, "Halloween originated as a holiday held sacred by people who sometimes refer to themselves, unapologetically, as witches."
The story quotes Robert Anderson, who runs what the paper calls "the premier pagan supplies shop and bookstore in Seattle," this way: "“Wicca is kind of a mix of western magic and neopaganism. Wicca is a modern religion in a lot of ways. And it came about in the mid-20th century with a whole bunch of ideas whose time had come. Ideas about nature being sacred. Ideas about wanting to empower women. And they drew on a lot of ancient things, but they put them together in a whole new way. And they left out a lot of things from the ancient world that we would never be OK with.”
And it describes Samhain (pronounced sow-ain) as "the original Halloween, a modern(ish) version of an ancient Gaelic end-of-harvest festival. Co-opted by the Catholic Church as 'All Hallows’ Day' or 'All Saints’ Day,' Samhain lands midway between the fall equinox and the winter solstice, celebrated on the evening of Oct. 31 and into Nov. 1."
I like to let people who practice a particular religion have a chance to describe it themselves and not rely entirely on descriptions from outsiders, even scholars who study religion (and who sometimes don't get it all quite right). So here is a description from the website Wicca.com.
As the site reports, "Wicca is a recognized religion, while Witchcraft itself is not considered a religion. Thus, Wicca might best be described as a modern religion, based on ancient Witchcraft traditions."
Similarly, the website Wiccaliving.com says this: "Wicca is a modern, Earth-centered religion with roots in the ancient practices of our shamanic ancestors. Its practitioners, who call themselves Wiccans, honor the life-giving and life-sustaining powers of Nature through ritual worship and a commitment to living in balance with the Earth. Wicca is technically classified as a Pagan religion, though not all Wiccans would identify as Pagans — and plenty who identify as Pagans are not Wiccans."
And, to complicate your thinking further, here is a Patheos.com blog post that tries to describe Wicca.
You can kind of see how the Wicca-witchcraft connection has led to some kids dressing up as witches for Halloween, but if some come to our door this year I think I'm going to ask them to explain how they might be part of the religion of Wicca. If they don't know, I'll give them a link to this blog post. Feel free to do the same.
By the way, do you know why most witches have been women? The college English teacher who wrote this piece says it's because so-called witch hunts always went after the people with the least power.
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CHECK OUT THOSE OLD BIBLES
If you're looking for a reason to open an old family Bible, this story from Toledo, Ohio, might give you that incentive. And the Bible doesn't even have to belong to your own family.