24 - Pumpkins - Ogunquit - Meadowmereby Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter and Boston City Paper 10/2007

The city of Salem Massachusetts is arguably the Halloween capital of the world, and on October 31 over 8,000 people take to the streets in costumes; the place is a Mardi Gras and the biggest Halloween party on the planet.

The city is also known for the tragedy of the hysteria of the witch burnings, and the association of witches and Salem continues to this day. Over three centuries after those horrible events, for many, the stereotype of modern-day Pagans and Wiccans is still one of devil-worshippers.

But on Halloween a year ago, my wife and I saw a much different picture of Salem’s witches and their beliefs. Sue and I are both Catholics, but we have several close friends who are Pagan who invited us to join them at the Samhain Magick Circle Ceremony.

The festival of Samhain has its origins over 2000 years ago with the Celts — a tribal people who inhabited most of Western and Central Europe. Pronounced “sow’ an” and literally meaning “end of summer,” Samhain marked the end of the old year, start of winter and also a sort of thanksgiving day, commemorating the year’s harvest.

Wiccans and Pagans do not worship the devil, and do not have any all-evil deity in their religious structure. In fact, the religion is one of harmony, life, balance, and peace. They believe that the earth and all living things share the same life force, composed of patterns of intelligence, of knowledge, and of divinity. All life is connected. There is a deep reverence for nature and animals. Even their greeting/blessing, “Blessed be,” is very similar to the Christian, “Amen.”

The Samhain Magick Circle Ceremony is a gathering of hundreds of people on Gallows Hill Park, where many witches were hanged. The Wiccan rite of New Year is a profoundly moving ceremony where these good people gather in a circle, commemorate the year gone by, recall that life is a circle, that death is a beginning to new life, and that the elements protect and nurture them.

They pray for blessings, protection and guidance. They remember and honor loved ones who have gone before. There is live music, dance, drumming and traditional chants.

We held hands. We walked through an arch with a blessing from the elements. There was a tangible feeling of grace and friendship in the air. And not a demon or devil-worshipper in sight.

The ceremony was followed by a ” Commemorative Candlelight Walk ” to the City of Salem’s Witchcraft Memorial where a wreath is laid to commemorate those victims who were persecuted and killed during the “Witch Hunters’ Hysteria of 1692” under the incorrect definition of “Witchcraft”.

It was so moving to celebrate a special ceremony with those of another faith. The people of this world hold a variety and interpretations of who we are, where we came from, who or what made us, and how we pray. There is beauty in the diversity.

Despite the differences in religions denomination, what I saw was a group of people who believe that a supreme being (or beings) created us and loves us very much. I saw prayers for healing, empowerment, magic, love, understanding, beauty, peace, and wholeness. I saw a people commemorating the year gone by and praying for happiness and blessings in the new.

If you have the opportunity this Halloween, head to Salem and if you are so inclined, perhaps attend the Samhain Magick Circle Ceremony. It’s a powerful reminder of an historical tragedy — the witch hangings — and a compelling and poignant ceremony that will touch your heart. Your eyes might be opened to the diversity of religious belief, or maybe help dispel the incorrect stereotypes of Wiccans and see them as they are — ordinary people, celebrating life, and asking their creator for blessing and guidance.

Blessed be!


Updated 2013.

The city of Salem Massachusetts is arguably the Halloween capital of the world, and on Halloween Night over 10,000 people take to the streets in costumes; the place is a Mardi Gras and the biggest Halloween party on the planet.

Sue and I have walked the city on several Halloweens; it’s a whacky, amazingly surreal experience to meander thru the four hundred year old streets amid thousands of people in costumes raging from sexy to humorous to inventive to incredible.

It’s a night of spirits – both emotional, and tangibly, of those that still walk here.

Salem, of course, is also known for the tragedy of the hysteria of the witch burnings, and the association of witches and Salem continues to this day. Over three centuries after those horrible events, for many, the stereotype of modern-day Pagans and Wiccans is still one of devil-worshippers.

But on this Halloween 2013, just for fun and maybe to make you think a little, I thought I’d share a unique Salem experience that opened my eyes a bit – that Halloween visit, Sue and I saw a much different picture of Salem’s witches and their beliefs. We’re both Catholics, but we have several close friends who are Pagan who invited us to join them at the annual Samhain Magick Circle Ceremony a few years ago.

The festival of Samhain has its origins over 2000 years ago with the Celts — a tribal people who inhabited most of Western and Central Europe. Pronounced “sow’ an” and literally meaning “end of summer,” Samhain marked the end of the old year, start of winter and also a sort of thanksgiving day, commemorating the year’s harvest.

The night, also called Halloween, is also reputed to be the night when the veil between the world of the living and the dead (or ancestors) is at its thinnest.

Wiccans and Pagans do not worship the devil, and do not have a satanic deity in their religious structure. In fact, the religion is one of harmony, life, balance, and peace. They believe that the earth and all living things share the same life force, composed of patterns of intelligence, of knowledge, and of divinity. All life is connected. There is a deep reverence for nature and animals. Even their greeting/blessing, “Blessed be,” is very similar to the Christian, “Amen.”

The Samhain Magick Circle Ceremony is a gathering of hundreds of people on Gallows Hill Park, where many witches were hanged. The Wiccan rite of New Year is a profoundly moving ceremony where these good people gather in a circle, commemorate the year gone by, recall that life is a circle, that death is a beginning to new life, and that the elements protect and nurture them.

They pray for blessings, protection and guidance. They remember and honor loved ones who have gone before. There is live music, dance, drumming and traditional chants.

And we were there that night in the autumn air, feeling the true magic of a group of souls embracing a love of all that is good.

We held hands. We walked through an arch with a blessing from the elements. There was a tangible feeling of grace and friendship in the air. We sang. We danced some more. We called out, “Blessed Be!” and wished blessings on the upcoming year.

And not a demon or devil-worshipper was in sight — Just REALLY positive energy and celebration, and hope for the new year.

The ceremony was followed by a ” Commemorative Candlelight Walk ” to the City of Salem’s Witchcraft Memorial where a wreath is laid to commemorate those victims who were persecuted and killed during the “Witch Hunters’ Hysteria of 1692″ under the incorrect definition of “Witchcraft”.

It was so moving to celebrate a special ceremony with those of another faith, and learning and feeling what other’s believe.

Despite the differences in religious denomination, what I saw was a group of people who believe that a supreme being (or beings) created us and loves us very much. I saw prayers for healing, empowerment, love, understanding, beauty, peace, and wholeness. I saw a people commemorating the year gone by and praying for happiness and blessings in the new.

Sounds like some very good energy being put out into the world. And any time anyone is praying for good, asking blessings from above, and coming together in a gentle community of faith – there is indeed great “magic” in that – the magic of faith, hope and love. No matter what you call it. It’s our source, our creator.

Visiting Salem is a powerful reminder of an historical tragedy — the witch hangings – but also inspires so much hope as people over three hundred years later still honor those innocents and pray for a good future, peacefully.

Go. Visit. Feel it.

Your eyes might be opened to the diversity of religious belief, or maybe help dispel the incorrect stereotypes of Wiccans and see them as they are — ordinary people, celebrating life, and asking their creator for blessing and guidance.

Or, you just might be part of an amazing Halloween adventure.

Happy Halloween my friends. As always, save some peanut butter cups for me. And…

Blessed be!

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