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During Samhain, pagans worship the Earth, ancestors

ASHEVILLE Citizen Times | October 31 2006

ASHEVILLE — On Tuesday, members of the Earth Religions, such as Wicca, celebrate the most sacred day of the year.

Known as Samhain (pronounced SOW-in), the day is the final of three Pagan harvest celebrations and a day to commemorate ancestors and others who have died.

“This is the big one for us,” said Byron Ballard, a high priestess and a founder of the Coalition of Earth Religions for Education and Support. “This is the beginning of the Celtic winter and the celebration of our new year.”

The biggest event in the region this year is Tuesday evening on the grounds of Unity Center for Christianity on Fanning Bridge Road in Fletcher. Several thousand people are expected to attend the 12th annual Samhain celebration sponsored by Oldenwilde Coven.

“People know we do this every year now, it's always free, and we don't allow any selling,” said Dixie Deerman, also known as Lady Passion, the high priestess of Oldenwilde. “We have been promoting it on our Web site, so people know about it.”

Deerman said the Oldenwilde Samhain is joyful and reverent.

“What we do has meaning and purpose,” she said.

The event will include a spiral dance, during which participants dance in concentric circles, plus a maze trance dance, tribal music, a costume contest, harp music around the balefires and more. Children can enjoy autumn games such as “bat bowling” and candy corn relay races.

Ancient beliefs
Earth religions are the oldest on the planet, Ballard said. They predate monotheistic religions by many centuries.

“People worshipped the forces that brought them their food and their lives,” she said. “In ancient times, people celebrated the change of the seasons and remembered the people who had come before.”

Pagans — the umbrella term for people of all Earth religions — believe the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest on this night. Originally, Celtic people celebrated the Feast of the Dead by leaving food on altars and doorsteps for the wandering dead. Single candles were lit and left in a window to help guide the spirits of ancestors and loved ones home, and extra chairs were set at the table and around the hearth for the unseen guests.

Samhain was when cattle and other livestock were slaughtered for eating during the winter, and any crops still in the field on Samhain, considered taboo, were left as offerings to the nature spirits.

Pagans built bonfires (originally called bone-fires, because the bones were thrown in the fire after the feast as offerings for healthy and plentiful livestock in the coming year). Stones were marked with people's names, then thrown into the fire, to be retrieved in the morning. The condition of the retrieved stone foretold that person's fortune in the coming year.

Pagans also lit hearth fires from the village bonfire to ensure unity, and the ashes were spread over the harvested fields to protect and bless the land.

Many Pagans believe the six weeks between the autumnal equinox, called Mabon, and Samhain are a time for introspection and contemplation, Ballard said.

A growing following
Today, Pagan religions are emerging again, after centuries of persecution, Ballard and Deerman said.

“There were times we had to call the police because we felt threatened,” Ballard said. “We have had our religious ceremonies picketed and invaded.”

But the religions are growing as people become disillusioned with what Deerman calls “the dominant paradigm.”

“It's about universal love of the land and knowing … we're all integrally connected,” Deerman said. “We find the sacred in the land and in humanity.”


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