It’s All a Bunch of Hocus Pocus

Halloween has long been one of my favorite holidays, mostly because I love any excuse to don an elaborate costume and get free candy. I’m not confirming that our household goes through a minimum of three bags of fun-size Reese’s before October 31, but I’m not denying it either. I also love the mysterious traditions around the holiday. In middle school, my friends and I used to nervously hover around an Ouija board, screwing up the courage to ask the oracle, “Does Brad like me back?” I once heard of a Halloween-night tradition of walking backwards down the stairs holding a mirror. Apparently, the face of your future husband or wife would appear. And of course, how could we get forget about Bloody Mary? I always chickened out before getting to the third incantation.

Before Ryan Murphy ever got his hands on the subject, Halloween began as a Celtic tradition in the early fifth century called Samhain (pronounced Sow-un). It was a festival that marked the end of harvest season and its prime purpose was to honor the dead. Bonfires were built, animals were sacrificed and costumes were donned. To make a long story short, Rome conquered the Celts in 43 AD and combined their already-established traditions of the same vein, Feralia and Pomona, both nature-based celebrations. In the 1500s, Pope Gregory IV moved All Saints’ Day to November 1 from its previous date in May, which added more fun to the festivities, as people would dress in costume to honor the saints and go door-to-door begging for food for the poor- I’m guessing there weren’t a lot of Sour Patch Kids and Kit Kats passed out back then. In the 1840s, Colonial Protestants condemned the holiday due to the paganism of it all, but it returned with a vengeance around 1912. The Potato Famine brought in a flood of immigrants, along with their Halloween traditions, leading to the Halloween we know and love. Fun fact: did you know that we only carve pumpkins because of the abundance of them in America? The original tradition stems from carving turnips!

Today, there are still people who celebrate the original Samhain, mostly Wiccans and practitioners of witchcraft. You may be surprised (or not) to find that there are witches all around us, but this has been the case in Greensboro for a long time. In Tom Cross’ 1919 tome, Witchcraft in North Carolina, a story is told about a man in Guilford County that complained of three witches that came to his cellar every night to steal his molasses. Tavane Taylor, owner of Eclectic By Nature, has made a living off of new age and witchcraft practices. On Samhain, she says, “I do believe that- because it’s been my experience- it’s easier to contact loved ones that have passed on, so I think that’s really cool.” She credits this to the thinning of the Veil Between the Worlds, but she sometimes finds Samhain traditions to be too limiting: “I treat every day like it’s a holiday,” she says. “I don’t wait for the specific days anymore. I think observing the turning of the wheel, the different seasons and solstices and equinoxes, I think there’s energy that can be found in that. It helps people to be in tune with the cycles of the earth,” she says. “In that way, Samhain is just another one of those.”

If you wanted to be a little more spirited this year in the tradition of Samhain, you could host a Dumb Supper a la Kylie Jenner (this isn’t a reflection on the hostess- it’s a tradition that honors the dead) or hold a séance. We have a scary movie marathon leading up to the day at my house, and I like to read Dracula every October. What are your traditions? Email me your stories and photos at wovengreensboro@gmail.com.

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