PoP-Ed. “To DC Witches, Halloween is Holy”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Erin

Ed. Note: Better late than never. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to post before Halloween but I still think it’s an interesting message. If you have a PoP-Ed. about a subject of particular import to you please send an email to [email protected] for consideration.

“Dear PoPville,

As Halloween approaches, I implore readers to think about the minority faiths and practices that keep the old spirit of the day alive; the witches.

As one who has been practicing modern day pagan witchcraft for 16 years, I can tell you that Washington DC is home to thousands of us. We look just like you, have families we love, and work in all areas of the District and its suburbs. There are witches who work in our museums, on Capitol Hill, in a plethora of non-profit organizations, and even in the White House. For the witches of Washington DC, there’s no doubt that this place is home.

While most Americans on October 31 are out attending Halloween parties or taking their kids trick-or-treating, the witches of DC gather in parks, fields, and in private homes to celebrate Samhain. Samhain, from a Celtic word meaning “Summer’s End”, is our day to honor our ancestors and all those who have gone before. On Samhain night, my coven of 25 will hold a special Dumb Supper, a tradition where we eat a meal together in silence and memory of the beloved dead. While some might think that modern witches are up to nefarious and frightful deeds on this night, it is truly a holy time that connects us to the ancient ways of the tribal nations of the British Isles.

We ask that while some individuals spread the myth that modern witches hold ill intent, you think about the small but growing religious community that harmful stereotypes affect. We are your family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. While our ways might seem strange, we bring a valuable and important layer to the diversity of America and to our nation’s capital: individuality and a reverence for the communities we share our lives with.

Happy Samhain and happy Halloween!

David Salisbury
High Priest, Coven of the Spiral Moon”

22 Comment

  • I spent Samhain with three witches: Winnie, Mary and Sarah Sanderson.

  • Somewhat related, we saw some middle-aged folks on halloween night cutting branches off an oak tree in kalorama park. knowing that oak trees figure prominently in some pagan beliefs, we assumed it was either someone who was really desperate for halloween decorations (they had somehow climbed through a construction fence to get into the playground where branches were reachable) or someone who was using them for a pagan ceremony. Can anyone shed any light on this? And can you please stop hacking off tree branches from public parks?

    • Hi Lucie- I’m not aware of any pagans who would do such a thing, as we place a very high value of respect on the District’s public parks and prefer to keep our trees healthy and alive. I am guessing it could have been some prankster, or something trying to get them for a home craft projects.

      • SouthwestDC

        I was thinking a craft project. I have a book of DIY wreaths and other decorative hangings, and a lot of them involve tree branches.

  • This raises a lot more questions than it answers.

    Is this Orthodox Witchcraft or Reform Witchcraft? As in, what kind of continuity is there with practices or beliefs from earlier times, including beliefs/practices focused on harnessing powers/making things happen in the world? Are the people practicing this descendants of other people who practiced this or are they converts? If they’re converts, what does that process look like? What do they think about the folks who (presumably) did ritualistic animal sacrifice, before dumping the remains in Rock Creek Park? (As in, do they think that this kind of magic works? Do they think it works but you shouldn’t do it?) Does witchcraft come with an ethical system? If so, what is that ethical system?

    • Hi Emily- happy to answer for you. This letter was meant to be short and sweet so I hope you understand that I couldn’t add too much.

      First, there is no such thing as “orthodox” or “reform” in witchcraft. There is no high governing body that determines what is ‘traditional’ and what is not in our community. Although some people practice a type of folkloric witchcraft called “traditional witchcraft” that is defined as anything before the 1950’s when Wicca’s founder brought the faith to the world. Most modern witchcraft practice today is only around a half-century old, inspired by pits of information as we can find it, from older sources at times.

      For the question on who is practicing- the answer is that its a mix. People practice in families the way their parents did, but there are far many more who came to it later in life and are the first generation. There is no official “conversion” process, although some lines have an initiation ceremony that marks their entry after a certain time of study and practice. This varies by the type of Craft tradition.

      In terms of sacrifice- there are people out there who do this, but they are not practicing modern pagan Wicca, which abhors such actions. Its important to not confuse us there.

      Re ethics: If one if practicing the Wiccan system, there is a strict “harm none” law that you’ll find is much like the Golden Rule. Those witches who do not practice Wicca usually have an individual set of ethics that varies by the witch.

      I hope that helps!

      • If what most people are practicing is a half-century old and most of those adherents are first generation, why the talk about “keep[ing] the old spirit of the day alive” and “connect[ing] us to the ancient ways of the tribal nations of the British Isles”? It sounds like those phrases are much more applicable to the animal sacrifice people, who you don’t really want to be associated with.

        • Because we do know some information about the way the day was celebrated in ancient times. it is possible to celebrate ancient ways using the limited knowledge we have through scholarly study and research, while also putting our own modern take on it. This is hard to understand for some as we don’t have a “set way” to do everything. Our faith is not a fossil, but a living, breathing, experience. Hope that helps your question 🙂

  • Uh, I highly doubt there are “thousands” of you in the DC area.

  • We love you Wiccan Dog Sitter!

  • Sounds like that failed Delaware senate candidate a few years back. “We’re just like you.”

  • What a bizarre victim complex. Nobody cares if you’re a witch dude. Just do your thing.

  • justinbc

    Don’t worry, nobody believes you’re up to evil tricks. We’re all full aware that magic isn’t real, just waiting on you to catch up.

  • Thanks for posting, David. I’m always interested to learn about others’ spiritual paths. Ultimately, I think we all try to achieve similar goals—spiritual fulfillment and community among them—but in ways that fit in with our unique characteristics.

    • +1 I don’t really appreciate the snarky comments about this person’s post. David came across as friendly and approachable and now we’ve all learned something new.

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