If you’ve seen the seminal classic (filmed in Salem, naturally) Halloween film “Hocus Pocus,” you probably learned two things: watch where you light black candles, and Halloween was kind of an important day to witches. That’s as true today as it was in ancient times, when the animist religions that are today considered part of the pagan and Wiccan traditions were celebrated by peoples all over the world.
While many in downtown Salem were partying hard in their Ghostbuster and Adventure Time outfits, a different kind of celebration was taking place on Gallows Hill, site of the execution of the 19 men and women accused of witchcraft in Salem in 1692. That was the location of the 20th annual Magick Circle, a celebration of the ancient holiday of Samhain, or Wiccan New Year.
“Samhain is one of the two ‘hinges of the year,’ the other being Beltane in the spring,” said High Priest Fionn, one of the organizers of the Magick Circle. The Circle was hosted by members of the Temple of Nine Wells-ATC, a Wiccan organization whose membership reaches from Salem to California. “The celebration we have here focuses on the remembrance of our own ancestors, and also the men and women who died in the Salem Witch Trials.”
Over 200 people attended the Magick Circle, which began with a procession to the park from City Center and ended with a candlelit walk back into the revelry. Gypsy Ravish, a High Priestess in the Temple and owner of the shop Nu Aeon on Pickering Wharf, said that in previous years there had been as many as 800 attendees.
“This year, we are making a film of our Magick Circle for the first time,” said Ravish, who was one of the two main celebrants of the ceremony with her husband, Richard, also known as Lord Azaradel. “We haven’t decided how we will release and distribute the film yet, but we decided to make a record for those who aren’t able to attend.”
In the Wiccan and pagan religious calendar, Samhain (pronounced Sawan) is one of eight holidays. The timing of holidays is tied to the natural cycles of seasons, and Samhain takes place when crops are harvested and the dark, cold half of the year begins.
“On Samhain, the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is thin,” said Fionn, “hence the association of Halloween with ghosts and spooky things.”
That association is because Samhain, being the New Year, depends on celebrants to “turn the wheel of the world,” ushering the old year into the world of the dead and helping the new year begin.
“To create our ritual, we used traditional sources like ancient texts, and parts of it were written by priests in our temple like Lady Zara and Lord Azaradel,” Fionn said. “The intent is to cast spells for self improvement as well as the betterment of the world as a whole.”
The Magick Circle takes place outdoors – Wiccans do not construct indoor spaces for sacred festivals – and centers on an altar filled with objects of ritual significance.
“The consecrated tools on the altar include cups, wands, medallions called patans, and candles,” Fionn said. “You might recognize those symbols from being the suits in a Tarot deck. In Wicca, they symbolize the elements of earth, air, water and fire.”
The ceremony included singing and dance, as well as a long spiral through a portal decorated with leaves and pumpkins. As the attendees spiraled through the portal, it symbolized passing from one year to the next. Celebrants called on the spirits of deceased loved ones, and those executed in 1692, to protect the world, and buried a ritual meal of bread, honey, milk and wine to ensure a fertile growing season.
Many of the celebrants said that one of the reasons the Salem ceremony was so meaningful to them was the remembrance that, for many Wiccans, being open in their faith is still looked at askance in their communities.
“The walk to the site is important because it reminds us that here and now, we can walk openly as witches,” said Linda Morrisey.
“Every holiday is pagan, in the sense that holidays we now know as Christmas, Easter, Halloween, all were set up to correspond with pagan holidays that already existed,” said Jacqueline Bollietero of Salem, who attended the ceremony with Tiana DaSilva. “A lot of people don’t understand that.”
Elaine Theodore brought her 5-year-old daughter, Ruby, to the ceremony.
“This is a great opportunity to remind her of the origins of Halloween. It’s not all candy and costumes,” Theodore said. “It’s also a spiritual day.”
Kameron Miranda was attending Haunted Happenings for the first time. She lives in Concord, N.H.
“I thought it was great to enjoy the spiritual energy,” Miranda said. “I will definitely come back next year, though I think I’ll wear more layers.”
Read more: Turning the wheel of the world: Wiccans celebrate Samhain - Medford, Massachusetts - Medford Transcript http://www.wickedlocal.com/salem/features/x898695797/Turning-the-wheel-of-the-world-Wiccans-celebrate-Samhain#ixzz1clWOSAWg