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Samhain/Halloween 2002, from the Sun-Times

Halloween Solemn Day for Pagans
Chicago Sun-Times, October 31, 2002
By Cathleen Falsani, Religion Reporter

For most folks, Halloween conjures visions of cute costumed kids in sugar comas from a sack full of candy, scary haunted houses and spray-can cobwebs.

But for many pagans and Wiccans who celebrate Samhain (pronounced "sow-in," the first part of which rhymes with "cow") on Oct. 31, the day evokes a far more solemn holiday spirit.

For Wiccan parents, today is Christmas and Easter rolled into one, the day they have to wrestle their sacred holiday away from the death grip of secular, commercialized Americana.

"We'll pass out carmel apples and candy and things like that," said Lori Dake, a Chicago mom who runs the Chicago Area Pagan Parents Internet site. "At the same time, it's New Year's for us. It's more of a special remembrance of deceased family members and close kin."

"My son knows the difference, that Halloween is for fun and Samhain is more special," Dake said of Ryan, 10.

Samhain is the New Year, celebrated by most Wiccans, or "witches," and by many other pagans. It marks the end of the harvest and the start of winter, the change from the god to the goddess, from the god of the sun to the god of the underworld.

"It's the crossing over from this world into the spirit world," said the Rev. Eric Roberts, high priest of the Temple of the Sacred Craft in Lisle and father of daughter Morigan, 7.

Since she was old enough to understand, Roberts and his wife, Rachel, who is a pagan high priestess, have taught Morigan the secular and spiritual meanings of Halloween and Samhain.

Many Halloween traditions come from ancient, pagan traditions, Roberts said.

"The whole trick-or-treat thing, at one time they would leave food outside the door so that the spirits would eat the food and forget about messing with the house," he said. "The dressing up comes from the veil between the worlds being thin. People would dress up in costumes so their dead ancestors wouldn't recognize them and follow them home."

After trick-or-treating with Morigan, who will be a black cat this year, the Roberts family will celebrate a Samhain ritual with their coven in Lisle.

Saturday, the family plans to attend another pagan ritual and a Dumb Supper, where family and loved ones who have died in the last year are remembered by having a place set for them at the table.

Jaime Birren, 28, of Skokie, a self-described "run-of-the-mill heathen," Girl Scout leader, and mother of 6-year-old Lexie, said as a pagan parent she walks a fine line.

"We keep pretty secular as far as Halloween goes," Birren said. "It's hard with her in a public school. There's a lot of stigma involved."

Before the Dake family lights candles tonight on the altar at home, Ryan will go trick-or-treating in Logan Square just like all the other kids.

This year he's going as Ring Wraith, a character from "Lord of the Rings" akin to the Grim Reaper. That's OK with Dake, but she would draw the line at certain Halloween traditions.

"Some [Wiccan] people don't like the green-faced, warty-nosed witch," she said "I certainly don't like that. A lot of people would treat that as a sign of disrespect."