Halloween is over, and that gives us another opportunity to reflect on news coverage of paganism, which so often gets pegged to a holiday that, like Easter and Christmas, has split roots.
Samhain, not to be confused with the punk band fronted by Glenn Danzig, is a Gaelic harvest festival that celebrates the end of summer. It also happens to fall on the same day as All Saints’ Eve (Hallowe’en) and is likely the reason kids don’t trick-or-treat dressed as St. Peter.
Certainly, there is nothing new about Paganism per se. From Halloween to May Day to Yuletide, said Prof. Diana L. Eck of the Harvard Divinity School, “there’s a way in which all of us, especially in the Christian tradition, follow a religious calendar that is pegged to ancient Pagan festivals.”
For newspaper editors, it’s easy enough to tell a reporter to file a story about how some Americans — the number is increasing! — are real witches and celebrate Samhain and not its secular offspring. Able reporters like Samuel G. Freedman, who wrote in The New York Times about the mainstreaming of paganism, in which he include the above quote from Eck, the task is more than manageable. But for many reporters it seems, well, a bit ghoulish. Take this from The Washington Post:
Thick, ashen clouds streamed above the quiet hillside and a fierce gust blew below, tossing a broom off the makeshift altar and sending shivers down the spine of a fairy princess.
“All right, there are enough witches here, let’s get this wind away,” implored one woman among the gathered crowd of maidens, knights, wizards and dark angels.
But perhaps the wind was meant to blow when the auburn-haired bride made her entrance, veil flying, long silk gown glinting with 1,500 garnet and citrine jewels, escorted by her father and the otherworldly strains of the theme from “Edward Scissorhands.”
The black-robed high priest and priestess presiding over this sacred rite would call forth the wind, along with water, earth and fire, to consecrate the vows exchanged Saturday by Christina Dorffner and Daniel Shank, one self-described Catholic witch and one pagan.
Talk about scary. But this is actually the intro to a story about a pagan wedding.
Monday, they leave on their honeymoon. Them against the world — Salem or bust.
Maybe it’s an accurate depiction, but it feels a bit too cute. (Sort of an incongruous concept.) I don’t speak for all religion reporters, but I used to write about other faiths through a modified Golden Rule: Treat other religions with the accuracy and sensitivity and attention to detail you would want yours treated.
I’m sure there were many, many horror stories out there that I missed. In the comments section, let us know.
Patti Wigington is a soccer mom. She is the vice president of her local PTA.
And she’s a witch. …
Most Wiccans are women, but “we are neither frumpy old ladies, or teenage sex-pots like the girls from ‘The Craft,’” said Wigington. “There are a lot more wiccans and pagans than people realize. There is a good chance you know one, you just don’t know who they are.”
With no central authority, anyone who publishes a book or creates a Web site, can say whatever they want about the faith, said Wigington.
With so much competing information, the Rev. Don Lewis established the Witch School to train the next generation of practitioners of Wicca and other so-called natural religions.
With some 250,000 students enrolled in online classes, the school recently moved its physical location from Illinois, to a far more likely setting — Salem, Mass., home of the famous 1692 witch hunt.
“Interest in Wicca has been building for years, but every year there is a spike in interest around Halloween. It’s a huge advertising campaign the world runs for us,” he said.
The practitioners all stressed that Wicca is in no way associated with Satanism or devil worship.
Why do they stress that? Well, because that’s the biggest misunderstanding about Wiccans; the other is probably that they’ll boil your children. And I don’t think the increased exposure of the Church of Satan, “the first above-ground organization in history openly dedicated to the acceptance of Man’s true nature — that of a carnal beast, living in a cosmos which is permeated and motivated by the Dark Force which we call Satan,” has helped the pagan reputation. News story sometimes confuse paganism with satanism and paint the Church of Satan as a fundamentalist version of paganism.
They aren’t. But that’s a different blog post.