LETHBRIDGE - While children are dressing up in their costumes, eagerly anticipating the enormous loads of candy they'll be gorging on tonight - and others are handing it all out by the bucketful, Lethbridge's Witches, Warlocks, Pagans and Wiccans will be celebrating their new year.
Some Halloween traditions today can be traced back to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced Sow-win), when the belief was that the "veil was thin" between the living and the dead, and when people would don costumes and light bonfires to ward off evil spirits. https://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween
Lorien Johansen is the Chair or the Southern Alberta Pagan Association. She identifies as a Pagan Witch.
"I was raised a devout Christian," she explains. "My mother taught me from a very early age to question, to ask and examine and decide for yourself. This is how you were raised, and Christianity didn't work for me."
About 10 years ago, she began having what she described as prophetic dreams. She then started researching witchcraft and its practices. She says a lot of it is relatable to Christianity; casting a spell can be similar to saying a prayer even though the methodology is different.
And at this time of year, many spells are cast because the Pagan calendar begins and ends on Oct. 31. Johansen says it's a time to connect with your ancestors.
"It is easier for the dead to cross over for the living to communicate with the dead, and so that's the All Hallows' Eve traditional version of why you put jack 'o lanterns out to ward off evil, you hand out candy to appease the spirits. So, there is a time that you want to connect with those that have passed on. It is also a time to release that which no longer serves."
By that, she explains that it can be a time to let go of negative influences and embrace things that can be changed or made better.
"It is also the cycle of death and rebirth. The old year is dying; the trees are dying; the leaves are dying, and we go into a period of dormancy. And then in February is when everything starts to be re-born. So, this the beginning of the cycle of death through the next couple of months."
The Pagan calendar is divided into eight holidays beginning with Samhain (Witches New Year), Yule - the winter solstice, then Imbolc in February (the promise of spring), Ostara in March as the vernal equinox, Beltane on May 1(festival of fire), Litha the summer solstice in June, Lughnasadh at the beginning of August (first harvest), and Mabon in September as the autumnal equinox.
Johansen explains there are a variety of ways one can practice, emphasizing that it's a very individual path. Each witch chooses or is chosen by one or more deities and most people choose how to honour them.
"Having an altar with certain symbols on it is one of the ways that we honour and worship doing celebratory rituals or casting spells if you prefer that terminology...it is more of a personal relationship rather than following a crowd."
Rebecka Johnston, or Soror Iris E. is also a Lethbridge witch who has been practicing spells and witchcraft since she can remember.
It may or may not have something to do with the fact that she was also born on Oct. 31, so the day has extra special meaning for her.
She has spell books, journals - which she says are extremely important to have - crystals, tarot cards and a wiccan alter used to honour the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water. She has many items she uses, including a special vase for the water, a bell to represent air, a wand to represent fire, and a small dagger.
"I was doing weird rituals in my room as a kid. Nobody taught me. I remember before I read about wicca I had a collection of 50 candles, I had Egyptian statuettes and dragons."
Johnston now has a tarot card reading business and a Facebook page called the Lethbridge Pagan/Wiccan Network.
The Southern Alberta Pagan Association also holds a festival in Galt Gardens at the beginning of May and has also just elected its first board of directors. Johansen says there are a lot of people in Lethbridge interested in Paganism, Wicca, Witchcraft and other religions.
"Paganism is such an umbrella term...so if you are wiccan or if you call yourself a witch, if you are a nature-loving, tree-hugging hippie, then it falls under that. There's a lot of people that find paganism because they don't fit anywhere else. It's a very open and accepting, everybody can be themselves 'you do you' kind of thing."
And Johansen says it's not the devil-worshipping, blood drinking, child-kidnapping, kind of thing of folklore.
"There's a certain stereotype about being a witch, that you have to look a certain way, or dress a certain way and that we all live in weird little cabins in the woods and talk to animals and magic shoots out of our fingertips. This is not Harry Potter. I have a normal job. I have a normal life."
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