Q. What is the best way for one who is interested in the Old Religion to make contact with a genuine coven?
A. Subscribe to all of the Pagan and Witchcraft publications. It's easier to get into a Pagan grove which often acts as a backdoor to the Craft, since many are Wicca-oriented in their worship and rituals. Fill out a Coven-Craft application form issued by WICA. To obtain yours, enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope. WICA's address is Suite 1B, 153 West 80 Street; New York 10024.
Q. What are the major feast-days of Witches? Could you tell me more about the origins of Halloween?
A. Most Anglo-American covens celebrate the following holy days. The four major ones are Oimelc or Candlemas on February 2; May Eve, Beltane, or Walpurgisnacht on April 30; Lammas on July 31 or August 1; and of course Halloween or Samhain on October 31. The four minor Holy Days are the two solstices: Yule, around December 22; and Midsummer, around June 21 or 22. The other two are the equinoxes: March 20-21 for spring and the fall equinox on September 22 or 23. The following will help to give you some idea of the origins of Halloween:
November Eve, All Hallows' Eve, the Gaelic fire festival of Samhain, now generally called Halloween, represents the summer's end, when the Earth Goddess turns over her reign to the Horned God of the Hunt, the transition from life to death, from an agrarian time to one of hunting, from summer to winter, from warmth to coldness, from light to darkness. It has been Christianized into All Saints' Day, a time when the souls of the departed wander the land and in some cases where the souls of the living temporarily join their spirit brethren, a time for mediumship, remembrance of departed loved ones, and celebration (as opposed to mourning) of the dead. The Roman Goddess of fruits and seeds, Pomona, was worshipped on this day. The stored fruits and seeds of the summer were then opened for the celebrants. Apples and nuts were the main fruits. This was also the autumn harvest festival of the Druids.
They believed in the transmigration of souls and taught that Saman, the Lord of Death, summoned those wicked souls who were condemned to occupy the bodies of animals in the preceding twelve months. The accused believed that they could propitiate Saman by gifts and incantations, thus lessening if not eliminating their sentences. This was also the time when the Druids lit huge bonfires in honor of Baal, a custom continued in Britain and Wales until recent times. In Ireland October 31 was called Oidhche Shamhna, or Vigil of Saman. In his Collectanea de Rebus Hibernicis, Villancey says that in Ireland the peasants assembled with clubs and sticks, "going from house to house, collecting money, breadcake, butter, cheese, eggs, etc., for the feast, repeating verses in honor of the solemnity, demanding preparations for the festival in the name of St. Columb Kill, desiring them to lay aside the fatted calf and to bring forth the black sheep. The good women are employed in making the griddlecake and candles; these last are sent from house to house in the vicinity, and are lighted up on the (Saman) next day, before which they pray, or are supposed to pray, for the departed soul of the donor. Every house abounds in the best viands they can afford: apples and nuts are devoured in abundance; the nutshells are burnt, and from the ashes many strange things are foretold; cabbages are torn up by the root; hemp-seed is sown by the maidens, and they believe that if they look back they will see the apparition of the man intended for their future spouse; they hang a smock before the fire, on the close of the feast, and sit up all night, concealed in the corner of the room, convinced that his apparition will come down the chimney and turn the smock; they throw a ball of yarn out of the window, and wind it on the reel within, convinced that if they repeat the Pater Noster backwards, and look at the ball of yarn without, they will then also see his sith or apparition; they dip for apples in a tub of water, and endeavor to bring one up in the mouth; they suspend a cord with a cross-stick, with apples at one point, and candles lighted at the other, and endeavor to catch the apple, while it is in a circular motion, in the mouth."
Vallancey concludes that these practices are the remnants of Druidism and will never be eradicated while the name of Saman remains. In this brief passage we will see the origins of many modern Halloween practices, such a trick or treat, the Jack-o-Lantern, and apple bobbing.
In the island of Lewis the name Shamhna, or Saman, was called Shony. One writer in disgust described "an ancient custom here to sacrifice to a sea-god, called Shony, at Hallowtide." The supposed Christian inhabitants would gather at the Church of St. Mulvay, each family bringing provisions and malt which was brewed into ale. They chose one of themselves to wander into the sea at night up to his waist. He then poured out a cup of ale calling upon Shony to bless his people for the coming year. "At his return," this writer says, "they all went to church, where there was a candle burning upon the altar; and then standing silent for a little time, one of them gave a signal, at which the candle was put out, and immediately all of them went to the fields, where they fell a-drinking ale, and spent the rest of the night in dancing and singing. The ministers in Lewis told me they spent several years before they could persuade the vulgar natives to abandon this ridiculous piece of superstition."
The name Saman shows evidence of Druidism in the Irish. Another word, the name of a drink, is "lambswool." It is made from bruising roasted apples and mixing it with ale or milk. The Gentlemen's Magazine for May, 1784, says, "this is a constant ingredient at a merrymaking on Holy Eve." Vallancey shrewdly traced its etymological origin when he said, "The first day of November was dedicated to the angel presiding over fruits, seeds, etc., and was therefore named La Mas Ubhal, that is, the day of the apple fruit, and being pronounced Lamasool, the English have corrupted the name to Lambs-wool." The angel referred to of course is the Roman Goddess Pomona.
Q. Are these Holy Days the same throughout the world?
A. No. However, there are many universal similarities between all the pagan religions. Names, dates and days vary according to national origin. For instance, one of the Holy Days still celebrated by many Italian and some Sicilian traditions is the Lupercalia, on February 15. It has since been Christianized into St. Valentine's Day on Feb. 14. Let me quote from the WICA Newsletter: Ancient Roman festival honoring Lupercus, God of Fertility. It was called dies februatus meaning 'day of expiation.' The Lupercal--'wolf's grotto'--a cave on the western slope of Palatine Hill. Near it was the ficus ruminalis, the fig tree under which Romulus and Remus were found and nursed by a she-wolf. The Lupercai who celebrated this yearly festival were made up of the Fabian who belonged to the Sabines and the Quintilian Lupercai, the Latins. Later in honor to Julius Caesar, there was added the Julian Brotherhood. They sacrificed a goat. Young neophytes were brought in. The High Priest touched their foreheads with the bloody knife. Then another priest wiped away the blood with wool dipped into milk. The feast began with the celebrants clothed only in goat skins and carrying (really hiding) thongs made from the same goat hides. They ran up and down the streets of the city striking anyone who passed them. Women came forward to be hit by the goat-thongs, believing it enhanced their own fertility. This was also a symbolic purification of the land and of the persons touched. This was on of the last Pagan rites to be given up before Christianity completely dominated the country. It is still celebrated today but in modern form, without the goat or any other kind of sacrifice, but all wearing skins and goat horns in a special streghe ritual."
Q. What are some of the Christian holy days that are based upon or borrowed from ancient Pagan Religions?
A. You'll find many of them discussed in this book. However, briefly, here are some of them. December 25 in ancient times was the day celebrated in honor of the sun, deified in such figures as Mithra, Osiris, Horus, and Adonis. It was also the feast day of Bacchus, Krishna, Sakia, and others. The legends of these Gods were the same as those attributed to Jesus Christ by the early Church. Pope Julius I in A.D. 337 made December 25 the official day to celebrate Jesus's birth, following older traditions who honored their founders on that date. It was also the ancient celebration of the winter solstice. There is absolutely no record in the Bible or elsewhere of when Jesus Christ was born. All of us are still paying tribute to the ancient Gods and Goddesses by the names of our days of the week.
Two of the English names come from Old Saxon rather than Latin. Tiw's Day became Tuesday in honor of the old Teutonic deity, Tiw or Tives. Wednesday is named after the old Teutonic Norse God Wodan or Wotan. The Saxon word for day is doeg. In olden times the days were called Jove's Doeg (Thursday), Mercury's Doeg (Wednesday), Mar's <sic> Doef <sic> (Tuesday), etc. Friday was the day when the ancients paid tribute to Venus--the love day. When Christianity became dominant, Friday was no longer considered lucky--Jesus was crucified on that day; also, the uninhibited sexual rites dedicated to the love Goddess Venus was considered a great "sin." Besides the days of our week our months are also named after the ancient deities:
January: From Latin Januarius, honoring Janus, a Roman God. He presided over the Gates of Heaven, which the Christians later assigned to St. Peter. The Anglo-Saxons called it Aefter-Yule, and prior to that Wolf-monat.
February: From Februus, another name for the God of purification Faunus, thus fertility. The feast was held on February 15 (see Lupercalia) and was called Februa.
March: After Mars, God of War. Anglo-Saxons called it Hraed-monat, rugged month, or Hlyd-monat, stormy month. A stormy March was an omen of poor crops. A dry March indicated a rich harvest.
April: From Latin aperio "to open," like buds. Anglo-Saxons called it Easter-monat, in honor of the Teutonic Goddess of the same name. She ruled spring and light. The Romans dedicated this month to Venus, often referring to it as Mensis Veneris instead of Aprilis.
May: Named after Maia Majesta, ancient Roman Goddess of Spring. Considered Vulcan's wife. Look up the folklore regarding the May Day celebrations, bonfires, and other rites celebrated throughout Europe.
June: Named after the Roman Goddess Juno. Called Sear-monat by Anglo-Saxons. Juno was Queen of Heaven and Guardian of Marriage and ruled childbirth. June is still the most favored month for marriage today.July: Originally called Quintilus, the fifth month. Old Saxons called it Maed-monat, "mead month" the time to gather honey for the drink called mead.
August: Named after the Roman Emperor Augustus. Was once called Sixtilis, the sixth month.
September: Named after the Latin number for seven, that being the month in the old calender <sic>. Saxons called it Gerst-monat, barley month, as this crop was usually gathered then.
October: From octo, the eighth month in the old calendar. Saxons named it Wyn-monat, "wine month." This was harvest time, and Bacchus and Dionysius and all the other ancient deities were honored. See Halloween above.
November: From the ninth month in old Roman calendar. Saxons called it Blot-monat, "blood month." This was when the cattle and sheep were slaughtered for food and sacrifices.
December: Named after the tenth month in the old calendar. It was consecrated to Saturn, and on December 17 the great feast of Saturnalia began, lasting several days. It coincided with the winter solstice and the Yule season. The Anglo-Saxons called it Yule-monat, "midwinter month." It coincided with the winter solstice and the Yule season.