ISU Pagans celebrate a major holiday

Jill Pearson

Some members of the ISU Pagan Community recently held a public celebration of Samhain, but many members celebrate Halloween on an individual level.

Samhain is the Celtic New Year, which commemorates the beginning of the fall and winter. Members said it is a festival of the dead and a celebration of the past and future.

The Ames-based Hecate’s Broom Coven sponsored a public Samhain ritual Sunday evening. The Samhain celebration included participants honoring death and rebirth through rituals such as forming a sacred circle and calling upon the air, fire, water and earth.

“Halloween is one of the major holidays of the year for pagans, also known as Samhain. Some of the members of the pagan community performed an open ritual for the public to see, but not all pagans celebrate Halloween. It is very personal,” said Melinda Witherow, junior in biology and a Wiccan in the ISU Pagan Community.

Aaron Jones, president of the ISU Pagan Community, said today’s Halloween is derived from Samhain.

“Samhain was eventually mutated into All Hallow’s Eve and now is known as Halloween,” said Jones, freshman in pre-journalism and mass communication. “Most current holidays have some roots in pagan traditions.”

Kristin Gerhard, adviser of the ISU Pagan Community, said Samhain has different meanings for individuals in the group.

“For me personally, Samhain is my New Year’s celebration — a time to acknowledge the increasing length of the dark nights, to acknowledge losses from the previous year and find the spark or warmth to keep going through to the winter solstice at Yule,” said Gerhard, associate professor in the library.

Pagans celebrate Halloween in similar ways to the general public, Jones said.

“Halloween is much like other holidays, frequently celebrated by everyone and is primarily an opportunity to have fun and get together with friends,” he said.

Jones said the term pagan encompasses many beliefs. He said Wiccan is a branch-off term, much like Baptist is a branch of Christianity, and not all pagans are Wiccans.

Gerhard said she thinks of the term pagan as an umbrella term.

“It covers a lot of people, including Druids, shamans, new-age beliefs, as well as Wiccans,” she said.

Wiccans are witches who practice an earth-based spirituality, Gerhard said.

“We ritualize to honor the changing of the seasons, the movements of the moon and sun in relation to the earth,” she said. “We believe in magic, the art of changing consciousness at will.”

Gerhard practices many beliefs as a pagan, including making choices that honor the earth.

“I perform rituals, alone or in my coven, for the full and dark moons and the eight solar holidays, to raise energy to heal the earth and to allow the Goddess to guide, heal and support me,” she said. “I try to treat the people in my life with respect and gentleness and to learn to live with integrity.”

The ISU Pagan Community has weekly meetings Thursdays at 7 p.m. The meetings often are open to discussion of different topics which are led by a discussion leader. The ISU Pagan Community is open to all students.