Halloween by Silver Ravenwolf (Llewellyn’s Holiday Series)

Llewellyn’s Holidays Series was published in the late 90s and was eventually replaced by the Sabbat Essentials Series. The Holidays Series was what I had as a baby witch, and I decided to start collecting them about a year ago, partially out of nostalgia. While the information in many of them is outdated, there is still a lot of good information in them. In fact, some of the Holiday books are better than their modern Essential counterparts. One of the quirks of the series is that some books are titled the Christian or secular name of the holiday, which is a little odd. “Halloween: Customs, Recipes, and Spells” by Silver Ravenwolf is one of those, but the book, published in 1999, is about Samhain. It is still available on Llewellyn’s website here. A few other notable differences between this Holiday Series and the Sabbat Essentials Series are that the Holidays Series does not have uniform covers/spines or chapter structure, though they are of a uniform size, and that the Holiday Series books are much larger than the Essentials Series books.

Chapter 1 explores the historical origins of Halloween, but has sort of a gimmicky framework. While moving between locations and times the reader is on “Silver Flight 2000,” a sort of broomstick-airplane amalgam. It’s kind of cheesy to me, but I think a lot of other people would find it cute, and it’s only done in this section. Some of the historical Samhain information was interesting, but there were a few notable inaccuracies. The first is regarding “the burning times,” when millions of witches were allegedly killed. This is sort of a boogeyman in the pagan community, and has been debunked by historians, so Ravenwolf’s book shows its age by printing it. The next is that the original scarecrows were human sacrifices, which just rings false. It might not be, but a rudimentary Google search came up with nothing on the subject, and it seems like an unnecessarily gory footnote.

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Weekly Witch Question #3: Witches in the Media

Welcome to the third installment of the (Bi)Weekly Witch Question! This feature was inspired by a massive list of questions that my dad sent me about witchcraft. The phrasing of these questions were adjusted, if they were changed at all, for clarity.

Feel free to ask any questions about witchcraft that you may have, and, if the question discussed here inspires you, respond in your own magickal journal (a prompt can be found at the bottom of the post). This week’s question addresses how witches are presented in popular culture, which, in turn, influences how non-magickal people view us.

Question 3: Are there really witches like the ones portrayed in popular media (e.g., Macbeth, Salem Witch Trials, Halloween, etc.)?

30 Rock Witch Undertones

The short answer is no, witches are not like the way we are portrayed in the popular imagination. To illustrate, I’m going to take a moment to address a few of the major ones and add a notable example to the list.

Macbeth: The Macbeth witches are based mostly on other people’s portrayals of witches from that time period; the 2018 Witches’ Companion published by Llewellyn actually has an article about them specifically. The witches three seem to be an adaptation of the three Fates (Greek) or the Norns (Norse) that rule over people’s lives.

Salem: The people who died in Salem weren’t witches at all. The Salem witchcraft trials were one of the last gasps of witchcraft persecution, a European import. There’s a trend at the moment to declare oneself a “descendant of Salem” aka a witch. I find this obnoxious for a few reasons: first, as stated, the people who died in Salem weren’t witches. The other is that I’m an actual descendant of Salem, specifically one of the ‘bad guys’, Cotton Mather. I really do have Salem in my blood; if you don’t, then please don’t buy a shirt pretending to be like me.

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Book Review: Samhain by Diana Rajchel (Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials)

Llewellyn's Sabbat Essentials: SamhainLlewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials series contains eight small books, one for each Sabbat in the pagan wheel of the year. The author varies by the Sabbat with no author having more than two books in the series. Samhain: Rituals, Recipes, and Lore for Halloween was penned by Diana Rajchel, who also wrote Mabon. At the risk of being a downer: those are the two weakest books in the Sabbat Essentials series.

One of the reasons that I don’t particularly like this volume is that it’s so heavily Wiccan, and I prefer these books to have a general pagan path. This is because the books are presented as “essential” guides to the Sabbat, so I feel that they have a bit of an obligation to be more general. The other complaint, which is far more important, is that the rituals included in the Rituals of Celebration are quite weak. Generally, a good book in Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials series has a ritual for a solitary, a couple, and a coven; this is a great formula. This volume’s solitary ritual is “A Solo Ritual to See Beyond the Veil,” complete with a full page list of supplies, which is just excessive. The ritual feels excessive, too, with all the anointing and chanting that pushes me away from Wicca. Then, if that’s not enough, she invokes Christian angels to assist. Seriously? Finally, it’s not really a ritual for Samhain, but more of a pseudo-Christian ritual. I was so insulted when I read it that I was beyond words (temporarily, obviously). The two person ritual is the Wiccan “great rite,” which I guess is so great because you have heterosexual sex in the circle, and which I also find very troubling. Are you alone and doing a handfasting? Great, go for it, and for some Sabbats this is very appropriate (though I do think it should be private). Wiccans seem to advocate (public) sex as an integral part of pagan worship, which I could not find more off-putting. Finally, the group ritual is an underworld maze, which isn’t a full Samhain ritual by any means, and is again endowed with all the hokey theatricality you’d expect.

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