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Season of the witch

Samhain celebrates the thin veil between the living and dead

Tulsa area witches brought lore to life on Saturday, Oct. 5 at the Pagan Pride Day Festival—starting with a dance.

Nicole Donis

Witches and broomsticks go together like—well, witches and broomsticks. Cackling around a cauldron, black hat-clad and broomstick in hand, Tulsa area witches brought lore to life on Saturday, Oct. 5 at the Pagan Pride Day Festival—starting with a dance.

The choreographed spectacle originated with the women of Wolfshäger Hexenbrut (The Wolf Hunter’s Coven) in Germany, who perform a celebratory dance every year. It became a viral sensation when they paired it with the song “Schuttel deinen Speck,” a German reggae pop hit. Since then, the dance has been picked up by covens and pagans around the world, usually around Halloween, which is how it came to be performed at the Tulsa Pagan Pride event.   

When the idea of performing the witch dance at this year’s event was proposed, event organizer Renee Walker instantly thought of a local practitioner named Kree to lead it. Kree had practiced in solitude for 20 years, but has recently gotten involved in the Tulsa pagan community. She was happy to oblige. 

“To me this dance is just being able to have fun and laugh at ourselves and express ourselves in a way that people wouldn’t expect witches or pagans to do,” Kree said. “It’s being able to have joy and share that joy with others. I understand it could be seen as perpetuating that old crone witch stereotype, with the green skin and the warts, but that’s not what it is for us … I think for us it’s just celebrating what we are—what we’ve been.”

This is, after all, the season of the witch, she said. 

Bridget, local mom and business owner, is another Tulsa witch relishing in the season. (Her last name is being withheld, since she’s not fully “out of the broom closet.”)  Like many others, she will be celebrating Samhain when Oct. 31 rolls around, the third and final fall harvest of the year. 

“I love Samhain. It’s beautiful. It’s the witch’s new year, which is very fitting. It’s a visual representation of what’s going on inside everyone this time of year. We’re all losing our leaves and becoming more withdrawn so we can bloom and blossom in the spring,” she said. 

“Samhain is a time to honor your deceased ancestors and to be grateful and show gratitude for everything they’ve helped you with throughout the year,” Bridget continued. “It’s a time to set out a table for them, a time to include them in your meals, a time to make it all about your ancestors who have passed on, especially those you have lost that year or who are your spiritual guidance throughout the year. It’s a way of giving back and giving thanks to them.”

She said Samhain at her house is a three-day affair with a ceremonial bonfire, a decadent feast and plenty of apple cider. “We set a place at the table for past loved ones. We set a place to honor my maternal grandmother … We put out pictures and meaningful memorabilia to honor her and those we don’t know are present. We give offerings to them in the form of food, gifts from nature—pinecones, acorns, leaves.”

Bridget also explained how the month-long preparation for Samhain differs from Halloween. “It’s very meditative. It’s a lot more connecting with the spiritual realm. You can feel, as Samhain approaches, the veil thins and you are able to feel and communicate with your ancestors in the clearest way possible and that’s what makes it so beautiful,” she said. “It shows you that there is only a thin veil between us and them … between life and death, and that we are all still connected on this earth. No matter if we’re living or dead, we’re all a part of this divine circle.”

While she celebrates Samhain, she sees the fun in Halloween. “Halloween is great. It all comes from pagan customs. It’s the one day of the year that everybody gets spooky—not just us. As a Pagan, it’s the day here in the Bible Belt, where I fit in the most,” she said. 

The original intention of spooky costumes, she explained, was to hide children from ghouls and ghosts by disguising them as one. “I only wish kids’ costumes didn’t cover their faces … ancestors want to see them. They can finally come. Great-great-great grandma can come see what great-great-great grandbaby is up to. They want to gaze on their beautiful faces.”

Sydney has been a practicing witch for about seven years and said she always looks forward to this season.

“This is the witch’s new year, where the colors of summer slowly turn to the cool darkness of winter. It’s the time of death, but it’s not as scary as it sounds. Death is simply rebirth. It’s renewal, a new you,” she said. “This is when the goddess takes her long winter nap and the god of winter comes and protects the earth she sleeps in. It’s a time for us to have fresh new starts and remember the loved ones and past ancestors we may not know. The veil is the thinnest during this time because of the transition of summer life to winter death.”

For Sydney, the celebration lasts a week and culminates in a feast for the whole family, both living and dead, on Oct. 31. She sets up an alter with offerings for relatives who have passed and lights candles for them, singing:

*  *  *

Oh little flame that burns so bright, 

be a beacon in this night. 

Light the path for all the dead 

that they may now see 

what’s up ahead.

And lead them to the Summerland 

and shine until pan takes their hands. 

And with your light please 

bring them peace, 

so that they may rest and sleep 

with ease.

*  *  *

“Then once we get closer to the actual night, we make a big meal and set a place at the table for the ancestors we want to join,” Sydney said. “The food is all harvested from the garden, the last harvest. I serve apple cider. I bake some breads and pies, make a big meal—sometimes a roast or a hearty stew. I use a lot of herbs from our garden and decorate a lot with pinecones. Sometimes we gather the rest of our dried grass and flowers from the yard and make a little doll to put on the table for the dinner.” 

After the meal, the doll is burned outside in a bonfire ritual. Sydney thanks her ancestors for joining them. But this ritual, this season, is about more than honoring the dead. It’s about forging a new path ahead for the living. “You write down all the old habits you wish to release and put them in the fire and watch them burn away from you and this lifetime. New start. New beginning. New year.”