Kids & Halloween

(Part one of three)

I love Halloween. I love the tip into the dark half of the year. I’m not very invested in all the trappings that come with mainstream Halloween stuff. I’m not super crafty, so the costume part isn’t that exciting for me. I try to avoid sugar as much as possible, so we go really easy on the candy. I don’t like a lot of cheap, plastic crap, so that narrows down the amount of stuff which with we decorate. But Halloween, as it is secularly practiced (did I just make up ‘secularly’?), is such a wonderful holiday for kids! Candy, costumes, play – facing the spooky things of the world – it’s all a wonderful treat for kids.

First jack-o-lanterns for the boy

My memories of Halloween as a kid involve carving pumpkins and dressing up for trick-or-treating. However, in South East Alaska, winter had already descended by the end of October and costumes were rarely awesome. Sometimes it had already started to snow, so you had to figure out a costume that would look good with a snow suit (not possible). If it hadn’t started snowing, it was likely the rain was blowing sideways and the temperatures were close to freezing, so what costume would look good with rain gear (not much)? As a female, it was hard to get too caught up in the Slutty X costumes, merely because staying warm and dry was a priority.

Halloween, or Samhain (sow-en), for the Celtic observers, is an important festival in the Pagan world. It marks the shifting of the year, from the light half to the dark half. Winter begins; the harvesting season is over. The ‘veils between the worlds’ is considered thin, meaning that we have more contact with the spirit realms, including the world of the dead. This is why we dress up – to confuse the evil spirits. In older times, dressing up and playing games was a way to throw off the respected cultural norms, allowing people the freedom to be something else. I think this is where the Sexy X costumes come from.

I refuse to link to any of the Sexy costumes, but you know what I’m referring to. I don’t know if they’ve gotten worse and more ubiquitous in the last decade (I suspect yes) or if I’m just getting old and happen to be a mother now (yes, to that too) that I find Halloween slightly more problematic. I certainly don’t want my daughter growing up thinking that it’s cool to be ‘Sexy Elmo’ (and yes, I’ve seen a picture of that costume). And then there’s the problem of all the sugar in a world already too disordered in its eating. Oh, it’s a parental conundrum.

Halloween spread

Here in Wales, and I think the greater United Kingdom, Halloween is not a Thing. Not many places decorate for it. Very few people dress up. Not many kids go trick-or-treating. Our first year here we had two knocks on the door! Last year we had about ten. I can appreciate this. However, my husband really wanted to have a little Halloween party for our son and a couple of families and their small children. So we decorated the house, laid out some food, and hosted 6 adults, two three-year olds, two two-year olds, a one-year old, and the 8 month old baby. Strangely enough, hardly any one touched the chocolate! I made warm apple cider (non-alcoholic), which must be an American specialty because this was the second party we’ve had where no one seems to know what it is!

Our three-year old boy dressed up as a witch. I was planning on dressing up as a man, with a tie and a moustache, but I have been sick for a week and didn’t have the energy to do much more than shower and show up. I even forgot to dress up the baby. No matter! She had fun on her own, playing with everyone else’s costume.

Baby girl with the stang

Halloween is a holiday that drapes over a few days. I think that traditionally in Celtic lands it lasted for three days. That suits me just fine. Sunday was the children’s party. Tonight I am attending a ritual, in the woods, with the local pagan society. Tuesday evening we will have a family dumb supper in honor of the dead. Wednesday I am singing with the local Church of Wales (Anglican/Episcopal) chapel in their service for All Souls Day.

May you have a festive All Hallow’s Eve, a blessed Samhain, and a happy Halloween! I hope you stay warm and dry!


There is a part of me that wishes I was still practicing Hinduism so that I could be celebrating Diwali right now. What a joyful, beautiful holiday. I suppose I could still observe it, but my head is fully ensconced in the upcoming Samhain/Halloween.

Maha Lakshmi

A blessed Diwali to my Hindu friends! May Lakshmi bless us all with her abundant blessings of wealth, beauty, and good fortune.

Perhaps: a post about the gods

Most witches and pagans are polytheists – or agnostic to greater or lesser extents. I’ve yet to meet anyone who calls hirself a pagan that is monotheistic, at least not in the way that anyone of the Abrahamic faiths would recognize. Plenty of people I know have patron deities or are henotheistic (honoring one god to the exclusion of the rest, yet acknowledging that other gods do exist). For a while I thought I tipped into the polytheistic non-dual (a description I first heard from T Thorn Coyle). In my mind that was a radical interpretation of monotheism, but I may have trying too hard to keep with in a Christian framework. A few nights ago a passing two sentences in a Feri initiate’s private blog got me thinking: what if the gods aren’t Gods? What if the gods are just little g gods? A form of entities different to us, bigger than us, but subject to their own forces and to the Ultimate Ground of Being, much like we are?

Victor Anderson said ‘God is Self and Self is God and God is a person like myself.’ That always rubbed me the wrong way. I didn’t make any sense in my theological understanding. I can talk endlessly about the potential of divinization of the human person. I believe, firmly and utterly, in the inherent goodness, fullness, and dignity of the core of humanity and all of creation. I believe that humanity carries the spark of the Divine within, the breath of Life is present in each breath we take. ‘God is Self and Self is God.’ I believe this was part of what Jesus Christ was trying to teach us; I think this is what Tantric Hinduism is getting at. We are not separate. The Holy Mother who is the Ground of Being, that from which all of creation came and to whom everything, everyone returns, is our Creator. We are part and parcel of the wider whole. Recognizing this – knowing it in all our parts – is the goal of enlightenment and is liberation.

I may know this key to enlightenment with my brainy bits, but I certainly haven’t grasped it in my entirety. I’m not sure I can and still parent small children. I’m not sure I could handle the depths of compassion that embracing the Entirety of All would require. Hell, I still pat myself on the back when I laugh at my 3-year-old accidentally dumping a half-gallon of milk all over the floor, rather than swear and yell and grumble. I’m not sure I’m ready to embrace the power that being in concert with the G/gods would take. Baby steps, right?

So if we are not separate from the Ultimate One, then what’s all this talk about gods – plural? What’s with polytheism?

When I read the Iliad in school we discussed ancient Greek culture and talked about the gods. This was filed away under Mythology and Primitive Belief and we assumed that no one really believed in them then, nor does anyone now. From the generic Judeo-Christian point of view, who would dare believe in gods that were just as petty and ridiculous as us ‘mere’ humans. If those Greek gods were real then I thought the stories were demeaning, indeed. But I think I get it now. The gods are like us, only they are not of our material. Whether you want to think that the gods exist in a different parallel universe (like in the movie Thor, where they say that their world is different enough from ours that we think them gods) or maybe you like the idea that maybe they exist at a different frequency that we just can’t readily perceive (like how certain insects see colors we don’t), the issue is one of perception and understanding, not one of reality.

Until I moved to Wales I felt pretty agnostic about the gods. Were they just symbols? Projections of our best selves? Archetypes? How could all these different families be simultaneously real? I mean, the Greeks, Norse, Yoruba, and Celtic pantheons seem to have some overlap, but also seem to be their own coherent systems. How could they all be true? I’ve since learned that the Gods are real. I liken this experience to learning to kiss (or have sex). When I was a pre-teen and had my first kiss, I remember thinking, ‘THIS is what the big deal is about??’ A few years later I kissed some one else and discovered, oh my, yes, that is exactly what the big deal is all about. The same thing happened with ritual and the gods. Sure, I’d been to ritual – I’d even had a great time and quite enjoyed myself! But then, I circled with two other witches in Wales, on a dark, damp Welsh night and oh my. I discovered that the Gods are real. The Arddu showed up, swept through the front door and front hall and into the living room. He looked around, smiled amusedly, and went on his way. That experience has changed me. It wasn’t intimate. He didn’t pass along any knowledge. There was no exchange of pleasantries. But it was a moment where we met and I realized that this witchcraft stuff is not some figment of an overactive imagination. It’s the doorway to a new way of interacting with the world. The gods are real.

If the gods are people like myself, then the another of the Anderson’s sayings is crucially important: never submit your life force to anyone or anything. This is not saying always be strong, always dominate. This is not some kind of Ayn Rand power trip. This is about maintaining one’s dignity and integrity, one’s sense of Self. There are as many ways to submit one’s life force as there are people and combinations of people. Choosing to serve others is not submission. Even submission in a BDSM context is not necessarily submission in this context. Feri admonishes us not to bow down before the gods. This may seem the height of arrogance to those from other religions. I admit, it felt that way to me too for a long time. We honor the gods, we do not worship. It’s like the technical hair-splitting the Roman Catholics do with the Virgin Mary – hyperdulia (excess veneration) vs latria (adoration, reserved for the Holy Trinity). We can split hairs here too. Am I only honoring the gods? Might there be some adoration in there too? I think the human heart is messy and doesn’t split these hairs as cleanly as our minds would have us do.

Many grimoires and wise, experienced witches and magicians caution us not to worship, follow or even get friendly with just any spiritual being that introduces itself. If the spirit world is made up of a variety of things that are just on the edges of our perception, and if those things are not God Hirself, and if they are like us in any respect at all, then it behooves us to get to know any entity before we offer our allegiance and loyalty – just as we do in ‘real life.’ We do not submit our life force to anything or anyone. We insist on equality, respect, mutual trust and mutual loyalty.

If the different pantheons are different families or nations, like we humans are, what does this mean for syncretism or for finding ‘our gods’ in a relatively godless world? I don’t accept that Yahweh is The God. After years of biblical studies, on devotional and academic levels, I think Yahweh is just a patriarch in his own divine family. In all the years I spent trying to be a Christian, Yahweh never spoke to me, nor did Jesus. I felt a deep connection with something Big, but it never, ever seemed to line up with Yahweh. I never heard much from Jesus either. Listening to that still, small voice has obviously led me away from the Church. Perhaps those guys just aren’t my clan. Coming from a Judeo-Christian culture, but a secular family, I don’t know who my clan is. I’m definitely seeking them out. I read, I think, I meditate, I ask. I think some gods are particular to place. Who will appear when I move to Olympia? Will Ana and Arddu follow me there? Ganesha has made himself right at home with us and he is not ‘of’ Wales. Can a person have a Hindu god as a patron ‘saint’ of the family and still look to Old World European gods?

Changing my thinking about the gods from Big G gods to familial, clan gods has opened up my mind to so many new possibilities. All of a sudden pantheons make much more sense to me. It even helps make sense of Christianity. The gods are people like ourselves: messy, inter-related, powerful, limited, individual, cruel and kind, evolving in this world, all held under the hand of That Which Is. I think ‘polytheistic non-dual’ might still be the best way to sum up my theology at this time. Who knows what I’ll be thinking in a year’s time. Stay tuned.

Review of ‘Welsh Witches and Wizards’ by Michael Howard

It is with regret that this review is so short, but there is not much to say about this book. Mr Howard is well-respected in British folklore, magical and pagan publishing circles. I admit I was expecting more from this book. It’s mostly just a compilation of other sources. I learned a fair amount, mostly putting my existing knowledge of the history of witchcraft into a Welsh context. The book was enjoyable on one level for me, because many of the places mentioned are within a short driving distance of where I’m living! Many of the names of places were familiar to me. I now have a list of places to see and visit before we leave this fine country. Alas, if the reader doesn’t know Wales well I don’t think this book will have much to offer. It’s mostly history, and nothing all that new if you’re already a student of the history of witchcraft.

The most deeply disappointing aspect of this book is the lack of editing. There are an abundance of typos throughout the book, particularly in the spellings of Welsh names and places. Yes, Welsh looks funny to the English speaker, but Mr Howard supposedly lived in Wales for a time. For example, a name is spelled correctly and then misspelled only two sentences apart. If a non-Welsh speaker and brief Wales resident can notice a host of misspellings and typos, imagine the frustration of a native speaker!

I would recommend this book only for Welsh fanatics. Welsh witches will likely be familiar with everything here. I would recommend it as supplemental travel reading for interested visitors to Wales, but the price is rather prohibitive. Borrow it from a friend or the library.

For the love of tarot

I have had a love of tarot for well over a decade. In college I was fascinated by the mere idea, though no one I knew read it or knew anything about it. When I went off to grad school in Berkeley in my late 20s I finally bought myself a deck and started the slow process of learning about this intricate and beautiful art. Eight years on I’m still learning. I feel like I’m maybe, just maybe, no longer a beginner. Perhaps I’m at lower-intermediate level. I can do readings with some degree of accuracy for other people, though I still have to refer to my books far more than I’d like.

Tarot doesn’t have relate in a specific was to Feri; however most witches and/or pagans use some form of divination. I find that tarot that engages parts of my brain in a way I don’t normally use. Not only am I honing my intuition, I’m creative, I’m putting a puzzle together, I’m opening to something non-rational. On a spiritual level I’m letting my active, Talky brain use and get lost in pictures and definitions so that my Higher Self, my Godsoul, can connect with the Universe. Basically, I get out of my own way. I don’t know how to describe it without sounding seriously WOO. All I know is…. tarot works.

Let’s end a fallacy right now: tarot doesn’t Predict The Future, although it can highlight what is a likely outcome if this or that path is taken. Don’t like the proposed outcome? Change your path! Often I find tarot answers questions that weren’t asked, or that went unspoken. I find it better than therapy. I tend to be way too heady for talk therapy and tarot has a way of tapping into my issues and patterns, again in a way that bypasses my Big Fat Brain. On some level we see what we want to see, but part of the skill in tarot reading is that we learn to move past what we think we want to see and get to heart of the patterns and symbols.

The Magician in the Rider-Waite tarot

I love the art and symbology of the tarot. Most decks are based on the Rider-Waite deck.  Many decks incorporate Kabbalah and/or astrology, two things that have never piqued my interest all that much. The deck that I use, the Celtic Tarot, is one of those decks based on the Rider-Waite (the cards are much prettier in person, I promise). I admit that the one thing I come close to collecting, besides books in general, are tarot decks. I also own the Golden Tarot of the Tsar, another Rider-Waite-based one merged with Byzantine Orthodox Christian iconography. I’ve hardly used it for readings though, because I find it….. odd. It’s very beautiful, again the pictures on-line don’t do it justice. I have Brian Froud’s Fairy Oracle, because it’s just so damn beautiful. I don’t use it for readings – yet. After owning it for years I’m still learning this deck card by card. For whimsy/awesomeness’ sake I have Edward Gorey’s Fantod Deck. It’s another deck I’ve never used, but might just try one of these days soon.


From Robert Place's Alchemical Tarot

I’ve been thinking of trading out my old, faithful deck for a new one. I have the Alchemical Tarot waiting for me in the United States. There are a few other decks I’m waiting to be published. The Mary-El Tarot is one I’ve been following for five years. I’m hoping it finally goes on sale next year. Another deck to watch out for is the Chibi Tarot. My husband is actually designing his own deck! He, too, is fascinated by the tarot. His personal deck is another beautiful, complex art deck, the Tarot of Origins.

Art, symbols, the arcane and the occult, personal knowledge and mystery – what’s not to love?

The Moon, Chibi Tarot

Mary El's Queen of Swords