On Saturday, Oct. 31, Dawn Botke-Coe and Alan Coe, owners of Triple Goddess Bookstore in Okemos, will hold their annual festival for the pagan holiday of Samhain (pronounced Sow-win), although holiday may not be the correct term. “Holy day is something you get from the church,” said Linda Fausey, a Triple Goddess associate who has led the last three celebrations. “We think of it as sacred.”
The Coes both grew up in Christian homes they would describe as anything but strict. Each was always encouraged to pursue their interests. In 1993, they opened their New Age bookstore as a way to share their interests with others. They had always held some sort of celebration for Halloween, but it was not until four years ago that they began holding an annual Samhain ceremony.
Samhain, in the Celtic pagan tradition, is one of eight Sabbats (sacred days) and is the Sabbat of the third and final harvest. It occurs at the time of year when the veil between the spirit world and the living world is believed to be the thinnest. It marks the end of the
pagan year and the beginning of a new one. People used this time to
honor the dead, whom they believed would return to the living world to
dispense their wisdom to their relatives.
Although many are unaware of what Samhain is, many of its traditions are still alive today. Traditionally, people would dress up as ghouls and ghosts to protect themselves by confusing the spirits. The practice of carving pumpkins comes from the Irish practice of carving turnips, which they did to ward off evil spirits. Today people carve pumpkins for Halloween, and they dress up as movie characters or Power Rangers, forgetting why people dressed up in the first place.
As the years passed, attendance has grown for Triple Goddesses’s Samhain celebration. Last year’s ceremony was attended by 21 people; the first event only drew five participants. More are expected this year.
Erin Doering, 25, has attended the last two celebrations and plans to attend again this year. Doering, who identifies herself as Catholic, is also drawn to pagan traditions. “I have a lot of Irish ancestors,” she said. “I ended up attracted to it because of that aspect.”
Doering said her Christian and pagan beliefs don’t conflict. “I kind of blend the two, because that’s what they did when they brought the religion to Ireland.”
This is evident in All Saints Day, a Christian holiday during which the living honor the dead, that occurs on Nov. 1. “[The church] knew that people were going to fight them if they made them give up their traditions, so they just built new traditions on top of the old,” said Deb Perkins, a selfproclaimed “recovering Catholic” in attendance at last year’s celebration, which I attended.
The evening’s real draw was the fire ceremony. Tiki torches were placed in a circle around a blazing cauldron, with an altar placed at one end of the circle. With partici pants circling the cauldron, Linda Fausey conducted the ceremony, as she had in previous years. Fire ceremonies are done during all eight Sabbats, and they remain mostly uniform, regardless of the Sabbat. Participants were instructed to look from one direction to the next, with each one having a particular meaning.
Paper cups of cider were distributed to each person, which they drank, and then threw into the fire as an offering to the spirits. Apple cider is used for Samhain, because apples are found during harvest season. For fire ceremonies at different times of the year, items that are typical of that season are used.
After the cups were burned, strips of paper were handed out, on which people wrote something they hoped would manifest or would be removed in the coming year. Examples could include something abstract, like love, or material, like a new car or job.
The ceremony ended with a tarot card reading. “It’s a good time to do divination, because the veil is thin and you are more likely to get a little bit more coming through,” Fausey had said.
The group called on the Great Oracle Themus, who served as a facilitator between it and the spirits. The message from the cards is believed to be from the spirits to the group. Fausey interpreted the message for me. “This tarot reading was one of individual empowerment,” she said. “That it’s yours now, and the time is right for you to decide where you are going, what you are going to do. Take hold, take the reins, make something productive of yourself and really go after it.”
While the participants appreciate Samhain, they also enjoy the more conventional Halloween we are all familiar with. “Modern Halloween is fun,” said Perkins, during the celebration. “But I think it would be more fun for everyone if they knew the history behind it.”
Oct. 31 Featuring handouts, mini tarot readings and drawings for gifts
Triple Goddess bookstore, 2142 Hamilton Road, Okemos Store hours: 11
a.m. – 6 p.m., followed by ceremony at 7 p.m. (517) 347-2112