Wiccans feel image is unfair

Connecticut Post/October 30, 2008

Milford -- How does a witch celebrate Halloween?

No, this is not a joke. Wiccan Priestess Alicia Folberth wants to clear up what she says are confusion, misinformation and downright lies that years of cheesy horror flicks and people of other faiths have spread about witchcraft and neo-pagan practices.

"Halloween in the Wiccan religion is known as Samhain [pronounced Sow-en], which is Gaelic and means 'summer's end' and heralds the old Celtic New Year," she said. It is one of eight Sabbats, or holy days, modern versions of the pre-Christian faith observe, said Folberth, head of a coven that meets in various area towns. Those feast days are tied to the solar and lunar calendar and include both solstices and both equinoxes.

Kim, a practicing Wiccan who asked not to have her last name published, said she will observe the feast tonight by cooking an elaborate meal and setting a place for her dead father at the head of the table. "We believe that at Samhain the veil between the physical and mystical worlds is the thinnest and that our loved ones who have passed on come back to visit. I welcome my father into my home."

Kim was raised a Catholic growing up in Milford and attended St. Mary's School here. But she feels certain that her father approves of her new faith, which she has practiced for seven years.

"My father often comes to me in dreams, and he knew that I was always curious, stubborn but open-minded. He said to me once in a dream 'I always knew that you'd be the one.' It's the same as when a Christian brings flowers to the cemetery or a Jewish person puts stones on a loved one's grave."

After the meal, she will put leftovers outside for animals to enjoy, celebrating the circle of life, Kim said. "And then I'll take my daughter trick-or-treating.''

Folberth said Wicca is not the same as Druidism, and actually has more in common with Christianity than one might think. "We don't worship Satan; the devil is actually a figure in Christianity. We worship a goddess, a deity, but some of us are duotheists, honoring both a god and a goddess, or polytheists, honoring an ancient pantheon of ancient gods and goddesses."

The Panthean Temple that Folberth leads has been in existence for 13 years, making it the oldest Wiccan and Pagan temple in the state, the priestess said. Services have been held in Oxford and East Haven, where until recently Folberth operated a Wiccan store, as well as Milford and other towns.

"The temple pretty much is wherever I am," she said. The group also organizes what Folberth described as the state's oldest and largest pagan festival every May.

"We don't do anything horrible and we look like everyone else," she said of Wiccans.

"People need to know that we are real.

"People still remember the character of the witch, with missing teeth, green skin and poor physical condition," Folberth said. "This is a remnant of the burning and hanging tradition. These were people who were beaten and tortured for months; of course they were in poor physical condition."

Early Gnostic Christianity, which believed that everyone carries within them the spark of the divine, and the Jewish kabbala sect have a lot of the same mystical and spiritual elements that Wicca has, the priestess said.

The Panthean Temple is part of the Connecticut Wiccan and Pagan Network, which is a nonprofit organization that holds events and services and offers speakers programs.

The network is "dedicated to meeting the needs of the greater Wiccan and Pagan community in Connecticut and surrounding areas.

The goal was and is, to help provide a forum for Wiccans and Pagans to meet others of "like mind" and to come together and worship in a safe environment. Our hope has been to construct a sense of 'community' in which we can all share with and learn from one another," says a message on the Web site, www.cwpn.org.

"We host monthly networking meetings throughout the state, open Sabbat circles, coven and study group referral service, classes/workshops, various social events and lectures with well-known members of the Pagan community," the site's mission statement reads.

Kim, who fears that she could lose her job if her employer found out that she is a practicing witch, has two children, both of whom are Catholic. "We celebrate Yule [the Wiccan year-end feast] and Christmas. We exchange gifts. I answer my daughter's questions about what I believe."

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