Pagans prepare to honor deceased

On Halloween, students party, watch scary movies, trick-or-treat and dress up in costumes. For Pagans, Halloween is the time of Samhain, a time for personal worship and meditation to honor the deceased and banish themselves from the past.

Pagans of Urbana-Champaign celebrate Samhain, the Pagan “New Year,” beginning this weekend. Some participate in group ceremonies and banishment rituals, distancing themselves from the past. Others set up altars or personal sites for prayer and meditation.

Quique Pina, marketing and social chair of the registered student organization Pagan Student Association and junior in LAS, said Halloween allows Pagans a day of free self expression and reflection. He said he celebrates el Di­a de los Muertos, a Pagan Mexican holiday with Aztec roots.

“I recognize those that have passed: my father and my uncle,” Pina added. “It’s not a time of mourning but a time of celebration.”

Pagans set up altars to remember passed loved ones, he said. On the altar he sets up for his father and uncle, he displays items dedicated to their memory, such as tequila shots, photos and flowers. He said he displays another altar as a daily reminder of his faith.

“We’ll put food out there and recognize our loved ones,” Pina said. “We’d set up candles and water; candles which attract spirits for its pure energy and water because it is the purest matter.”

David Kees, Pagan Student Association member and Champaign resident, said he also sets up an alter, displayed with tarot cards representing the deities and various ornaments. He said the altar allows him to recollect himself and reconnect to what really matters to him in life.

“For some people, a sacred space is defined as the walls of a church or a synagogue,” he added. “In Paganism, a sacred space is something you can carry with you and construct when you need it.”

Kees’ altar also includes a scrying mirror, which consists of rippling water in a bowl. The rippling water reflects an image of himself, which, he said, allows him to interpret what it means at that moment.

Paganism is a “fluid religion,” Kees said. In that respect, he added that he feels free to celebrate Samhain any way he wants because it does not have to be celebrated in any particular way.

“I have an altar and I may very well light a candle on it to honor my grandparents or do whatever I feel moved to do at that time,” Kees said. “But I am a very instinctual person, and Paganism allows that flexibility.”

The Apple Branch Protogrove of Champaign-Urbana, a sect of the international Pagan group called A Druid Fellowship, will hold a ritual for Samhain in honor of deceased loved ones, said Cindy Westfall, head Pagan of the organization.

“It’s nice to acknowledge them,” she said about the deceased. “Their continued presence and their influence is important.”

Jenna Mortensen, member of another Pagan group called Spinning Tapestry and graduate, said her group will write letters to the deceased.

“We communicate what you are doing, how you are,” Mortensen said. “It’s a time for reconnection.”

As the end of fall approaches, Pina said, Samhain marks a renewal where Pagans can banish themselves of the past, commemorate those passed and cleanse themselves for the next cycle of growth.