For some residents of Bakersfield and Kern County, Oct. 31 is a time of somberness and remembrance, rather than trick-or-treating or pumpkin carving. That solemn time is also known as Samhain, pronounced sow- win, a pagan celebration to honor the dead and prepare for the winter, or darker, months. 

The Kern County Pagan Circle, KCPC, shared their Samhain traditions and stories at a downtown location open to the public on Sunday. 

Paganism, a collection of old religions that are not part of the main world religions, often has the reputation of being cultish or sacrilegious.

But KCPC is far from those caricatures. It's just a close-knit group of pagans of different paths — whether it be elemental paganism, Egyptian or Slavic — sharing their understanding of their personal pagan paths and in this case, honoring those who have passed.  

Some people think we're going to be chanting around in a circle wearing cloaks, KCPC council member Kathy said, but it's not that.  

"We're here to share information that we've gathered individually," Kathy said. "We're nice and down to earth and many of us are friends outside of the group as well." 

One member said that his family would light up candles to honor the dead. That sparked something in another member, because she said her family members once lit up a birthday candle to honor her grandmother. 

Samhain is also known as the Witches' New Year, and Kathy explained to the group that the Norse also had a similar celebration known as Alfablot. The Norse would gather goods from the summer harvest and offer it to the gods so that they would make it through the winter.  

Monica Soto, a council member of KCPC, said she drinks a Dr. Pepper and eats a Snickers bar as an offering to her niece, who passed away at 17 years old. 

But for other members, their Samhain traditions are inspired by Halloween traditions, like decorating their homes or giving candy to others. In a modern means to prepare for the Witches' New Year, one member said she buys three tubes of black lipstick during Halloween season to last her through the year. 

Soto has been practicing different paths of paganism for 20 years and joined KCPC approximately four years ago.

"I started practicing in solitaire, but I wanted to learn more that I couldn't from books and documentaries," she said.

Soto said she joined a pagan group prior to KCPC but they were unwelcoming. However, KCPS encourages its members to share their perspectives of a topic from their specific paths.

"I tell people to forget their personal bubbles when they come here, because I'm going to give them a hug," Soto said.

Kathy declined to give her full name, and the members of the KCPC preferred not to disclose the location of the meeting because of the negative stigma surrounding Paganism. Some members are still in what is termed the "broom closet," which means their interests in paganism are not accepted by those close to them. 

"We're really like a family," Soto said. 

(1) comment


I'm glad to see you gave a fair attempt at discussing the Pagan angle on the day. The article made a mistake, though. The traditions you claim Pagans are borrowing from Halloween are often more likely to actually be Samhain traditions from Ireland that changed as the Irish came to the US. The carved pumpkins began as carved turnips (they grow larger there). Trick-or-treating is descended from costuming to disguise oneself from the more malicious spirits that cross the veil back to our world at this time of year.

I'm very sorry to continue to see that Kern County's claims of being patriotic Americans lends itself to my fellow Pagans hiding who they are and where they meet. I should think real Americans would embrace that diversity of thought and worship. But then, even I am using an alias, as I know my beliefs and opinions are not what is politically correct for this county. More so-called Christians should remember Thomas Jefferson's observation that whether his neighbor believes in no gods or 100 "neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

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