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.