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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (10/31/03)


By Leslie Boyd, Staff Writer

ASHEVILLE - Halloween is for witches, and it has been for longer than history can record. We're not talking about brooms and pointy black hats here, but the real thing: Wiccans. Pagans.

For them, this is Samhain (pronounced SOW ain), the new year celebration.

Coven Oldenwilde of Asheville will hold its ninth annual public celebration from 8 to 10 p.m. tonight at French Broad River Park on Amboy Road. Dixie Deerman, known among Wiccans as High Priestess Lady Passion, will preside over the gathering. She expects to be joined by witches from across the Southeast.

Because Wiccans practice magic and cast spells, many believe their worship is evil, and therefore fear the religion, Deerman said. Last year's gathering drew protesters.

"There was a busload of people who called themselves `reverends,' dressed in T-shirts and shouting," she said. "This year, they'll be arrested if they try to disrupt us."

Erin Crouse has been a Wiccan for three years and is known among Wiccans as Cassandra Shine. Last year, was troubling, she said.

"It became a little frightening, but then we started drumming, and that drowned them out," she said.

The threat of arrest is real if protesters become threatening - a North Carolina state law prohibits the disruption of religious rituals. Asheville police will be there to keep the peace, said Chief Will Annarino.

"We have to and we do respect the rights of everyone," Annarino said.

The event begins at 8 p.m. with witches casting spells. There are two kinds of spells, said Crouse. One is specific, and the other is all encompassing and aimed at spiritual and personal growth. The first part of the ritual will feature the all-encompassing spell.

"People can come in costume if they're curious but don't want to be seen," Deerman said. "We love to share our knowledge and faith, but we don't prosthelytize."

"It's an ancient religion," she said. "It's also a peaceful religion. It teaches us to harm no one. The whole point of paganism is to be peaceful, nurturing and helpful."

Curious about Wicca?

Wicca, also known as paganism, is a faith that worships nature. The religion celebrates eight Sabbats, or holy days, each year at intervals of about six weeks.

The eight Sabbats of Wicca:

Samhain, Oct. 31, celebrates the Pagan New Year.

Yule, Dec. 21, celebrates the lengthening of the days, or the return of light.

Imbolc, Feb. 2, a mid-winter celebration, anticipates spring. The modern Ground Hog Day grew out of it.

Ostara, March 20 or 21, celebrates the vernal equinox.

Beltane, May 1, is a fertility celebration.

Litha, June 21, celebrates the summer solstice.

Lammas, Aug. 1, celebrates mid-summer and the first harvest.

Mabon, Sept. 21, celebrates the autumnal equinox and the last harvest.

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Tolerance is one of the reasons I love this city so much. Everyone was shocked last year when the witches' gathering was disrupted by protesters -- but isn't it telling that the protesters had to be bussed in.

Still, it's a little disappointing they aren't holding their gathering in Pack Square, the way they used to. I wonder if the group just got too big for the square and had to move to the park, perhaps?

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