I give this book 3 out of 5 stars. I don’t think it is Ravenwolf’s worst book, but it certainly isn’t phenomenal either.
Chapter 1- The Search for Halloween
The first thing I noticed about this book and in this chapter was this annoying flight attendant speech. Although I’ve always appreciated the easy-going conversationalist style of Ravenwolf’s books, in this book her acting as a flight attendant was just plain irritating. It made this book seem more trivial than a serious look at the beautiful festival which many of us celebrate.
In this chapter she introduces us to the origins of Halloween. Silver Ravenwolf isn’t known for her historical accuracy, and often twists things to suit her own agenda, much like she derides people for having done in the past. I’d be very weary of this section, although she does give endnotes (which is unusual for Llewellyn), she definitely does show her own bias. This is seen in the way that she portrays Christianity.
She claims that the Roman Empire was the start of Patriarchy which I’m disinclined to believe.
She of course mentions the “burning times” and all the drama that comes with it. I personally believe that the “burning times” has no place within my spiritual beliefs and my life as a witch. We have very real persecutions today even in South Africa against those who are wrongfully called Witches.
She eventually goes on to talk about Halloween and how it came to America, this section is interesting for the American Witch, but is neither here nor there for me.
“The American Halloween became a cultural celebration rather than a religious one.” P 33
Halloween is definitely an American cultural celebration. In South Africa, however, it is not quite as large as Diwali (Hindu Festival of lights which happens near October). I celebrate both Halloween October 31 (Horror fest, masquerades, Parties, fun, somewhat secular the veil thinning again) and Samhain April 30- May 1. In October, clubs are definitely taking full advantage of Halloween dress up for all the urban party goers, and shops do have Halloween decorations and book sales but it is still far from becoming a part of South African culture. Samhain is only celebrated by Pagans, and the South African Pagan community is still largely in the broom closet, so it’s not recognised on a large-scale.
Chapter 2- Halloween Customs and Traditions
In this chapter she goes over some things we traditionally associate with Halloween including a folktale about the Jack o Lantern. She also talks about Trick or Treating, Bonfires, Masks and Costumes.
Chapter 3- Halloween Symbols and Superstitions
Here she talks about Black cats, the pitchfork, Scarecrows and corndollies, skeletons and the Mexican day of the dead, ghosts, witches, vampires and bats, werewolves and some superstitions associated with Halloween.
I personally think this chapter could have been made more serious with a proper mention of Memento Mori and what they meant to the cultures and people who used them rather than just a quick glossing over of funeral rites and how delightful Los Dias de los Muertos is.
When she talks about Vampires and Bats, she does not really mention bats aside from their connection to the modern vampire and how they may have been flying over bonfires.
According to Ted Andrews in Animal Speak,* “In Babylonia bats represented the souls of the dead” (p248), bats are also creatures of transition and initiation, powerful themes for this time of year. The bat has also been linked to the Shaman’s death. In our modern culture bats are often feared, with their link to Rabies (which is minimal), and their association with modern vampires, as well as so-called bad luck. Many of us Goths love bats, not only are hey damn adorable, but they also are nocturnal creatures who are surrounded by amazing folklore and spooky things. To many of us who work with animal spirits, bats are symbols of facing our fears and ourselves, which Andrews also confirms. This is all potent symbolism for this time of year, the fact that Ravenwolf doesn’t delve into the deeper aspects of the symbol, and just glosses over it with a tiny mention, annoys me and demonstrates how she writes practically all of her books. She rarely delves into psychospiritual aspects of symbols and prefers to stay on the surface and glamourise the craft.
In her summary she briefly hints at an understanding of the symbolism within this chapter :
“The ghosts of Halloween’s past have not lain themselves to a peaceful rest. They dance and cavort through the collective unconscious of the people, and emerge each October 31 to once again remind us of our tribal roots, of fears we do not wish to face, and of the possibility of life after death” p 69
I really think this chapter could have been pushed past the glamour and made into something a bit more useful.
Chapter 4- Halloween Divinations
This is an interesting mix of serious divination techniques such as the runes, and ones which are more geared toward Halloween parties. Ravenwolf feels most comfortable with Runes, and uses them quite often in her books. In this chapter she suggests making them out of large pumpkin seeds. I’m more of a Tarot reader than a rune caster myself, but if you’re into runes this may be a nice way to bring the season into your divination.
Some of the other forms of divination are based more on superstition and folklore like the apple divinations.
She goes over how to make a magic mirror and how to prepare it and use it for Scrying. Samhain is a powerful time to create and bless a magic mirror, as the veil is thin, and the mirror is a symbol of looking through the veil.
The summary has some nice do’s and don’ts of divination.
“Divination can be a rewarding and useful process, assisting in goal planning, problem solving, and raising your self-esteem.” P 9
Chapter 5- Halloween in the Kitchen
Here she has some blessings, including the general ingredient blessing, cooking blessing and Samhain Serving blessing.
She also includes recipes for Pumpkin Pie, Divination Doughnuts, Green Man Cake, punches, Candied Love apples, Corn on the Cob, and some party dishes like Prosperity Popcorn balls and Sugar Snakes in graveyard dust.
The two that I’ve tried from her have been really good and simple to make!
Chapter 6- Halloween – Halloween Magick
“This chapter contains a compendium of enjoyable Halloween magick that you can try, designed and tested by myself and the members of the Black Forest Clan.” P126
This chapter is exactly that… Included are various Love spells, Abundance and harvest spells, protection spells, corn husk magic, charm bags for money, health and luck, spells for prosperity and a ritual for the Harvest.
Many of these spells employ the use of apples, pumpkins and pumpkin seeds for the season. I am interested in the Love apple lights which I’ll gear for a different purpose, the potpourri which I might make next year and the protection powder.
Silver Ravenwolf is very good at crafting spells, which is one reason she has made such a great success of her spell books.
Chapter 7- Halloween: A Time to Honor the Dead
“There is nothing wrong with going into a room by yourself, or taking a walk in the cemetery, or sitting in a favourite nature spot and talking aloud to a dead loved one.” P165
This is by far my favourite chapter of the book, as it deals with one of the main reasons why this festival is so important to me- honouring the dead.
She begins the chapter with her experience of having lost her mother at 17, she then carries on to say that the dead can hear us and that they indeed will listen.
She includes a ritual to receive answers from the dead, setting up ancestral altar, offerings to the dead, and a prayer of offering which I’ll be using.
There is a 7 Day Samhain Vigil for honouring the dead, especially those who have recently passed. She has a Cauldron wake for those who need closure, a Samhain fire ritual and Soul lights.
There is also a section on making a spirit rattle or spirit bowl which are “…used to call forth the spirits of the ancestors in hopes of bringing their wisdom to the ritual, rite or bonfire.” P179
I will be doing the Dumb Supper for Samhain as well as the Solitary Samhain Ritual, of course both will be adapted to my particular system.
At the end of the Chapter she includes an official Funeral of the Black Forest Clan and an essay by Lady Janette Copeland on current Druidic Samhain practices.
I think this book would be helpful for beginners and those who are just beginning to celebrate the Sabbats or create family traditions of them. It is a good starter book, aside from the questionable history prior to American Halloween. It also offers ways in which to honour the dead, the season and the transition from Summer into Winter. This book’s rating reflects my opinion of her not going deep enough and not exploring the more psychospiritual aspects of Halloween in popular culture as a secular holiday (since her book is named Halloween) as well as Samhain. The glamourisation of witchcraft may be fun, and at certain times I revel in the more glamourous surface concerns, but I feel that the glamourisation of “Samhain” into “Halloween” does not allow a deep enough exploration into what Samhain means to many witches and pagans.
*I highly recommend Ted Andrews (1952-2009) Animal Speak (1993). He was an incredibly wise man and will forever be missed in the pagan community. This book is a must on the shelves of anyone interested in any kind of animal symbolism as it provides a wealth of information on many animals, as well as ways in which to work with them.
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