The roots of Halloween: Saskatoon witch explains Wiccan festival of Samhain

While many Saskatchewan residents are getting ready to play make-believe with costumes and haunted houses for Halloween, Saskatoon witch Ave Riddler will be preparing for an event she believes will bring humans closer to real spirits.

'The belief is that you can connect with spirit energy easier,' says Wiccan priestess Ave Riddler

Ave Riddler says members of her Wiccan group will offer pieces of food as part of the Samhain ritual. (Submitted by Ave Riddler)

While many Saskatchewan residents are getting ready to play make-believe with costumes and haunted houses for Halloween, Saskatoon witch Ave Riddler will be preparing for an event she believes will bring humans closer to real spirits.

Riddler is the priestess of the Congregationalist Wiccan Association of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

On Sunday, her association will hold a ritual for the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which marks the end of summer, by giving thanks for the year's harvest and paying tribute to the dead.

She said the festival period, which is often recognized on or around Oct. 31, is also considered by Wiccan groups to be a time when it is easier to communicate with spirits.

'We are not evil. We work for a living ... I'm a baker.'  - Ave Riddler, Saskatoon Wiccan priestess

"It's the end of growth and the beginning of the winter sleep, so it's kind of a between time," said Riddler.

"The belief is that you can connect with spirit energy easier."

Riddler said Halloween traditions such as carving jack-o'-lanterns and wearing masks have their early origins with Samhain.

Traditionally, she said, the jack-o'-lanterns were placed to ward off bad spirits and the masks were worn to confuse them.

The Samhain ritual

For members of her association, the Samhain ritual starts with an invitation to energies known as the "quarters" — the energies of east (air), south (fire), west (water), north (earth) and an all-encompassing spirit.

Participants then make an offering, such as an apple or a piece of bread, as a thank you to the land for what it has provided throughout the year.

They then acknowledge loved ones or ancestors who have died by taking time to feel gratitude for them, before sending the thanks through the act of drumming, chanting or dancing.

The ceremony is followed by a moment of silence.

Becoming Wiccan

Riddler is a founding member of the Saskatchewan chapter of the Congregationalist Wiccan Association, which she said also has branches in Alberta and B.C.

Wicca is a pagan religion, and she describes paganism as an earth-based worship of the lunar and solar cycles and a belief that considers all parts of the natural world — from a rock to a person — as being equal.

Riddler has been a Wiccan for more than 20 years, having adopted the beliefs after being moved by a book she borrowed from a friend.

"It filled something in my heart," she said.

"There's a balance to it all. Life and death are part of a balance, dark and light are part of a balance and there's no negative or positive. It's all part of a cycle and that appealed to me."

Ave Riddler is the priestess of the Congregationalist Wiccan Association of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. (Submitted by Ave Riddler)

What it means to be a witch

Riddler now considers herself a witch, which she defines as someone who practices witchcraft rituals, something she said is separate from simply holding Wiccan beliefs.

She said Wiccans are misunderstood, saying she comes across people in Saskatchewan who believe her group is "evil."

"We are not evil. We work for a living. Like, I'm a baker," she said.  

"We can't wave a magic wand and suddenly have everything we want, we actually have to work for it just like everybody else."

Love spells a no-go zone

Riddler said she also does not do love spells — something she said is a common request from the public.

She said doing so would breach the rule that rituals should "harm none."

"If you think about it, doing some sort of love spell is a form of harm."

Riddler said there are Wiccan temples in Saskatoon and Regina, and that the association events are open to the public.

Sunday's ritual will be held at the Rusty MacDonald Branch Library in Saskatoon at 2:30 p.m.

A ritual was also held in Regina on Saturday night.