Representing the Panhandle Pagan Community Alliance (PPCA), Holly Antle is the first to organize and include multiple covens in Amarillo’s Samhain. Not normally a ritual intended for public eyes, the High Priestess understands the Pagan umbrella is generally misunderstood and often demonized. Viewing ignorance as the problem, the brave covens that are standing at her side all intend to educate and inform the public about the truth. She is the Rosa Parks of the Pagan Community and I had some questions about the event.
First thing I asked was what is the Samhain (pronounced ‘sow-en’)?
“Samhain is an old pre-Christian European holiday. It is believed that Samhain is the night when the veil between the physical world and the spirit world is the thinnest, and so it was always a very sacred and holy day. Many of the modern Halloween traditions have their roots in old Samhain practices. Different pagan paths have a different mythology surrounding Samhain, but for most of us, it is a time to honor our dearly departed friends, family members, and ancestors.
One old Samhain tradition is to set an extra place at the table for our loved ones who have passed on as a way to demonstrate that we have not forgotten them. Families may talk about genealogy, ancestry, or family history on this night, sharing stories of our loved ones who are no longer with us in this world. Covens, groves, circles, and groups may hold a ceremony to honor and mourn those who have passed on.
Samhain is more important now than ever before. Most modern pagans have lost friends and family members to death, and in most cases, we were forced to attend a Christian funeral that gave us very little comfort. At Samhain, we can hold a ceremony to honor the memory of our loved ones, and this can help to provide healing and closure to those of us who were not comforted by a morbid or depressing Christian funeral.
Pagans do not believe that death is the end of the tale. Rather, we believe that after death, we all go to rest in a special spiritual place until we have recovered, after which time we can be reborn onto this earth. We have a saying: “Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again,” which is a reference to our belief in reincarnation. For us, then, death is not a sad thing for the person dying. They are able to go and rest in peace and contentment, and one day, they will return to walk this earth in a new body. But saying good-bye can be difficult.
As Christians believe in the finality of death, some pagans have difficulty saying good-bye to their loved ones at a Christian funeral. Coven, circle, and group Samhain events provide a way for pagans to say good-bye to their dearly departed friends and family members in a supportive and loving environment.”
Why are you performing it publicly?
“We are hosting this Samhain event as a way to educate and inform the local public about the true nature of paganism and witchcraft.
Almost all pagan traditions are initiatory traditions, meaning that detailed information about rituals, mythology, or practices are often reserved for only initiated members of that tradition. Due to persecution, many pagans practice their faith in secrecy. The result of this secrecy is that our detractors will often make things up about us. They may say that we sacrifice babies, have hedonistic orgies, pray to break up Christian marriages, and cast hexes on Christian churches and/or pastors (I have heard all of these at one time or another.).
When these accusations are made, there are usually some members of the pagan community who say, “That’s not true!”
This leads to rebuttal from the more moderate people, and they ask, “Then what DO ya’ll do?”
And here, the initiatory nature of pagan traditions poses a problem, because many pagans will be forced to answer, “I can’t tell you; it’s a secret/mystery.”
The problem is that in the absence of real information, misinformation can spread and abound greatly. The purpose of this Samhain ritual is to combat misinformation by providing accurate, realistic information about what REALLY happens at a pagan ritual.”
What experience do you have that made you High Priestess over the event?
“I have been studying and practicing Wicca and paganism for 17 years. I have been a dedicated pagan priestess for 13 years. I have served as High Priestess for three covens: Circle of the Silver Cord in Wichita, KS (retired), Coven of the Serpent and Staff in Phoenix, AZ (retired), and Coven of the Primal Dawn (formerly High Plains Circle of Light) in Amarillo, TX. I hold the rank of 5th degree elder from the Circle of the Silver Cord, and I have written and taught extensively about Wicca, paganism, and alternative religious practices. With my covens, I have served as a liaison to military, prison, and hospital chaplains, and I have conducted training sessions and introductory courses open to the general public and sometimes attended by members of law enforcement or military leadership. With my covens, we have conducted public relations and planned large pagan gatherings in Wichita. Most of our activities here in Amarillo have been below-the-radar until now, and we look forward to bringing about a new era of tolerance and kindness here in the Texas Panhandle.”
In reflection, what is your hope for the Texas Panhandle community?
“I sincerely hope that this Samhain event will be the first of many here in Amarillo. I am extremely excited at the prospect of bringing together so many disparate members of the local pagan community to achieve a greater goal. This event will be the first step in opening a true interfaith dialogue here in Amarillo.”
Where do you see the Pagan community in a few years?
“Where the pagan community goes is ultimately a matter for the pagan community to determine. Once this event ends, I will be handing over leadership of PPCA to my other officers, as personal changes will make it impossible for me to continue leading into 2012.
One of the biggest challenges to pagan leadership is that leaders must be strong and determined. It has been said that, “Organizing pagans is like herding cats!” In order for any organization to succeed, it will require strong leadership.
I believe in the officers who will be taking over for me, and I believe that they are some of the most resolute and dedicated leaders that the pagan community could ever find. I have every faith in their ability to continue the work of the PPCA on into the future.
Ideally, PPCA would like to host two open rituals per year, the local celebration of the International Pagan Pride Day celebration, and a handful of community service events as time allows. Additionally, PPCA is considering whether to host a few events specifically for the pagan community, like an Awards Banquet and a Pagan Leadership Conference.
Ultimately, future events from PPCA will depend greatly on what the future leadership decides and on how much support the pagan community provides. The pagan community has great potential here in Amarillo. PPCA has received an outpouring of support and gratitude, and it is obvious that there are hundreds of pagans in Amarillo and the surrounding areas. If PPCA (or a similar organization) can continue the good work, the pagan community will be able to remain strong and united.
The reaction to this event has proven to me that the pagan community and pagan leadership here has the potential to do great things. I look forward to hearing more about Amarillo’s pagan community in the years to come.”
On Saturday the world will get a chance to see what has been regarded as a secret until now and two peaceful demonstrations of the first amendment all in one day, at one location, Sam Houston Park. The Samhain starts at 7:00 so it would be wise to show up early and get your seats. The PPCA will be giving away bags holding various gifts and This Is Worth What donated a substantial Quartz crystal (251 carats) named the “Violet Empress” because of it’s purple Amethyst crown that will be given away in one of them. There are only about 150 gift bags, so get there early and you might get more than a good seat!