THE real witches of Scotland don’t spend Halloween running around plastered in green make-up and fake blood, cackling as they fill their plastic cauldrons with trick-or-treat candies. For them, as for the many other Pagans cross Scotland, tomorrow’s festival is not a carnival of plastic and sugar and phoney frights, but, rather, a more serious affair, involving food left out for ancient ancestors, communing with nature, an occasional bit of fortune telling and a great many thoughts for those they have lost in recent times.

Anyone who has ever been guising, or carved a neep lantern, knows that Halloween belongs to Scotland’s deeper history, and goes back to something far older than the zombie-mobbed, fluorescent-lit festival that has invaded our lands from the United States. For Pagans, whether they be Wiccans or druids, it's the older ways of celebrating it, the Celtic festival of Samhain or Samhuinn, or Winter’s Night, that they connect with. For them this is one of the biggest nights, or rather two days, of the calendar – dwarfing Christmas in significance.

John Macintyre, president of the Scottish Pagan Federation says: “As a Pagan community we’re fine with the wider society celebrating Halloween in its rather superficial, increasingly transatlantic influenced way, but for us it ties into older and much more important cultural roots and is a very real commemoration, a very real religious service in connection with our relationship with our ancestors and our descendants.”

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Halloween, in fact, has been celebrated in our country for millennia, as a marking of the summer’s end and the onset of winter, and an honouring of the dead and ancestors. According to Macintyre, it has two meanings for Pagans. “It’s the shift from summer, the open warm, fertile time of year, to winter, the cold and the dark. But it’s also our festival of the dead and it’s the time when we pay tribute to our ancestors, both those individuals that we have known and loved, and also the more anonymous mass of human beings who stand much further back in the past, but whose lives helped to shape ours and the world we live in.”

More and more people in Scotland are celebrating Halloween in this way. Between 2001 and 2011, according to Scottish census results, the number of people identifying as Pagan, rose from about 2000 to over 5000.

Macintyre believes the actual numbers, however, are probably much larger than this. “The religious question is voluntary and many Pagans are rather suspicious about providing officialdom with information.”

Siusaidh Ceanadach

Druid High Priestess

“I often refer to myself as Druitch because I am both Wiccan, or witch, and Druid. People think that we’re conjuring up demons and all sorts of things like that, but that’s not what we do. This is a nature-based religion, and we’ll talk to the four elements, the divine spirit. Just as a Christian or Muslim might get up in the morning and say something to their God, a Pagan would do the same thing. I’ve been known to stand at the window in the full moon and hail to the lady moon. It is so powerful, which is why so many witches meet at the full moon.

Myself and my husband are both pagan. We are high priest and high priestess of a Druidcraft group called Tuatha de Bridget. The group follows the wheel of the ancient agricultural year, and Samhain (Halloween) is the time of year at which we remember our ancestors and those we’ve lost. It’s the end of the old Celtic year and the beginning of the new one.

We always hold our meetings on the nearest Sunday lunchtime to the actual festival. On Sunday we’re meeting in Glasgow at a yoga barn. We are an open group and anyone, of a good heart, is welcome. We will be remembering all the ancestors and those that we’ve lost, particularly if anybody’s lost anybody in the last 12 months. I’ll be thinking about my parents who have both passed over.

We will also be waking the Cailleach, the old goddess of Winter. We unwrap a a special mallet that’s been wrapped up a through the summer and tap it gently on the ground to wake her.

I have been a pagan for 30 years. I started out training as a Wiccan when I was down in London. I’d gone from looking at my horoscope in magazines to training as an astrologer and from that decided to train as a witch with a coven. It’s incredibly difficult to get in to an actual Wiccan coven, because they tend to keep themselves very secret, because many of the people in them have very responsible jobs. But these days there are no end of books you can buy on witchcraft and Wicca and all sorts of things like that, which you can almost study yourself. Later I studied with the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids

We are very open about what we do. I’m retired so I’m not going to lose my job if someone discovers what I’m doing. We no longer run a coven or belong to one. Tuatha de Bridget is what we put our energies into. I’ve said to members, ‘On Sunday if you want to come dressed like a witch, come like that. It’s the one time of the year when if you happen to get a bus dressed like a witch, nobody’s going to say anything’.

If I’m going to a meeting I’ll dress as a witch: wear a long dress in either black or purple, or my cloak with a purple hood.”

Pauline Reid

High Priestess of the Hearth Coven

"My husband and I got married last year at Halloween in the Winter Gardens in Glasgow and his birthday is the next day, the Mexican Day of the Dead, so this year is also our first anniversary making it extra special. We are spending it in Medieval Triora in the Liguria district of Italy, which is hosting its annual Halloween festival and where we will meet up with fellow pagans. We have never been to this particular festival but are really looking forward to it. In the 16th century witch trials were conducted by the inquisition in Triora. The town itself has an excellent museum of witchcraft and to this day has a powerful association with witches. Some descendants of the original witches can still be seen in the town to this day.

I can only speak from a personal point of view but I love everything about Halloween: the costumes and guising to the sweet toffee apples, and I'm glad that it's making such a comeback.

Samhain, for me, at home would usually be a two day event. One night consists of a solemn ritual with my coven and a 'dumb supper' where we invite the spirit of our ancestors to join us, followed by some scrying and divination using tarot and tea leaves to see what our future may hold. The night is a fun party for the day of the dead. My coven usually bake soul cakes and leave them on the graves of our friends and family. On this night the veil between this world and the spirit world is very thin. I will be thinking of a coven member that passed a few years ago as well as a colleague I lost last year, as well as my grandparents.

For me nature comes first in celebrating Samhain: turning the wheel of the year and marking the seasons. I felt drawn to paganism, to nature and the idea of the deity within it from around the age of eight. I put it down to being brought up in the countryside and being so close to nature.

I’ve been running Bewitching Beauty, a Glasgow beauty salon that combines the magickal arts with holistic therapies. Word of mouth and curiosity brings a mixture of clients looking for anything from a leg wax to a love spell, a massage to a mojo bag. A few weeks ago, however, I relocated to the Isle of Arran, my spiritual home, where I will also be taking on clients, working between the two, so it's been a busy time."

Jenny Blain

Heathen

“I’ll be celebrating Winter Night on Halloween. What I’ve sometimes done in the past when a lot of people have been round is to have a feast. All of us bring some item of food or drink that has particular meaning for us, or would have had particular meaning for our recent ancestors: like stilton cheese for my father. We make an offering of that to ancestors and have a good feast, and leave out a separate plate for the ancestors. I’ve been celebrating in this way for about thirty years.

As a child I had a lot of communications with nature spirits, that sort of thing. I describe myself as heathen. Being heathen means I see my roots as being very much in the north of the Northern hemisphere. Scotland and Denmark. It’s the kind of connection that is described in the Icelandic sagas.

For me this festival is all about how we are connected to the seasons. There’s change into winter happening for everybody in the northern hemisphere. The way many pagans and heathens celebrate it today is drawing on several traditions, but it goes back to the idea of building a bonfire or to have something bright because the winter is coming. Winter, if you were in a small rural community, which people were back a thousand years, is quite scary. It’s when the cold comes and particularly small children and older people are at risk.

The simplest Heathen ritual is the Blot which is just simply an offering. I do Blot every day. I tend to do either an offering or a toast in the evening as the sun is setting, saying a poem that is part of the poetic Edda. It begins, ‘Hail to the day. Hail the children of the day. Hail the night and her sisters’.”

Lorraine Morecroft

Pagan

“My partner and I don’t actually do Christmas. It’s too commercialised. So for me this is my biggest celebration of the year and it is like our New Year. What I do is go quite mad with the decorations. The tackier and noisier the better for my grandkids. And then once I’ve got rid of the grandkids after tea, we have a bonfire and a drink and we basically remember the people that we’ve lost during the year. We have our very quiet private time. Maybe if we’ve lost somebody very specific during the year they would be the ones we remember the most. It’s a private internal thing. You just do cheers to the fire and the four corners [of the compass]. I do the dumb supper which is where you lay a place at the table for the ancestors. It’s like putting stuff out for Santa and Rudolph and it’s probably one of the places that tradition came from.

I’ve got some pagan friends who say, ‘We mustn’t carve pumpkins. We must go back to the turnip. It’s tradition.’ I’m like, ‘Stuff tradition, where can I get a big pumpkin? Three days to do a turnip, are you joking?’;

I’ve been a pagan all my life. I was kind of brought up in a 'hedge witch' tradition: all about herbal medicines and being aware that you’re part of nature. Nowadays it’s more possible to find a community than it was when I was a child. For all social media’s faults, it’s made it easier to find each other. My husband and I live on a farm in the Borders. I run the local moot, which is basically a social gathering where we’ll meet, have a coffee, have a chat. There’s no cauldrons and dancing round the garden, or anything like that. We go to Wetherspoons and we have coffee and cake. We have a facebook page which means, given we live in a rural area, people who live outwith can keep in contact and you’re not feeling isolated. You’re not thinking, ‘Oh my god I’m the only witch in the village and I don’t know where there’s anybody else'."