We’re nearing the time of year when many people celebrate Halloween, and when many pagans and Wiccans celebrate Samhain, an ancient ritual with Celtic roots. But it appears that gathering around bonfires, a Samhain celebration staple, can be an act fraught with uncertainty: not because of spells or ghouls or human sacrifices, but because the law might show up.
A wiccan reader from Halifax, Nova Scotia, writes to Witches & Pagans magazine (Summer 2011) about the way it usually plays out:
Every time I attend a Samhain ritual in public, we are all in full swing enjoying the ceremony and then some muggle always calls the fire department. The fires are extinguished and our ceremony is ruined. It never fails. We always have a permit but that does not assure the authorities that we’re not Satan-worshipping idiots.
Aside from the gratuitous slap at Satanists—fellow pariahs should stick up for each other, no?—this Wiccan is on to something: Many law enforcers and emergency responders simply don’t understand religious and spiritual traditions that fall outside the mainstream.
Not all are unenlightened, though. In fact, Witches & Pagans in its last issue reported on David Chadwick, a high priest of a Wiccan church in Jonesboro, Arkansas, who happens to wear a blue uniform in his other gig. He sees his dual role as, um, a blessing and a curse:
Both a law enforcement officer and a visible member of the pagan clergy, David spoke of some of the challenges he faces. “Being in law enforcement has helped in some circles; however, wearing a badge keeps you in the spotlight. Add ‘pagan clergy’ to the mix, and I’m under a microscope.”
David’s profession has enabled him to educate police and pagans on how to get along. He also uses his skill to build effective security teams for events such as Pagan Pride Day, festivals, and special gatherings.
Sounds like just the kind of guy that most pagans and Wiccans would welcome at the bonfire.