Unitarian Pagans Celebrate Samhain

Article excerpt

Byline: RACHEL DOLEZAL

A dark creature known as a dementor hovered above the entrance to the hall, spooking the souls who entered. Over in the corner, a cauldron simmered, emitting a murky fog of smoke, while several golden candles floated above the hall.

The fireplace was overflowing with letters addressed to Mr. H. Potter, and the sorting hat sat on the head table among several spell books. Up the stairs to the right, "witchy wares" were on sale in Diagon Alley, a place to buy everything a witch or wizard would need.

For a night, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Jacksonville was transformed into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the fictitious school in the "Harry Potter" series. The Arlington church was decorated for the fourth annual Witches Ball, held Oct. 29 by the Northeast Florida Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans.

The ball, marking the celebration of the pagan religious holiday Samhain, was a mixture of a religious ritual and a Halloween party complete with a DJ, buffet, costume contest and carved pumpkin contest. Several guests dressed in costumes such as a baked potato, a divorce attorney and his sharp-toothed paralegal, a Roman emperor, characters from Harry Potter and, of course, witches.

"It's a great, fun party," said Kerry Coleman, a Riverside resident and Web mistress for the Northeast Florida Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans Web site.

Samhain is a pagan religious holiday that celebrates the ancestors and coming of winter. Many pagans consider winter a time of personal growth because the weather is cold and crops are unable to grow. Samhain is also considered the Pagan New Year and a time begin anew.

"For me, winter is a time when I spend more time at home and think about things I need to change," said Dawn Baker.

This year's Samhain ritual was held outdoors on the church grounds and was led by the Correllian Group. For pagans, a ritual is similar to a Christian church service. During the ceremony, all the members formed a circle with an altar and the group leaders in the center. The altar was a table with a cloth, several small statues and candles. The leader recited the ritual and lit candles throughout the ceremony. …