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"Will you stop calling me 'Sow', all right? That's a female pig. The name is Sam. Sam, as in Sam".
He whispers that lowly to the woman who has just announced his talk. He clears his throat, and steps forward to address the students, leaving the well-meaning facilitator behind. Someone always ends up slaughtering his name, he ruefully reminds himself.
He's honored to be here, on Religious Freedoms day. This is the day each school brings in representative theo/alogians from all the different religions in the district. Each gets their hour in the sun. It also happens to be October, so there is only one thing on people's minds.
"My name is Sam Hain. Rhymes with 'a-thame'. That's the gizmo Witches use to slice open apples to show that there are very few really regular pentagons inside. Oh, the pentagon. People are always confusing that with that building down there in Washington -- what is it? Yes, the Pentacle. You know, where they've got that demon trapped.
"Oh, yes. Before I get too carried away with all that arcane lingo, let's touch upon some basics. The religion is Wicca. The root of 'Wicca' is 'Wic', and is derived from the word 'Witch'. And, in order to emphasize that letter 'C', the religion is often called 'WitchCraft'. Now, breaking this final word down, etymologically, we have the words 'Itch' and 'Craft'; beginning with the letter 'W'. 'W' stands for Woman, Wit, Wisdom and Woozy. Woozy, you know, like if you drink too much. So, anyhow: Witchcraft is an itchy craft or skill for women, wits, half wits, the inebriated, and the wise. Of course, we are all in the last category -- at the very least.
"Okay. The roots of Witchcraft. The roots are to be found in your grandmother's root cellar. Which is to figure. They let some gardener loose, and he either tripped over some practitioners in the woods, or he made it up out of figs and mints, or somewhere in between -- your choice. It's appropriate, though -- the phenomenal growth of a contemporary earth religion had to be instigated by a gardener."
He acknowledges a hand.
"You don't ride brooms, do you?" asks a youth with a face like a pimple.
He chuckles. "No, no. That myth was invented by the Inquisition. No brooms. Most of us don't keep clean homes, anyway. Too many grimoires, oils and incenses. And the stuff like eye of baby and wing of newt -- that went out about the time of Shakespeare. Besides, winged newts went extinct. Nowadays, we're pretty environmental.
"Speaking of the Inquisition (and we all know nobody expects it), the Inquisitors wiped out the entire population of women in Europe. Men had to come up with a kind of a temporary reverse-parthenogenesis for the race to survive. Either that, or it was space aliens. We've got some revisionists out there now who don't believe more than a handful of people were deep-fat- fried by the Inquisition, but they're crackpots. A scarce few others claim that maybe only a relative few were killed for Witchcraft -- perhaps in the tens of thousands to maybe a couple hundred thousand. But those numbers seem reasonable, so these figures probably aren't right. The one thing the human race isn't is reasonable, so feel free to pick an extreme in either direction.
"Anyhow, we Witches gather together in covens, or else in herds of solitaries -- otherwise known as festivals or networks. Sometimes we meet in gaggles, prides, pods or clutches. We meet once in a while, or whenever the moon is blue.
"A lot of us follow the reincarnation thing. And the truths of ancient lands which rise from the sea. As proof, consider the tales of Atlanta. It's risen from the seas, and even from the land, into a mass of skyscrapers. It's no accident that one of the nation's largest airline hubs is in Atlanta. Gotta provide transportation for all the souls to home in on. And, if you don't think lands can rise from the seas, check out the Midwest.
"Witches give honor to the elements. That's why we can be seen standing out in the rain so often. Our rituals take so long because we usually honor each and every of the 106 elements in the periodic chart, although we often leave out the man-made ones. The anti-nuke crowd leaves out all the radioactive ones as well.
"The religious part is, of course, that we have a plethora of Gods and Goddesses. It's like an herb garden -- they're many, they're hardy, some of them are no better than weeds, and most of them come back the next year. Yes, we have our dying and rising Goddesses and Gods. Most important in the Goddess department is the Maid, Mother and Crone. The Crone is the old warty one you got to watch out for, but that's all right -- she's got arthritis and might not catch you. The Mother -- well, she gives birth to everything, so she hasn't time for much else. And the Maid, hey, she's the one who does the dishes and picks up after everyone."
"What about Halloween?" asks someone else.
"Samhain. Named after me." He pronounces it like his name. "Or maybe it was the other way around. I wasn't around, then. 'Halloween' means 'little hollow'. Hollows were those holes in tree trunks that were such a big deal in fairy tales. Where the Keebler cookie elves live, at least by ill-repute.
"It's one of the Sabbats. There are eight of them. There are the Quarter Sabbats and the Crossed Quarters, and Samhain is a particularly cross Quarter. Almost a Susan B. Anthony Dollar of the occult world, it's that big and feisty. It's the night when the shawls between the world are thin, which is why it's usually pretty chilly. But we try to go outside anyway.
"It's the night Witches talk to their Dead. There's a reason we collect those little decals with roses and skeletons at music stores. Ever wonder why there are so many of those things? It's us, man. Anyhow, it is permissible to discuss anything you desire with the Dead. Remember, the Dead tell no tales.
"The purpose of Samhain is to prepare for winter. Those of you who are not Witches fill the same task by writing Christmas cards as well as by hiding from the Season of Advertising which begins about then. Well, since we do Yule instead of Christmas, we have other preparations. In the old days, the final crops were taken in. It's the Wiccan end-of-year, our New Year's Eve without streamers and overpriced restaurants. At Samhain, the last crop would be taken in, and that's what folks would eat until spring; mold, rodent droppings, and all.
"The Celtic kids used to knock on doors, just like kids do today. Only then, it was "Trick and Treat". You were supposed to give the kid something tasty like pudding wrapped in boar's stomach lining, and you were supposed to pull some kind of nasty trick on the kid as well. Think of a drop floor under your welcome mat -- the Celts played tricks for keeps. Hardy and lusty sons of guns, they were. If you failed to do a trick of your own, the kid was perfectly justified in thinking something up on his or her own. Note that toilet paper, shaving cream, and rotten eggs are for pikers. Fortunately, we've come a long way since then. However, remember that there is a precedent for that razor in your candied apple. It's a gift from a reincarnated Celt. Witches are too busy partying to do anything like that.
"In fact, we'll party all night long at the slightest provocation. On Samhain our excuse is that midnight is the most magical of the hours. And once one is up that late, one may as well continue. There's a certain somberness about this particular occasion, but we take it in stride. We'll even bob for apples -- the game's symbolic meaning is Futility, except for those bobbers with big mouths. We'll wear costumes, so long as they are black. Black's just a Witchy thing: you wouldn't understand. Its meaning is absence, since black is technically the absence of all colors. People who always wear a lot of black wish to bring this sense of the Void into themselves. At Samhain, black is highly appropriate: we often seek to void out the past year like a bad check."
He takes a long pause for air. Attention still seems to be with him, he notes gratefully.
"Okay, so what are we Witches doing today? Well, there's a certain type of politics. You know the old Craft saying, 'If that which you seek, you cannot find it within, you'll never find it without -- unless you push.' So we have lots of fun boycotting movies people wouldn't have gone to see in the first place if we hadn't made a stink about them. Darn shame cigars are out of fashion, even if Broomhilda still smokes one..." He fades into a reverie of musing.
"Oh, yes, as I was saying. Witchcraft today. It isn't as picturesque as in the old days. The succubuses, incubuses and abacuses are all down in Club Med, where the rest of us can't afford to go. Glad they can afford it. If they head far enough south, maybe they'll transform the rainforests -- 'Make Love, Not Cattle'. Yeah, Witchcraft can be pretty transformative. Not many religions let you bang on rawhide all night and plunk a computer keyboard by day."
He concludes his talk, and leaves to applause, feeling good about having clarified the Craft like drawn butter. Students follow him outside, as he straddles his ElectroLux. They laugh, as he makes verbal vroom-vroom- vroom noises. Nothing happens.
"Drat", he says. "Anyone got a car? And jumper cables?"
Ten minutes later, Mr. Haim and his vacuum cleaner are skybound, circling up and into the clouds.
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