the Lightsaber at Home Halloween celebrations in public schools
put safety first—at the expense of fun, some say
a time long ago in a galaxy far, far away, when the first
Star Wars episode was a hit movie and Luke Skywalker
costumes were all the rage for Halloween?
loved dressing up like Luke because they could use the beam
from their battery-powered lightsaber space swords to temporarily
blind other trick-or-treaters and snatch a handful of goodies
from somebody else’s bag. Parents loved Luke costumes because
those same Lightsabers doubled as flashlights on Halloween
night, thus ensuring that their little Jedi Knights would
live to steal candy on another day. Intergalactic swordplay,
and safety: something for everyone.
was then, and now is . . . Halloween in the age of the school-safety
movement. Luke Skywalker couldn’t get past the front door
of the average elementary school these days—not with that
lightsaber in his hand. Weapons—even obviously fake, toy weapons
that could never convincingly be used in a threat of violence—top
the list of taboos in the watered-down version of Halloween
that has become standard-issue in 21st-century public schools.
measure, the list of costumes under the ban at many schools
because they include toy weapons is lengthy: cowboys (toy
gun); pirates (toy sword); Jack the Ripper (toy knife, or,
if you believe the theory that he was a failed medical student,
plastic surgical instruments); knights in armor (plastic lances);
and Medieval executioners (fake axes).
commonly forbidden: costumes that depict violence, gore or
any frightening theme; costumes worn to school (children must
carry them to school and change into them later in the day);
parents in costumes at any time; and outdoor Halloween parades.
20 years ago, the biggest threat to Halloween in public schools
came from evangelical Christian parents who believed that
Halloween endorsed paganism and Satanism. But the resulting
lawsuits did little to ban Halloween, and the controversy
has largely died down in the courts. Nowadays, the most frightening
thing about Halloween for schools is the fact that it serves
as an unwelcome reminder of the very real and often less-than-fun
world in which kids live year round. Given the frequency of
fatal school shootings, and the fact that the guy living next
door may be a convicted sex offender, school officials react
viscerally to anything that even hints at violence or creates
an opening for a stranger to slip into a crowd of costumed
onlookers at a school’s Halloween parade.
just a scarier world, and I think it’s getting a little bit
scarier for the kids,” says Cheryl Hildenbrandt, PTA president
at Okte Elementary School in the Shenendehowa Central School
District in Clifton Park. She supports the school ban on toy
weapons and frightening costumes, saying that such trappings
go against the message of nonviolence promoted by Okte.
9-year-old son attends Okte, where twice a year students undergo
a “lockdown” drill to practice their response in case a shooter
or other threatening person enters the building. Hildenbrandt
likens the drills to the fallout-shelter drills that many
adults grew up with in their childhood schools, when the threat
of nuclear war gripped the nation.
district, like many others in the Capital Region, allows schools
to craft their own Halloween practices, rather than issuing
a central policy. So a few years ago, Okte eliminated its
longstanding tradition of an outdoor Halloween parade attended
by parents in costume, and changed the Halloween observance
to a small indoor party, with no parents included.
parents became very upset, because Okte is an incredibly parental-involved
school,” Hildenbrandt says. So the school switched its observance
once again, changing it to a Saturday afternoon Monster Mash
party on the school property, where kids and parents could
come in costume, eat donuts, drink cider and go for hayrides.
That solution has satisfied parents who missed the traditional
observance, says Hildenbrandt, who has kept her sense of humor
through the many redirections, even though Halloween is meaningless
to her—because she is a born-again Christian. (She and her
husband do, however, allow their children to attend the Monster
often have a great deal of leeway in deciding their Halloween
policy. Several Capital Region school districts that have
banned toy weapons cite the federal Guns-Free School Act of
1994 in explaining their decision. But there’s actually no
provision in federal-education law that specifically prohibits
toy weapons, says Jo Ann Webb, a spokeswoman for the U.S.
Department of Education.
talking about costumes, and that’s not a federal issue,” she
says. “Those are local issues.”
of Education does think it’s advisable for schools to ban
toy guns, however, because some toy guns look so authentic
that they could be mistaken for the real thing, Webb says.
York State School Boards Association recognizes that schools
are likely to confront questions about Halloween, given the
number of legal, religious and dietary concerns associated
with the holiday, says David Ernst, a spokesman for the School
Boards Association. As Ernst puts it, “Halloween is a fraught
so, the School Boards Association says school systems may
find it easier to not have a centralized policy.
advice to school boards is not to overreact,” wrote Karen
McNamara, the School Boards Association’s deputy director
of policy services, in an article published by the group a
year ago. “You don’t need to have a policy for everything.
Be careful not to lay out a policy so unrealistic or unpopular
that you are forced to change it.”
cited the New York City Department of Education, which two
years ago decreed just before Halloween that costumes, masks
and Halloween makeup would be prohibited in schools. The dictate
created such an outcry that the school system toned it down
to suggestions, not policy, while explaining that the goal
all along had been to avoid rambunctious behavior.
also noted that courts have routinely upheld a school system’s
right to hold Halloween celebrations. Generally, courts have
found that Halloween as it is marked in public schools does
not constitute an establishment of religion, despite the objections
of Christians who correctly point out that Halloween is an
observance in the Wiccan religion that has pagan origins.
about Halloween for religious reasons have been rare in the
Capital Region. Jim Dillon, principal of Lynwood Elementary
School in Guilderland, recalls meeting with a small group
of evangelical Christian parents nearly a decade ago to hear
their complaints about the school’s Halloween celebration.
He offered them an alternative party for their children in
the school library that avoided the Halloween festivities,
and that settled their concerns.
still allows an indoor Halloween parade, which parents can
attend in costume. Two years ago, Lynwood conducted a survey
about the school’s Halloween celebration, and found that an
overwhelming majority of parents wanted to continue the parade.
it’s not one of my favorite holidays, but I have to admit
the kids love dressing up,” Dillon says. “We’re a community
school, and it’s a pretty strong feeling about Halloween.”
Do We Celebrate Halloween?
Greenberger (and residents of the Duplex Planet)
as an activities director at a small, all-male nursing home
in Boston from 1979 to 1983. This experience launched my ongoing
project, The Duplex Planet (www.duplexplanet .com).
The first year I was there I talked with the residents about
Halloween, and here follow some of their responses.
CALDWELL: Well, they have a good time, don’t they, and everything
else, don’t they? I don’t know much about it, that Halloween
licks me. The other’ll be sportin’ and I’ll be licked, right?
WALTER KIERAN: Christ! Nobody knows that! I don’t even know
myself! I bet you can’t tell me where Halloween originated.
It started up in Salem, with the witches. The kids go around
and knock on the doors and they have to give ’em something
to get rid of ’em. GEORGE MacWILLIAMS: Damn if I know. I’m
not interested in that stuff. It’s a kids’ holiday, they enjoy
it. LARRY GREEN: To make pranks. Scarecrow. The Devil. Skeleton.
Witch. Goblins. That’s all. Play pranks. Set fires. Empty
wooden barrels. Bonfires in the middle of the street. Once
I got arrested for setting fires, put on probation for the
rest of the summer. Set fires. Stealin’ apples. Breaking and
entering. That’s Halloween! You always had it in for your
enemies. Take a baseball bat and get behind a hedge and wait
for your enemies. Your enemies would turn out to be witches
and they gave you a bag of candy. That’s where you met your
wife. I met her Halloween, took her to a party. It was rainin’
like hell. Soakin’ wet! Put me to bed, gave me a couple of
aspirin tablets. I got pneumonia. They put me in Lynn Hospital.
That was 20 years ago. It was rainin’ like hell! BILL SEARS:
Celebrate Halloween, I don’t know. Pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns
and, ah, noisemakers. Masks. That’s about all. It’s for the
witches down at Salem Hill. They hang the witches. That’s
all I know. WILLIAM “FERGIE” FERGUSON: On account of the clowns.
DG: What do you mean? FERGIE: Well, I’ll think up an answer
in a few minutes. What do you think? DG: I think that’s a
good reason. FERGIE: What? DG: The clowns. FERGIE: What about
them? On account? Of no account. KEN EGLIN: I don’t know,
honest-to-god. You can ask me all about Halloween and I don’t
know, I swear to God I don’t know. It has something to do
with Salem. What do you call ’em—witches, spooks? I guess
we celebrate it for the spirits, witches, scarin’ people.
I used to put a sheet on and cover my head and stand behind
a big tree. Now this is gonna sound silly to you, but I’m
serious. I used to scare the shit out of all the girls. I
didn’t have anything on them, they were smarter than I was.
I used to ask them things, and I couldn’t stand them. I’d
scare them and they’d run home screamin’ to their mothers!
Pumpkins and all that bullshit.
FORD: Well, it’s for enjoyment for the kids and all that.
It’s a time to enjoy yourself and have fun. BERNIE REAGAN:
That trick or treat is a good thing. Go up to the house and
say “trick or treat” and they pass you a little bag of candy.
I don’t know how long ago the first Halloween was, but it
was some time ago, quite a long time ago. They call them goblins,
they go around dressed up. Sometimes they put on their father’s
clothes or their mother’s clothes and they go around with
a cape on and a funny hat. She rides on a broom. They had
a play one time and was up in the air, the witch, and she
was all lit up. I played the part of the witch one time and
they had a rope suspended from the ceiling and I was swinging
back and forth. JOHN FAY: Well, let’s see. (thinking) Because,
you know, ah, they dress up and light pumpkins and what have
you. what do you call it? It’s right on the tip of my tongue,
ah, right on the tip of my tongue. (thinking) I can’t think
of it, too. They go door-to-door, trick or treatin’. That’s
about all, Dave. WARNER DAY: Because of the witches? There’s
a lot of witches in Salem. Most of them were hung to death.
I’d say that was the 17th century. BILL LAGASSE: For the kid’s
sake. I guess it’s a good day. The kids have firecrackers
on Halloween day, don’t they? Pulled up this morning and Charlie
was there sayin’, “I want some firecrackers!” I said, “Get
in big boy.” We went to Germany—I mean, ah, where did we go?
New York! We went to New York and got ’em. Some kids dress
up in uniforms—I mean costumes. Like Superman, Batman and
stuff like that. They have suits now, underwear, and they
go out in ’em in the streets I guess. Superman and Batman
underwear. I guess their mother has to take care of them,
dear old mum. Halloween is a good day for kids. They go out
looking for candy and gum. They go out with their mothers.
Their mothers take them around and take them in when it gets
too dark. ROBERT CLEAVES: Well, it used to be a sacred religious
holiday, All Hallow’s Day. Now it’s ghosts and goblins, but
it got started as a religious holiday. All Hallow’s Eve. WALTER
McGEORGE: Halloween? I don’t know. It was somethin’ like trick
or treat night, wasn’t it? You mean, why was it made a holiday?
DG: Yes. WALTER: I don’t know. Good question! ABE SURGECOFF:
The witches, the witches. It took place in this country, and
these witches were spread out one night, certain parts going
one way and certain parts going another way. The witches put
a death on these houses and so forth and so on. And they might
stay out of the windows and yell into the windows. They wanted
to kill him or kill her. See, some of them landed in the hospital
and some died of scarce and fear that they would die. Excuse
me if I get the wrong word, it was something like klu Collar,
Klu Cut, Klu, ah, Duplex, ah—Klu Cut Can! They have them down
south with the mask over their face. The witches were ancient.
After they find the witches they hang them on the trapeze—I
think it’s called a trapeze, it’s up on a stage with a noose.
They’d kill ’em on a platform with a noose, over the plank.
Well, there was in that time they didn’t have no medicine.
They used to haunt these people at their homes, the witches.
And they used to carry around a torch to burn the house, or
the farm. Nobody knew about the farm and the witches doing
damage to their wheat fields. And the stable and the fields,
these would be combined. People would just do this. Some of
this is in the American-history book. Let’s see, ah, some
of the witches used to go out in the fields and hide their
faces amongst the trees—at night they go out and do that.
There was a group of witches, 365 I think, and they would
destroy house, barns, wheat fields, fences. In the center
of town where they hang the people they make a big fire in
the center of the square and burn up these witches and people.
It’s in circle, they get the witches and the plain people
who lost their parents. They found that the town hall gave
the preference of the witches that were left behind to be
hung. And then they would be burned, too. Let’s see now. These
witches used to blame the Klu Klux Klan for not helping them
out. They wanted them to come along and watch and see. When
they found out, they put them to the altar. I don’t know how
good this story is. Is that right? This happened, it all happened,
in the history book it’s there—not all of it, but some part
of it. I think it was 15 years ago, 16 years ago. The 18th
century. 1905, 1905—that was the First World War, something
like that—and that was when these witches and Klu Klux Klan
came into existence. It’s bad for the people. TOM LAVIN: It’s
a good day to take it off. DG: What do we do on Halloween?
TOM & WILLIAM “FERGIE” FERGUSON: (in unison) Take it off.
FERGIE: Take it all off. DG: What does that have to do with
Halloween? FERGIE: We enjoy it. KEN EGLIN: That is the children’s
night. FERGIE: We enjoy it, every bit of it. BILL NIEMI: Halloween?
Because it’s Halloween. It’s really supposed to be a Christian
holiday, isn’t it? You’re supposed to get dressed up in different
costumes and light pumpkins and have some sort of a party
and entertain and dance and play games and have some sort
of refreshment suitable to the day. FRANK KANSLASKY: Because
the people wanted to make money. Ain’t that right? It’s supposed
to be fun, but now it’s a money business, ain’t it? It’s all
greed. FRANK HOOKER: I enjoy myself two different ways, you
know, get dressed up and tricks or treat. One day last year
on Halloween I was down at Pimbico (sic) Racetrack—now I was
workin’ for Pimbico Racetrack understand—and I got dressed
up as a clown and went around to all the stall areas and the
livin’ quarters, and I’d knock on each door and I’d say, “Tricks
or treat.” And for that day alone I got 50 dollars! They’d
hands me bills and change. ANDY LEGRICE: Put a mask on. Spooks.
JOHN FALLON: I couldn’t tell you. Go around from house to
house. ABE BERKOVER: To put on costumes. JOHN COLTON: I forget.
FRANK WISNEWSKI: I don’t know. Trick-or-treat is all I know
of. Why we celebrate it, I don’t know. Put a candle in the
pumpkin I think. Don’t they dunk apples on Halloween? Don’t
they dress funny? Like the boys will dress like girls and
the girls will dress like boys. ERNIE BROOKINGS: It’s supposed
to be a hilarious occasion. There’s usually Halloween clothing.
Will we have a Halloween party this year? JOHN LOWTHERS: Well,
ah, as far as I can figure, it’s an Indian celebration. I
just don’t know why they started it. There’s feasting and
having the pumpkins. At night you put on the ghostly attire
and visit the neighbors. EDGAR MAJOR: It’s the last day of
the month, isn’t it? DG: What can you tell me about Halloween?
McELROY: It's in February, Halloween.
what happens on Halloween?
Yeah, you're right.
do stuff on Halloween, don't they?
You got me boy!
Witches in the House
Wiccans open their congregationand explain their practicesto
the community at large
The wheel of the year is about to turn. On Oct. 31, the aging
god of the harvest will be celebrated, evil spirits will be
appeased, and the veil between the worlds of the living and
the dead will be at its thinnest. Sounds kind of ominous,
if youre Wiccan. The above paragraph lists some of the
elements of the Wiccan belief system; another one is that
Oct. 31 ushers in the New Year. Its a time for divination
and festivity, and feasting. Wicca is an Earth-based religionthe
turning of the wheel refers to the cycles of the seasonsand
as such its similar to neopaganism, but with the addition
of (among other things) an emphasis on ritualism and spell-casting.
Many Wiccans refer to their rites as witchcraft or magick.
also worship in groups that differ from the stereotypical
coven of orgiastic revelers dancing naked around a bonfire.
Trinity Temple in Albany serves a congregation of approximately
200 members, and does so in a former Episcopal outreach church.
The temples high priest and priestess, Davron and Cassandra
Michaels, are a longtime married couple (15 years) with a
young son. Theyve known each other since childhood,
when they attended the same Catholic church in Latham. Davron
is a human-resources administrator; Cassie is a paralegal.
One of their many un-Crowley-like activities is hosting Make
Your Own Wand booths for children at fund-raisers.
the temple, both Halloween and Samhain (the Celtic-derived
witch word for New Years) are celebrated. The temples
popular Witchs Ball and Halloween party will be capped
at midnight with a real witchs séancethe
witch being Cassie, a medium who heads the temples Astral
Light Paranormal Investigations division.
forte is as a medium and fortune-teller, says the priestess,
who has long, straight hair and large, dark eyes. Ive
always believed that ghosts and spirits live among us, and
I would sit and commune with them when I was a child.
She adds that her ability to see scenes from the future
was inherited from her Italian great-grandmother, a Strega
will tell you, as one who has often been skeptical of those
kinds of communications, that she is eerily dead-on at times,
says Davron. Its actually a little creepy, the
accuracy she comes up with. Along with ghost-hunting
advice, the temple offers a variety of classes, from Wicca
101 to advanced alternative-healing courses, and has its own
the brightly lit main room, the window frames are painted
in cheerful primary colors (representing the four elements
of earth, fire, air and water), while the wood-paneled walls
create a 1970s ambience. Yet despite its family rec-room vibe
and a kitchen bustling with devotees making hot cocoa and
snacks, the temple is noticeably a place of unorthodox worship.
The chancel altar is flanked by a cauldron and a ceremonial
broomstick; a step below is a sparkly gold altar, in the shape
of a crescent moon, thats used for tarot-card readings.
of the temples rituals involve energy raising and self-empowerment,
and watching the Michaels as they work in tandem to charge
a vial of aromatherapy oils with a customized wand and an
athame (a ritual knife) is more convincing than a print description
Davron (a registered hypnotist who has been engaged in theology
studies for most of his life) explains it, the purpose of
spell-casting is to tap into the forces of nature. Universal
energy is all around us, were all comprised and infused
with it, he says. We raise energy to send out
our magical intents, our act of power to achieve our desires.
to Cassie, the central tenet of Wicca is: Ain
it harm none, do what you will, to which Davron adds:
Were all about empowering people. The whole nature
of Wiccacontrary to other religions where you go to
a church and the priest performs and the congregants are merely
observersin this religion its about the empowerment
of everybody. We dont have people sitting in rows or
pews; people stand in a circle, they sing, they dance.
arent witch folk supposed to practice their craft in
private, either alone or with an intimate coven of initiates?
thought it was really important to give the pagan community
a community center, one that was open to all practices and
faiths, says Davron. Many groups in the area are
very restrictive. In traditional Wicca, people do rituals
and magickal practices that can be very personal, and theyre
selective about members for harmony and good working relations.
took a different approach, more of a congregational model,
he continues. Our focus from the beginning was to have
an inclusive group that embraced diversity. Well let
anyone in to observe our worship.
to have fun, interjects Cassie, who mentions the temples
get members of Christian churches, priests, in here to watch
our rituals, adds Davron. We had a Buddhist monk
in who was curious, and enjoyed itand did some wonderful
chanting. We try to do good works and reach out to the communitynot
just to our own groupsand give back. We do food drives
and clothing drives.
drives and community activism dont exactly jibe with
the publics perception of Wicca, and many Wiccans arent
exactly thrilled about any partings in the religions
shroud of mystery.
admits that the temple has had more issues with pagans than
any other religious group. One can have that shroud
of mystique and still be open, he asserts. Some
disagree, they say You shouldnt allow others to
view such things. But I say, Come to one of our
events, theyre a little mysterious. And we do
have offshoot groups that are more closedfor example,
Daughters of the Goddess, which is obviously only open to
or May Day, says Cassie, draws the most objections. Its
considered very private, and the stereotype that witches dance
around the maypole sky-clad [naked] is true. Davron
quickly adds, We could not possibly keep our Beltane
quiet. We have a maypole in the backyard, and we have May
dances, but we dont do sky-clad here. Weve got
the concept of a Wiccan enclave worshipping inside a formerly
Christian church may seem heretical, the couple explain that
the temples previous incarnation is actually a boon.
Before the Michaels took over its administration three years
ago, the building housed the Trinity Temple of the Holy Spirit,
a metaphysical church. As any of the Wiccans at the temple
are happy to relate, for 13 years a former pastor used the
chancel to summon the archangel Gabriel. Its very
spiritually active, says Cassie from her seat in the
chancel. It aids me in practicing my [séance
and fortune-telling] skills.
Michaels started their congregation in the traditional way,
hosting get-togethers in their kitchen and attending services
in other peoples living rooms. When they were looking
for a new home, they thought of getting a house spacious enough
to accommodate their religion. Our group was getting
too big, we were looking at houses with large rooms where
there could be a dedicated temple, or a church with a house
attached, says Cassie.
a magical story, says Davron of finding Trinity. We
were attending a local pagan eventI was doing a presentationand
we ran into an interim pastor [of the Holy Spirit] church.
He had wanted to meet me, and when we were introduced, our
eyes locked. I said, Were looking for churches,
and he paused, as our hands were still shaking, and he said,
Would you like to buy our church? And I said yes.
had 40 years of channeling energy, says Cassie. When
I walked in, it just felt right. Davron and I looked at each
other and said, The search is over. Weve found
our spot. Now that weve got hundreds
of people milling about, adds Davron, were
kind of glad its separate from our house.
Temple (279 Whitehall Road, Albany) will hold a Witches
Ball with buffet, wine and beer on Saturday (Oct. 28) from
6 PM to midnight. Tickets are $25 at the door, $20 in advance.
On Tuesday (Oct. 31), a formal party and midnight spirits
supper will be held. Call 489-7119 or visit www.trinitytemple.net
for more information.