This is a busy time for Wiccans as they prepare for the pagan New Year.
Samhain (pronounced sow-in), which falls on Oct. 31, is the celebration of endings and beginnings and of remembering the dead. Pagans believe it's the time when the veil between the worlds of the living and dead becomes thin, and people can attempt spirit communication.
"It's the witches' New Year," says Rudy Alderette, who has recently spent extra time at the Wiccan altar in his northeast Fresno home to prepare for the New Year.
Wicca is a neo-pagan religion that usually honors god and goddess, reveres nature and celebrates the seasonal changes of the year.
Some Wiccans will gather at the Spirit Fusion Festival from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at Fresno Discovery Center, 1937 N. Winery Ave. to get the word out about their beliefs and others, such as Asatru, Golden Dawn, Druid and Chaos Magicians.
Next Saturday, Wiccans will meet at various places to celebrate Samhain, including the Temple of St. Brigid's Moon, the oldest Wiccan coven in Fresno County. The temple's celebration will feature the initiation of at least two Wiccans and is a private event.
And some Wiccans, and others who are conducting research on pagans in the central San Joaquin Valley, are using this time of year to talk about their beliefs.
There's a lot of misunderstanding about Wicca and alternative religions, says Penny Verin-Shapiro, who teaches an anthropology of religion course at California State University, Fresno. She is writing a book on pagans in the Valley.
"People aren't out to sacrifice animals," she says. "Most are animal lovers. They carry pet insurance. They basically want to be allowed to practice what they believe."
Verin-Shapiro, who isn't a pagan, says Samhain means various things to Wiccans and others depending on their traditions.
"In addition to the New Year, it's a harvest festival, a time of celebration and reflection," she says. "If they choose to, they can think about loved ones or call upon them, but not everybody does that."
Many perform rituals to free themselves from negative things that occurred in their lives in the past year -- and welcome into their lives the positive things that they want to see happen in the coming year.
"It's a time for meditation and to do a lot of internal work with the subconscious and conscious," says Alderette, a tarot reader and teacher of the Wicca Faery tradition that emphasizes faeries, gnomes and elves.
He says home altars play important roles in Wiccans' everyday lives because the altars serve as "doorways to other realms," where energy can be raised to come in and go out. Alderette's altar includes a cauldron bearing the five-pointed star, or pentagram, the symbol of Wicca.
At the Temple of St. Brigid's Moon, Wiccans also will perform rituals to release negativity in their lives and welcome things that are positive.
"It tends to adjust our attitude, help keep us focused," says the temple's high priest, Doc Farrell.
Wiccans also will perform the circle of the dead, a quiet ritual in which participants can step into the circle for the purpose of communicating with friends or relatives who have died.
"It sounds ominous and ghoulish, but it's nothing like that," Farrell says.
Alderette says he's eager to celebrate Samhain: "We always give thanks to our ancestors, do oracle work and ask for blessings for the harvest for the New Year." he says.