Women we watch: Dr Christina Oakley-Harrington
Who remembers the days of popping to Covent Garden for a trip to Tatty, grabbing a macaroon and then heading to Treadwells? We certainly do! Until 2011 Treadwells, a London-based hub of international expertise on a broad spectrum of Western esoteric subjects, were our favourite neighbours before they moved to Bloomsbury. Although no longer just around the corner we are still big fans of their bookshop, lectures and events.
Want to learn how to read runes, or make effective spells to sort out real-life issues? Treadwells is where you need to go. Always the first port of call when researching for collections such as She Put A Spell On You or Season of the Witch… we regularly turn to founder, Dr Christina Oakley-Harrington, as a fountain of knowledge. With Samhain celebrations beginning at sunset on 31st October, we hit up Christina with all our questions!
Hey Christina, what does Samhain mean to you?
To me, Samhain means pumpkins, carved turnips, costumes and ghosts -- it's an Irish holiday which Irish immigrants took to America, where it went viral and became huge. From there it came back to the UK in the 1990s when the internet made American culture more international.
How does Samhain differ from Halloween?
Samhain is the very early Irish word, meaning 'summer's end'. Hallowe'en means Hallow's Eve -- which comes from the Catholic calendar. In practice, the words have come to refer to the same date and celebration. Both are dedicated to acknowledging endings, and to remembering those who have died. It is said that “the veil between the worlds is thin’ at this time, meaning that the mortal world and the spirit world can interconnect on this day.
Samhain has Celtic pagan origins, you grew up in West Africa, Burma, and Chile. How did their occult traditions differ?
Yes, I grew up in Southeast Asia, West Africa, and South America. Each culture has its own ways of understanding the supernatural worlds. In West Africa, where I spent my earlier formative years, the north Liberian religion made a huge impact on me. I attended the local trance possession rites, local celebrations and ancestor holidays with my mother, who had a deep respect for the culture and brought me along with her. In the British Isles, there used to be more of an engagement with the world of spirits -- both in pre-Christian times and even -- in a different way - during the years of Catholicism. And then there was the great Spiritualism movement. The instinct is there, and so the urge to engage will find expression.
What is your costume of choice?
A long cloak and a witch hat is my favourite, I confess. I have wanted to be a witch since I was about four. I used to count down the days to Halloween the way some other kids counted down to Christmas.
Trick or treat or just nuts and apples?
Both! I'll never turn down chocolates and sweets for the sake of the old ways. Nuts and apples are for my more serious side of Samhain, and the sweeties are for the Halloween fun side.
Carved Pumpkins or Turnips?
I'm for the ease of the pumpkin. I keep meaning to try to carve a turnip, because it's the real old way, but it's really tough. I'm told that it's easy if you have a drill, or electric carver. I may try that yet.
Can you recommend a fitting spell for Samhain?
The best spell for Halloween is to get out the old photos of your relatives and loved ones who have died. Put them on the mantelpiece, light some candles on the 31st, and remember them fondly. You can even put a little glass of whisky there, too, for them. To 'raise a glass' for those we remember is a truly ancient custom and one that's particularly appropriate on that night.
Top tips for how a modern-day witch can mark Samhain?
In addition to remembering those who have passed on, it's a perfect time to clean the graves of your forebears, or even those of strangers, in your local cemetery. I also urge people to get into the spirit of Halloween: give sweets out to children, help kids with their trick-or-treat costumes, and step for a short while out of the grind of daily life. It's a day that is both serious and playful.
What are your top 5 books for the budding witch?
Pam Grossman, Waking the Witch (See how you can get your hands on this one later in the blog!)
Gabriela Herstik, Craft
Thorn Mooney, Traditional Wicca
Vivianne Crowley, Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Millennium
Doreen Valiente, Natural Magic
How are you celebrating Samhain this year?
I’ll be celebrating Halloween this year at night in the woods, according to the old customs of my people. But before that, earlier in the evening, I’ll be out trick-o-treating with my little niece around the neighbourhood.
Wow, thanks so much, Christina! For those of you who are now so into joining the Samhain celebrations, we’ve got a very special competition for you… We’ve joined up with the Treadwells team to bring you a bumper giveaway! Head to Twitter for your chance to win:
- 1 x Lunar Bat Necklace
- 1 x Moon Charm Earrings in Gold Dust
- 1 x Waking the Witch by Pam Grossman
- 1 x Treadwells Candle
- 1 x Treadwells Cleansing Spell Kit
Competition ends Midnight Sunday 31st October.