Today is Halloween! On this special day, we feel a little thrill when we come face-to-face with ghosts, goblins, and the things that scare us the most. A black cat crosses our path? We toss it a ball of bright orange yarn. A vampire greets us at our neighborhood grocery store? We offer him a breath mint. Zombies wandering the street? We join them for a rendition of Thriller. If only facing our fears was this easy the rest of the year!
Halloween is certainly a lot of fun, but even today few people know where it came from and understand its significance. Halloween is based on an ancient feast called Samhain. Samhain celebrated the final harvest. At Samhain people took stock of what they had, gave thanks for the earth’s bounty and the work of their hands, and practiced forms of divination to get some sense as to whether or not they would have enough to survive the winter.
Samhain is the gateway to the darker half of the year. The air becomes chilly and the light decreases, and people naturally begin to turn inward. As our ancestors took stock of their provisions for the winter, today we take stock of our own lives. How are we doing? Where are we getting things right? Where could we do better? Autumn lends itself to contemplation and self-examination. This is the optimal time of the year for exploring our Shadow.
Samhain: the season of the Shadow
The psycho-spiritual “shadow” is a term popularized by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. As Jung saw it, the shadow is the hidden, unconscious part of our personality. It is our deep emotional self. Sometimes we actively repress our shadow, and sometimes we simply do not know it very well because it is hidden.
By its very nature, the shadow is that which we do not see. We tend to recognize it by the effects that it has in our lives. These effects -often called emotional triggers- may appear when we respond inappropriately to a personal or professional situation, when we experience an intense or extreme emotional reaction to a situation that does not warrant it, or when we repeatedly behave in a way that is not conducive to the adult we are or would like to become. If we believe we do not have a shadow, or we cannot see it, we can always ask our dearest and closest friends and they will be happy to help us identify it! Our shadow is not bad, but it is where we are wounded. If we do not learn how to heal these wounds and manage our feelings in an appropriate way, we risk further wounding ourselves and those around us.
Our collective Shadow.
Just like individuals have a shadow, we have a collective shadow as well. For many years it has been a cultural taboo for people to openly discuss topics such as sex, politics, and religion. As we have suppressed healthy conversations and education and interaction with each other in these areas, they have become our society’s most diseased wounds. We know them not by their true, healthy essence, but by the manifestation of symptoms from unhealthy repression. It is important for us to learn to listen respectfully and be willing to be vulnerable enough to speak our truth. We must ask difficult questions and commit to listening to answers that may be hard to hear. However, examination of the problem is not enough. As in our personal lives, if we keep engaging in harmful behavior, we will continue to harm ourselves and others. It is vital that we do the work necessary to create collective change as well.
Today we embark upon the darker half of the year. It is time to turn inward. This is not a time to numb-out or distract ourselves with what is ultimately meaningless. Shallow behavior and thinking patterns will not do. Go deep. This is the time of year to recommit to our spiritual practice, study sacred texts, read good books, and engage in meaningful conversation. Samhain reminds us that this lifetime is fleeting and tomorrow is not promised to us. Make the time you do have -the present moment- count.