Halloween was always one of my favorite holidays. I love the costumes, decorations, and, of course, Halloween movies! There is nothing like bundling up under a cozy quilt and listening to ghost stories with friends and family.
As I got older, I delved deeply into the different holidays. I wanted to understand their origins, why we celebrate them, and then determine if and how they might be integrated into my ever-evolving spiritual practice. Halloween topped my list!
Halloween is today’s modern, rather funky, interpretation of a much older holiday called Samhain (pronounced SOW-WIN). Samhain was an ancient festival celebrated by Celtic agrarian communities in northern and western Europe. Many of the practices honored by the Celts are echoed in our Halloween traditions.
Holidays celebrated by farming cultures like the Celts followed the Wheel of the Year. The Wheel of the Year outlines astrological and agriculturally based occurrences such as the solstices, equinoxes, and significant harvests. It honors our ever-present, always-changing connection to the Earth and the Heavens. Samhain marked the beginning of the darkest days of the year. The nights grew ever-longer until the sun began to return at the winter solstice.
Today, disconnection rather than ghosts haunt many of us. Rather than agriculture, we live in a technologically-based society. It isn’t that one is bad and the other is good. They both have advantages and disadvantages. When we allow the traditions of old to inform our modern world, we can live more harmoniously and with deeper connection to ourselves, each other, and Mother Earth herself. Celebrating Samhain is a wonderful way to get started. Here are some ideas you can try on your own!
- Entering into the dark half of the year.
Many people today still honor the Wheel of the Year. Some, though not all, celebrate the initiation of the dark half of the year at Samhain. It is said that at this time the Great Mother Goddess went down into the underworld to be with her consort, the Great Father God who sacrificed himself so the crops would be fertile in the year to come.
Our lives are unique fusions of darkness and light. We often think of light as good and dark as bad, but the truth is we need both. It is through knowing one that we are better able to understand and appreciate the other.
Samhain gives us an opportunity to formally enter into our own darkness. We look within ourselves and acknowledge our own destructive thinking and behavior patterns. As we do, it becomes apparent the areas where we are sabotaging our own lives. We are liberated from our own suffering as we bring our darkness to the light where radical transformation can occur.
- Honoring our ancestors.
Communing with deceased loved ones was one of the most important traditions celebrated by the ancient Celts. Even today, many people leave an empty seat at the table of their Samhain feast. Samhain is a time to remember those we love who have passed on. We celebrate their lives and are mindful that they live on in and through us as we continue to share the best of what they taught us.
- Giving gratitude for what has been.
According to the Wheel of the Year, Samhain is the last of the great harvest festivals. It was a time of celebrating and giving gratitude for all their crops yielded that year. Likewise, we can acknowledge, appreciate, and give thanks for our own harvests! Perhaps we started a new job, received a promotion, or reconnected with an old friend. Births, weddings, and graduations are all cause for celebration! What seeds did we plant this year of which we are now enjoying the fruits?
- Looking toward an uncertain future.
Even as the ancient Celts gave gratitude for the blessings of the past year, they also acknowledged their concerns for the future. They didn’t know if they would have enough food to sustain them through the winter. One way they prepared and worked with their fear was to use divination practices.
At Samhain we, too, can admit our fear and trepidation around the future. Our spiritual practices fortify our ability to release our attachment to the way things have been or the way we think things should be. As we do, despite our concerns, we are able to courageously step into whatever the future brings.