Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve, has more meaning than simply a slapstick holiday, cloaked in candy and costumes. The current secular holiday takes its roots from the Christian celebration of All Saints Day on November 1 for honoring holy people of the past: hallow from Old English meaning “holy”, and -een meaning “evening.” However, even before All Hallow’s Eve was the ancient European festival of the dead called Samhain (pronounced saah-win or saa-ween). Samhain translates literally from Old Irish meaning “Summer’s end” and was honored with a fire ritual for the completion of the end of the harvest, and for the beginning of cold weather and more night.
Today, many modern witches and Pagans celebrate Allhallowtide, a three day holiday called a triduum, beginning on sundown on October 31 with Samhain (or Halloween), through November 2nd for All Souls Day, or Day of the Dead. During Samhain, we move into several days of sacred communion with darkness and otherworldly dimensions, as it offers a natural time of reflection while we move to the halfway point between fall equinox and winter solstice. With the change of seasons, these energies are often best utilized for connecting with ancestors and souls beyond our Earthly realm, as well as honoring the process of mourning and grief.
On November 1, All Saint’s Day commemorates martyrs or holy figures, while All Souls’ Day on November 2nd is a way to honor those we knew personally. On All Souls’ Day many modern Catholic churches still have a Book of the Dead, in which parishioners/visitors have an opportunity to write the names of relatives to be remembered. As Christian/Roman Catholic Spaniards took over Mexico, these Christian traditions merged with indigenous customs and gave birth to Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, which is celebrated around the same time. In this way, Samhain shares more similarities with newer expressions of Day of the Dead rather than the older religious holidays of Christianity.
Others may observe the “holy day” around the full moon or new moon closest to that time, or in early November with the astronomical midpoint between Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice. This year it would occur on November 7, though for the Southern Hemisphere this time would be late April and early May. Unlike modern Halloween, Samhain rituals tend to be somber- without music or parties. Gatherings are in private homes or locations rather than in public, and the rituals performed offer a way of healing and closure as well as a time to bring the heavenly realm closer to our Earthly experience. We notice the trees losing their leaves and less sunlight, and with the sense of loss and death inherent during this time of year, it helps to move into and through the darkness rather than away from it. For those of us who have lost dear ones or wish to connect with our ancestors or others from beyond, the veils between worlds are thin and now is a potent time to communicate or make offerings.
For me, this time of year resonates as a spiritual new year. I still struggle to understand our strange Gregorian calendar of the new year starting in the middle of winter without any real seasonal significance. And the combination of so many sacred days invites us into solitude and reflection before the winter holiday season begins.
No matter what or where you celebrate here are a few ways to tap into the astronomical and seasonal energies of this time:
- Take a meditative walk through nature to honor Earth’s cycles and notice it’s changes
2. Make an ancestor altar, or add more to your current altar to represent this theme
3. Visit a cemetery to honor those who have passed
4. Learn more about your family lineage
5. Create a bonfire magic like the very early celebrations of fire and warmth
6. Make an offering to beings not of this world, and prayers for peace during the transition of the seasons
7. Learn more about shadow work or study the shadow concepts of C.G. Jung
8. Read myths about the underworld such as about Inanna or Persephone
9. Carve pumpkins (used to be turnips and potatoes)
10. Decorate house with symbols of fall such as leaves, squash, acorns, or pinecones
Originally published at www.jsouthernstudio.com.