Halloween is my favorite. I know, it’s basically everyone’s favorite, but still. I love seeing the clever, creative and often ridiculously artistic things that people come up with for costumes. Also, I think it’s nice that there’s at least one guaranteed day a year where everyone can let their freak flag fly if they want to without being judged. Want to roll up to work made up like a mermaid with a shark eating your head and not have anyone even raise an eyebrow? Halloween’s your day!
Halloween also marks something more important in my personal calendar, which is the festival of Samhain. I won’t bore you with a history lesson on how most Christian holidays and a great many of their most sacred rituals were copied directly from or closely based on those of the pagan peoples that they then went on to subjugate, but there’s plenty of information available if it’s something you’re interested in reading up on.
Samhain was thought to be, at its earliest root, a festival to mark the bringing in of the cattle for the winter by the herdsmen of ancient Celtic tribes. During this time of year the herdsmen slaughtered animals to feed their tribes through the winter. They were getting the last of the plant-based food gathered as well, and getting ready for the long, cold season ahead. It was considered the beginning of winter, of the dark and unproductive (crop-wise) time of the year.
The transition period between summer and winter, the light season and the dark season, was also thought to be a time when the world of the living and the world of the dead drew near to each other. This is, of course, the origin of the “spooky” themes of our modern Halloween, but in ancient times this drawing closer of the two worlds was far more serious business. There were spirits that needed to be appeased in order for herds, food stores and families to make it through the winter, and dead kin who were thought to come back to re-visit their families for honoring and celebrating.
I am drawn to Celtic and Germanic pagan traditions in general, partially because that’s where my ancestry lies. My family came to what was then still “the colonies” from the British Isles, Germany and France, and were subsistence farmers for many, many generations on both sides of the Atlantic. I’m not a farmer myself and probably never will be, but that generations-deep synchronization with the seasons is something I still strongly feel and relate to. It probably also helps that I live in a very rural area where these seasonal cycles are to a certain degree inescapable whether one bases their livelihood on them or not. It’s a lot harder to lose touch with the change in seasons and what those changes mean for both man and beast when one lives in farm country.
Samhain, in particular, is also important to me spiritually because it affords me an opportunity to feel closer to lost loved ones. I’m not generally big into the “woo”. I don’t believe that I can light a candle and ask my dead grandfather to step through the veil for a nice chat, for example (although if you think YOU can do it, I’m willing to invite you over to try because I think that would be AWESOME). But, I do believe that this time of year, the spirits of the dead are closer to our own world and may have a better chance of hearing us if we speak to them. And really, who doesn’t speak to a dead loved one now and then anyway? It’s not actually that weird, if you think about it.
Whether you spend it getting your goats in from the summer pasture, passing out candy to trick-or-treaters, keeping an ear open for the voice of a loved one long passed, carving jack-o-lanterns, or even sitting inside with all the lights out pretending you’re not home, I hope your Samhain is happy and safe!
And for fuck’s sake, stop pronouncing it “sam-hane”, “sam-in” or SAM-anything. It’s saw-win. Or sow-in.