Halloween: an Interfaith Teachable Moment

By Man vyi (Own work (own photo)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

During my education classes, we talked a lot about “teachable moments,” times during which the teaching of a topic becomes easier or essential.  October is, in my mind, perfectly suited as an interfaith teachable moment for Pagans.

Jason Mankey, over at Raise the Horns, offered his own reflections on Halloween and challenged other bloggers here at Patheos to share theirs.  For Pagans, the month of October has often been a moment where we take a deep breath and prepare to see members of our extended community drug into the limelight by the media, usually in fairly sensational ways.  While these sorts of situations sometimes leave us shaking our collective heads, they do show us the interest that the public might have in our communities during this time of the year.

Halloween is fairly unique in that many people (at least in the USA) do not associate it with some other religion’s holiday (e.g. Christmas and Yule) but yet do celebrate in some way.  Certainly, other holidays and methods of celebration exist at this time, like All Soul’s Day and Día de Muertos, and especially in the case of the latter, some of these have crept into the collective American consciousness.

But Halloween, in all its the hedonistic, candy-binging glory, seems so far removed from the solemn meaning and ceremonies of Samhan that it creates a dissonance for the non-Pagan public.  “What do you mean some people think Halloween is holy?” they think, “Isn’t it all about the candy?”  They don’t have an association with, for example, August 1st to think it’s odd that it coincides with a religious holiday.  As a result, we have the chance during the lead up to Halloween to use that surprise, that dissonance, to share our faith practices with others, which is especially important considering the emphasis that Samhain has in many Pagan traditions.  What better time to share with others what is important to us than at a time when these things are already in our thoughts?

Before I moved to Massachusetts, it was during October that the Pagan Students Association at the University of Illinois would hold its fall panel events.  Unfortunately, I think the PSA at Illinois is in hibernation at the moment, but while it was active we tapped into the local Pagan community in Champaign-Urbana–made larger and more diverse than you might have expected in Central Illinois due to the University–to seat three or four people on a panel and allow members of the public to attend and ask questions.  We used Halloween as a catalyst to engage our neighbors and share our faiths in a way that we were never quite able to do in during the Spring semester.  Plus, if nothing else, we could bill it as a conversation with “Real Witches” which inevitably brought in a few more of the curious.

Mythologically speaking, many of us consider the veil between worlds to be thinning during these days and to become thinnest on Samhain.   Maybe this has a greater effect on us than we think it does, opening us up to new experiences or creating a willingness to explore something that we might not have otherwise encountered.  As the veil thins, might not the walls we construct between our communities–religious or otherwise–thin as well?  In this light, October might present a unique time to reach out to others and to build bridges that we can use throughout the rest of the year.  What else were you planning on doing during the winter anyway?

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