Samhain – for the Dead or for the Gods?

Samhain – for the Dead or for the Gods? October 5, 2016

Note – I know, it’s coming up for Beltane here in Australia, and I am writing about Samhain.  What the hell? I’m sorry, but my love of Halloween mixed with this awful weather we’ve been having in the southern states is not really bringing any springiness to my writing.  This sort of post really seemed more fitting for the way the land around me is right now.  I will try my best to get something Beltane-ish up soon but for now, maybe you can enjoy reading about magpies and revel in the fact I jinxed myself and got swooped for the first time in over 7 years after posting that one!

For those of us who tend towards Hellenism, other forms of polytheism and especially those of us who are Hekatean, the question comes up at some stage as to whether it is appropriate to observe Samhain and honour our gods of the dead, usually specifically Hekate, during that observance.

It may seem like an odd thing to ask, but when you really think about it – how often is Hekate mentioned in regards to Samhain? Or any festival that isn’t specifically Hers, for that matter?  And how often is Hades or Hela mentioned in regards to Samhain and Halloween?

The answer is, not as often as you might at first think.  Which seems unusual, they are deities of the underworld, They are heavily connected to death and the dead, so They surely should have Their place in a festival that is all about the dead.  Shouldn’t They?

Honour the dead or the gods during Samhain?
public domain via pixabay

Is it Appropriate

This question arises from the fact that most of the deities being asked about are not actually connected to Samhain, traditionally.  They aren’t Celtic, and Samhain is a Celtic festival.  So the real question then becomes, is it appropriate to place a deity into the festival of another tradition, that is possibly reserved for another pantheon?

The answer to that isn’t so simple, because there isn’t any one answer.  It entirely depends on the deity you are trying to place into the festival, and on the tradition the festival comes from.  In the case of Samhain specifically, I can’t say for sure because I am not a Celtic Recon and don’t know much about the “rules” in that tradition.  So if it is okay to place a Hellenic or Kemetic or Heathen God into their festival, is not for me to say.

But if I have to be honest here too – Samhain has become more than a Celtic festival now.  It’s become part of multiple forms of Paganism, and many of those forms have little to no connection to the Celtic religion.  So perhaps the question is moot, it’s not purely Celtic any more so, what does it matter?

But the question still exists, would Hekate (or insert other deity) mind being placed into the festival? As I said above, it depends on the deity.  Some may not like it, others would probably love it, and some probably don’t care either way.  I won’t answer for Them, not even for Hekate – but I would say I haven’t heard of anyone getting in trouble from Her for honouring during Samhain, so that suggests She at least doesn’t mind.

Samhain is for the Dead

But this where I come up against a wall.  Even if every deity was okay with the idea of being in a festival of another pantheon, or having another deity join Their festival – Samhain, for many Pagans, is for the dead.

Samhain is a liminal time when the veil between the worlds is thinnest, when the dead (and other Otherly beings) can cross into our world with some ease.  Samhain is a time to honour the dead, appease the dead, remember our ancestors and give them offerings if our tradition calls for such.

So the question then becomes, is it really appropriate to take the focus off the dead and put it onto the Gods?

I personally do not observe Samhain, however I do feel that April and May – mid-Autumn here in Australia – have a feeling of death upon them.  Admittedly this is partially influenced by a couple of death related things happening in May, but I also note that ANZAC day, a day for honouring Aussie and Kiwi soldiers (Dead and alive) happens on the 26th of April.  It’s also just a feeling in the season.  So while I don’t do Samhain, I do feel a push to death and ancestral work in mid-autumn anyway.

And that push is to work with and honour the dead themselves.  Not the Gods of death, but the dead.

The Gods are Secondary

So in my practice, this time of year – mid to late autumn – is for focussing on the dead themselves.  This doesn’t mean the Gods of the dead do not have a role to play in all of this, but it does mean They are not the primary focus – They are the secondary focus.  They are on the periphery, and some of the time They would only be honoured by extension.

Of course I would feel the need at times to pray to Them to help guide the dead, and I would offer up thanks for Their work with the dead. So there would indeed be some focus on Them specifically, but that focus would still be primarily about the dead.

But for most of it the focus would be almost exclusively on the dead themselves.  The Gods though, are the Gods not honoured through that practice anyway?  I think so, but I expect not everyone would agree.  I think, by honouring the dead you are honouring the Gods of the dead by extension.  If you leave an offering for the restless dead at a crossroads, without mentioning Hekate – is She still honoured by it, since She leads them?

In some ways you might be honouring non-death Gods by extension as well.  When you honour a lost child, do you honour a mother Goddess?  When you honour a fallen warrior, do you honour a warrior God?  When you honour a fallen sailor, do you honour an oceanic God?

It’s not the same as when you offer to a deity specifically, when you do a ritual for a deity.  But it is still a manner of honouring Them, by honouring who They are and what They do and what They are about.

Perhaps.  But as in all things, your mileage may vary.

The Gods in Samhain

So, is it okay to honour Hekate or another death deity during Samhain? I don’t think there is really anything wrong with it, generally speaking.  But it’s dependent on your tradition, your practice and what your primary focus is on Samhain. And of course it always depends on the deity!  If They don’t want any part of it, please don’t force it.  Don’t forget to ask Them first, it’s always better to ask than to do it and then beg for forgiveness later.

Just remember what Samhain is all about, in your practice.  If it is for and about the Gods, then so it is.  But if it is for and about the dead, don’t put them in second place.  They matter too, and they deserve your focus.

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