Samhain, Hallowe’en…are both worth celebrating?

Samhain, Hallowe’en…are both worth celebrating? October 25, 2013

Seventeen years ago, I wrote an article for The Witches’ Voice website that would end up being the first in a series on seasonal pagan holidays, and which also became one of the site’s most read articles ever. It was called “You Call it Hallowe’en, We Call it Samhain” and it looks at some of the mythology, folklore and tradition behind this holiday in its sacred and secular contexts.

I’ve noticed over the years that, despite wanting to observe Samhain as a solemn festival that remembers our dearly departed and our ancestors, many contemporary pagans and witches also enjoy celebrating Hallowe’en. And since the trappings of Hallowe’en are so evocative of death and the occult, there may be some uneasy feelings about how to bridge the differences or separate the two events. Then again, some pagans celebrate Samhain and Hallowe’en at the same time…with the post-ritual feasting becoming a festive party, for example.

I see no problem with this. The whole point of Hallowe’en, whether our secularized culture recognizes it or not, is to immerse ourselves in images and experiences that we find frightening, and one of the most prevalent fears in our culture is the fear of death and dying. The denizens of the underworld that parade through our hallways and streets at this time of year are mere reminders of the beings that have crossed over and are just on the other side of the veil. We see them in dreams and, as many believe, it’s possible to see them more easily when that veil grows thin. Whether we converse with monsters, ghosts, spirits or our dear old Aunt Milie, we’re acknowledging life’s fragility and the persistence of memory. We’re aware that the unknown can be frightening, and that the only way to deal with that fear is to confront it head on and make peace with it.

A number of years ago I attended a conference in Holland at Samhain, and was inspired to write a poem about it (called “Transplendent We”) which was later published in the online magazine Goblin Fruit. I imagined night-colored being sin the marketplace, who wanted to befriend humans who were at first frightened of them.

“The veil between the worlds is thin, they say, tonight.
And if we walk now to the marketplace
(we fancy it built of fog and fireflies)
the goblins will smile, cry hail and welcome!
They nod their heads, stroke our hair, grasp our fingers,
whisper, yes, the veil grows thin, grows thin.”

The true cross quarter falls on November 7th this year. I tend to feel the thinning veil at the cross quarter and plan my observances for that date (usually 5-7 days after October 31st). But this coming Wednesday…well, that’s when I will be celebrating Hallowe’en, in all its sweet, spooky, gory glory.

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