This Halloween, Reveal Yourself

This Halloween, Reveal Yourself October 13, 2018

There is a chasm of possibility between our everyday lives and our deepest, truest selves. Halloween is the holiday for recognizing that reality, and maybe doing a little something about it.

Children play dress-up to get a handle on the slippery subject of identity. Knowing what we are, and what we are not, is a powerful aspect of defining ourselves.

As adults, however, we can become far too married to our identities. Halloween is the day to break free.

 

Every Day but Halloween

Truth be told, Halloween is not the only day we play dress up. We wear costumes every day. There is our work-costume, family-costume, home-costume, Internet-costume and so on. For every circumstance, we have a different “costume” we wear.

Nor are our daily costumes inherently fake. They are tools — broad methods of communicating meaning and negotiating value. How we dress, how we hold ourselves, how we talk, and so forth can never be wholly and truly authentic.

We can only be authentic to the rules of each and every situation. This is because our notions of who we are do not exist in a vacuum.

Leaves of a Japanese Maple in Fall
Fall is the season of transformation. Japanese Maple, Seoraksan National Park, ©2008 by Polly Peterson, used with permission

In fact, our identities (at best) provide the social tools that help us fulfill most of our needs. They provide the rules for connection with others and proper boundaries that keep us safe.

But identities, if too carefully constructed, can become straitjackets. If we are to maintain some semblance of sanity, identity cannot be static; we constantly negotiate it in the shifting contexts of our lives.

As malleable as our identities are, at the end of the day we are far more than the sum of our roles. That is why there are entire industries, from entertainment to psychology, that help us rectify the distance between the everyday realities of life and who we could be.

This constant monitoring and shifting of identity is real work. It is the labor on which our civilization rests. Without it, we would tear ourselves apart.

But no matter how necessary, it is exhausting. And so, one day a year, we give ourselves permission to cast the rules to the wind and become what we are.

This is not dress-up to explore, but a claiming of our own power. This is Halloween!

 

This Is Halloween

Some holidays have to do with putting our wrongdoings behind us and promising to be better people. Others are about giving thanks for what we have. These are worthwhile things to do.

 

A carved jack o'lantern lit from within
Happy Halloween! ©2009 by Polly Peterson, used with permission

Halloween isn’t about any of that. Halloween is the day we admit that we are far more than we pretend to be.

Hidden inside of us might be a sexy beast, a princess born worthy of respect, a powerful wizard shaping reality, or even a horrific monster. We all have parts of ourselves that we do not share into the world. This is the price of civilization.

And so, as the Fall turns colder and the leaves change, we are allowed for a moment to open up a bit. The rules are not cast aside, but for a brief time, we exist within a different set of constraints.

 

The Rules of Halloween

In many ways, Halloween is like a game. We agree to certain rules, for a certain time.

Halloween is not anarchy, but rather a parade of revealing. As such, it has unspoken rules.

  • Halloween has boundaries, both in time and space.
  • We will not judge each other for what we reveal.
  • By keeping the holiday safe, we keep it for future generations.

It would probably be a terrible idea to simply allow everyone, for one night, to truly let out the hidden parts of ourselves. As Halloween revelers, we do not let our suppressed selves truly run amok. Our shadows are let out, but only to play nice.

While I am as big a fan as the next Pagan of the run-up to Halloween, the holiday itself is bound to a sacred time and place. Halloween is the time when we get to share a little bit of who we are. Yet, there is danger in over-sharing.

The holiday does not work if we judge each other for what we reveal. If we understand that everyone walks around in costumes every day, then a blow-off day becomes reasonable. But it does not work if cannot accept what other people reveal.

 

Super blood moon eclipse, ©2015 by Polly Peterson, used with permission

At the same time, there will always be boundaries. We have to reinforce the idea that this is a game. Dressing up as a pirate is great. Bringing a live sword is uncool in most contexts. Probably the most important Halloween rule is safety first.

 

This Is Samhain

Samhain, the Pagan holiday that coincides with Halloween, is about the thinning of the veil between the everyday world and the the spiritual one that begins just beyond our sight.

Halloween and Samhain are tied together by their theme of revealing. This is the time when we peer beyond and see what is normally hidden from us. But while Halloween exists in the social sphere and is about revealing the self, Samhain goes much deeper.

At the ending and beginning of the Wheel of the Year, Pagans gather to accept and revel in the truth that we are more than our everyday selves. We are everything that exists not only between birth and death, but also everything that lies beyond.

 

 

Fire (c)2009 Polly Peterson, used with permission
Fire quickens transformation, reveals what is hidden, and brings comfort in the dark.(c)2009 Polly Peterson, used with permission

The holiday, Halloween, is about revealing hidden truths about who we are. The holy day, Samhain, is about revealing the mysteries of the Self.

If Halloween is about dressing up and revealing ourselves to others, Samhain is about shedding out everyday costumes entirely and revealing the truth of who we are.

 

The Holiday of Transformation

Halloween and Samhain are two sides of the same coin. They both encompass a process of revealing, a creation of a new context, and a recognition of the limitations of the masks we wear in our lives.

In Halloween, we reveal to those around us a little bit of who we are. In the ritual of Samhain, we ask that more of ourselves be revealed to us.

Both of these holidays require that we set aside the rules of the everyday. Halloween is a moment where we set aside the everyday self. The Pagan holiday goes further. In that magical space, we set aside our limitations and become something more.

Halloween is the day to wear a mask that reveals more than it hides. Samhain is the night we drop our masks and become what we are.

About Christopher Drysdale
Christopher Drysdale is an animist, martial artist, shamanic practitioner, healer, psychopomp, and meditation teacher. He’s been pagan for more than 30 years, has a master’s degree in anthropology, and thinks “making the world a better place” is a pretty good idea. He makes his home in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can read more about the author here.
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  • Barros Serrano

    Your rap about Hallowe’en seems to refer to the Bacchanialia and other celebrations in which identity and role is temporarily abandoned.

    I’m less knowledgeable about Samhain than about the Días de los Muertos but it seems that in the Gaelic as in the Mexican celebration there is a lot of reference to the spirits of those who’ve passed, and so on, which is less about playing with one’s identity than about consciousness of one’s “place” in the larger, trans-incarnational, context.

  • That is a pretty good summary. I have added a few points worth emphasizing.

    Creating space for abandoning identity is not exclusive to Halloween. We can make the case that identity breakdown is a universal aspect of ritual.

    In short, you’re right.

    Halloween is very blunt about creating space that helps people abandon identity and reveal new aspects of themselves. Halloween is about performance of hidden identity.

    And Americans are not coy about it, at all. For example, in a culture that still regards women’s sexuality as equally dangerous to them and the people around them (and thus needs to be controlled) we find a surfeit of “sexy” costumes – sexy pirate, sexy cat, sexy librarian, sexy anything-you-can-think-of. We reveal the hidden (and thus dangerous) parts of ourselves to each other as a form of play.

    Samhain, on the other hand, spends plenty of time referring to spirits that have passed on, and a thinning of the veil between this world and the next. But practically we can only see those things in a space where we admit our own mortality.

    This is why ghosts are terrifying to everyday people. The ghost isn’t going to do anything, but we can only see it with our own “ghost”. It is a reminder of the closeness of our own death at every moment.

    At Samhain, we might talk like the spirits are coming to us, but the reality is that we are allowing ourselves to open. How does that work? I have a piece on the thinning of the veil that goes into a possible spiritual mechanism at some length.

  • Barros Serrano

    Yes you’re right about identity… I was perhaps being too purist, and should recognize that modern Hallowe’en is not necessarily Samhain, it is also a festival such as those which occur in many cultures, involving identity such as you discuss.

    In fact, historically, Hallowe’en originates as a mainstream Christian attempt to efface Samhain by replacing it with “All Hallow’s Eve”, preceding “All Saints Day”. So I should not adhere to purist notions of Samhain nor to the historical role of Hallowe’en.

    It is now neither Samhain nor its Christian opposition; it is something new, a time to examine and play with identity, and as such is a good thing.

  • Well, thank you. I appreciate engaged readers and good conversation.