Halloween is one of the most celebrated dates in our culture, each year seeming to grow in popularity across the Western world. It signals the beginning of the holiday season, an eve that provides children the occasion to dress in costume and parade around neighborhoods harvesting treats—even when it falls on a school night. Adults, too, have taken to the date. For some it provides the right to decorate their homes in kitsch displays of pop horror or adorn themselves in outlandish costumes and party into oblivion.
In mainstream culture, when Halloween arrives on the calendar, it signifies a whimsical, often mischievous holiday; it permits children to eat too much candy and adults to drink too much alcohol. We all need occasional opportunities to live outside the lines, to indulge and play. Certainly if you have kids, this is a marvelous time to treat them to a taste of otherworldliness. And for us so-called grown-ups, why not enjoy a fun party and dress up in some alter ego outfit?
Most educated people recognize the fact that Halloween has its roots in pagan culture, which was celebrated as Samhain (a Celtic-derived word pronounced SOW-in), referencing the end of summer on Middle Earth and the beginning of summer in the Underworld. About a thousand years ago, the Catholic Church appropriated the occasion, claiming November 1st to be All Saints’ Day and the eve before to be Hallows’ Eve, which in time became shortened into Halloween.
Still, for those who authentically practice the ancient pagan ways, Samhain is a serious and holy date. For me this holiday signals a welcomed reconnection with darkness, the beginning of my winter inner journey. It’s the time when the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest and spirits from other realms can readily engage with humanity, and humans are more empowered to achieve connectivity with those spirits. Ergo, the ghosts of the dead were thought to return. To assuage any malevolent behavior from these spirits, gifts of food and drink would be left out that night for them. And people would wear masks to fit in with the ghosts. All of which gives us the tradition of trick-or-treating and putting on costumes to disguise ourselves.
Within the Wiccan, Druid, and assorted Celtic pagan worlds, there are innumerable ways to celebrate this time, conjure up a higher vibration of spirit relationship, and participate in myriad rituals and practices, each according to particular lineages and traditions. Mexico’s Day of the Dead, November 1st, although not the same holiday intention, shares many of these shamanic roots.
However, this thinning of the veil is by no means limited to this one occasion. In my book Call of the Forbidden Way, the main character Carson Reynolds is filming a documentary of a powerful Native American ceremony when he is unknowingly pulled through such a veil. And it is through such experiences that people explore and come to realize that other versions of reality are active in their lives.
Halloween marks the precursor of winter. It’s the that time of year when one begins to turn inward and ride out the long nights, sheltered from cold and storm beside the hearth—the beginning of a time for inner reflection. In effect, it marks a time for celebrating the darkness of the world, just as spring marks the rebirth of the world, new life, light and warmth returning.
Such one-sidedness does not serve us well. It keeps us out of balance; specifically, it keeps us out of touch with the other aspects of ourselves and with life in general. We all have a shadow, that less-than-ideal part of us that doesn’t always exemplify the more noble aspects of our egos. Inner reflection and deep self-awareness are what allow us to address these aspects, and from them grow and learn. And here one doesn’t strive to repress one’s shadow but seeks to be aware and understand it more, and in effect, learn to be in balance through engaging with it.
Thus at a much deeper level, the coming of Samhain, or Halloween, provides the beginning of a period of restoration, a rebalancing of ourselves. Here, we come into relationship with shadow, journey deep into the darkness that holds potential to teach and liberate us from ourselves.
The hidden beauty of this concept is so eloquently conveyed in lines from the Youngbloods’ song Darkness Darkness:
Darkness darkness, be my pillow
Take my head and let me sleep
In the coolness of your shadow
In the silence of your dream
May we all find solace in both the light and the dark. Each has its function and meaning, and both are needed. So, put on your masks, scare small children silly, and be outrageous with your friends, but may you also find time to sit in darkness with your shadow and thank him or her. Have a happy Halloween, or if you roll with the pagan side, Blessed Be!
About Our Guest:
Robert Owings is an explorer of consciousness and the author of the novel Call of the Forbidden Way, the first book in a forthcoming trilogy published by Cosmic Egg. He holds a Master’s Degree in Philosophy and Religion, with a concentration in Cosmology and Consciousness from the California Institute of Integral Studies. He maintains an active interest in the eclectic mix of subjects ranging from transpersonal psychology, altered states of consciousness, alchemy, and complexity theory to Buddhist cosmology, cross-cultural shamanism, and ancient mystery religions. Learn more, receive the first chapter for free, or order the book at Robert at his website, where you can also download the first chapter of his book for free and order a copy. It can also be purchased at Amazon in the USA and/or Amazon in the UK.