|PHOTO BY PARKER PEARSON
By The Reverend Doctor James C. Lovette-Black
Halloween. For many Americans, the word conjures up images or memories of trick-or-treating from door to door dressed as a ghost, witch, goblin, or superhero, with the delight of yummy candies awaiting us and an admonishment to not eat too many of them. For pagans, especially those of the Celtic persuasion, we know this time of the year as the great Sabbat of Samhain (sow-en), one of our most hallowed fire or solar festival celebrations. Samhain represents a balance point in the flow of energies in the cosmos, with its counterpoint at Beltane on May 1st. At the time of Beltane, the Maypole is uplifted (phallic energy) and we circle dance around it (yanic energy) to the joy of fertile life exploding into existence, with universal energy flowing from the world of the Living into the realm of the Dead. At Samhain, the flow is reversed and cosmic energy flows from the realm of the Dead into the world of the Living, bringing the Dead for an annual visit. It is at this time of the year that witches, pagans, and our friends gather to dance with our Beloved and Mighty Dead, to celebrate the greater circle of all life.
This festival is the third and final harvest in Celtic pagan traditions. At this time of the turning of The Wheel (of the Year), pagans and witches hold that the Veil - a kind of membrane that exists between the worlds - thins, permitting the Dead to visit the world of the living. A shadowy time of the year, indeed, yet there is life, love, and kinship at this time of cosmic reunion with our loved human and animal companions, friends, acquaintances, and family members that have passed beyond the Veil.
Many of the practices of Halloween originated in or have evolved from old Celtic customs of the veneration of the dead: the warm glow of Jack-Oâ€™-Lanterns to light the way for the dead and to brighten our cooler Autumnal evenings, the festive decorations and costumes worn to welcome the Dead, and the drinking of cider to celebrate the harvest and the great bounty gifted to us by Mother Earth. In fact, gay historian Arthur Evans noted in Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture (pp 11-12) that the pagan practices of ritual transvestism and the wearing of animal costumes were broadly practiced on both May Day at the Sabbat of Beltane and at the Night of All Souls or Samhain.
In the ancient Celtic tradition, the start of a day begins at sunset, so Samhain actually begins at sunset on October 31st and ends at sunset on November 1st. It is interesting that Halloween has taken greater significance in the United States, as many revel in the parties, celebrations, and festivities for this special season. Who doesnâ€™t like to dress up and dance?
It is instructive to see the commonalities between Dia de los Muertes, the Mexican Day of the Dead, and the ancient holiday of Samhain. Both honor the dead with feasting, costuming, revelry, etc., yet though they originated in distinctly different cultures, they share a common belief in the continuity of life and in communal remembrances of those that have transitioned beyond this life.
If you would like to dance with your dead, on Samhain on October 31st, light a candle (never leave it unattended!) and fill your mind with memories, images, and thoughts of a loved one â€“ human or animal â€“ that has died during the past year. Speak their name aloud and creatively imagine that they are with you, here and now. If you or they liked to dance, get up and move. It is okay to have transitory sad feelings or thoughts at their passing, as long as one also remembers the shared love, laughter, and joy that we had with them and have again at each Samhain.
In this way, each year at the turning of The Wheel, the great Circle of the Living and the Dead comes together in the Dance and we are reminded, â€śWhat is remembered, lives.â€ť A Blessed Samhain to all.