Even before I identified as Pagan and worked as a professional tarot reader, Halloween, the secular celebration of Samhain, was my favorite holiday.
When I was a child, my mother was a creative costume maker. By mid-August she would be asking me “What would you like to be for Halloween this year?” Never did I have to wear those cheesy vinyl, polyester or plastic costumes from the store. In retrospect, that may have been because those costumes were expensive, and Mom needed to be frugal. But each year at Halloween I was in my glory, in a brilliant costume with special features. The year I was a black cat, Mom put a slinky in a black stocking to make a bouncing tail for me.
In High School I attended a small, private Christian academy. These days many Born Again Christians don’t celebrate Halloween. Back then we wore our costumes to school and had a wonderful time.
As a young adult, Halloween took on a slightly different meaning. It was no longer about the candy, it was about the alcohol. Nothing was more fun than wearing a silly or sexy costume to the nightclub. To this day, I love dancing with costumed people. There is something very liberating about about dressing as someone else.
At age 24 I converted to Paganism, and learned the true origin and meaning of the holiday. The holiday is actually called Samhain (pronounced “sowen”) and is the most solemn holiday on the Pagan Wheel of the Year.
It is the cross-quarter day between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice, one of the four equidistant Major Sabbats.
Over the years I have attended and designed a number of Samhain rituals. There are a few that stick in my mind particularly.
One year I produced a public ritual in a large conference room in a hotel in Plainfield, CT. I was lucky to work with a group of creative ladies who were dedicated to putting together a really special event.
For this ritual, one of us played the character of Death. Our circle was divided into two halves, the Land of the Living and the Ream of the Dead, divided by an archway in the middle of the circle. Normally, the archway was used for weddings. With a little creative redecorating, the wedding arch became a wonderful passageway to the other side of the veil.
Death led all fifty attendees to the other side of the veil, where we were able to communicate with those who had gone before us.
While living in the Poconos, in a hundred-year-old family home filled with the ghosts of my ancestors, I hosted a Samhain ritual in our yard, around a fire. The weather was warm that night. Our attendees ranged in age from eight to seventy. We drummed and chanted around the fire in celebration of the sacred night.
As a professional tarot reader, I am somewhat in demand to perform at parties during Halloween, which has become a season, rather than simple a one-day event.
This year, my family and I attended Moonfest, conveniently held in downtown West Palm Beach, right where we live. You have to love a city that shuts down its streets and invites 70,000 costumed revealers to dance the night away.
As a religious holiday, Samhain has three areas of focus. It is the third and final harvest celebration, when we manifest what it is we want to harvest at the next turn of the wheel. It is the witch’s New Year. Most prominently, it is the day when the veil that separates the world of the living from the spirit world, creating easy interaction with those in spirit.
It is the celebration of the thinning veil that sparked the secular traditions of ghoulish costumes and trick or treating. As usual, the best holidays come to us from Pagan origins.
However you celebrated the autumn holiday, may you be blessed with a bountiful harvest, communication with your guides and ancestors in spirit, and a brilliant new year.