Like the pages from a Bradbury short story, October sweeps in with cold wind, bright colors and the scents of damp leaves, sugar and candy. The summer has been long and hot, school and work are in full swing and the holidays are right around the corner.
This shift in seasons is called the Wheel of the Year, and as the wheel rolls from the brightness of summer to the darkness of winter, the subtle swing from October to November marks a very important holiday in the Pagan calendar.
Known to most as Halloween (or All Hallows' Eve), Samhain is a favorite holiday among many Pagans. Considered by some to be the Pagan New Year, this holiday rests between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice and is a time of letting go of the old to make room for the new.
Commonly pronounced “Sow-ehn” (though this is debatable!) the observance of this special time of year has roots in ancient Europe, particularly among Gaelic and Celtic tribes. Many modern Halloween festivities observed in the United States come from Irish settlers who brought their folk stories and traditions with them to the new world. Trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins (or other vegetables) and wearing masks and costumes all come from old Samhain customs.
While Halloween may seem spooky to some, Samhain is a time to honor the blessed dead and to pay respect to those who have passed. Many display an “ancestral altar” with photos of friends and family as well as the deceased’s favorite food and trinkets. This isn’t too unlike the Catholic Day of the Dead festivities, where households pay their own respects in a similar fashion. Some Catholics also celebrate All Souls Day and All Saints Day shortly after Halloween, too, in which the hallowed and the dead are honored in other ways.
For Halloween this year, sit quietly outside. Listen to the leaves as they fall. Hear the kids laughing as they put on costumes and eat candy. Watch a few scary movies and indulge in the shadowy, darker aspects of life. Eat some crisp apples. Think of friends and family who were loved and lost. Celebrate the “Dumb Supper” and set an empty plate out for them at dinner time.
As the wheel turns and the year is new, think about those old, harmful things that no longer serve a purpose. Dismiss them and banish them away. The winter will be hard and cold, and there’s no use in keeping useless things around. As the nights become longer, contemplate on the shadow aspects of life. The wheel turns towards the darkness at Samhain. It will turn once more at Yule and the Solstice when the world will be brighter than ever.
In the meantime, Happy Halloween!