Oíche Shamhna is upon us once again.
Samhain, All Hallows, Halloween – they are three separate celebrations really. Each branching out from the same root but different, yet occupying the same space and time.
Samhain is the Celtic celebration of the last harvest, the honoring of the dead, and the birth of the new year as the sun sets on the year now past. The Christianized version of this Pagan feast day, All Hallows, is focused on prayers for the dead who reside in purgatory awaiting their final judgement. Lastly, there is secular Halloween, a joy ride through the more macabre regions of western pop-culture and marketing.
We Pagans will often say that the veils between this world and the next are at their thinnest at this time of year. The words we use here can be somewhat deceptive. We should not be thinking of this as anything as simple as opening a door between two similar spaces. Rather, this should be understood as an overlapping of the everyday world of the living and the timeless spaces which we believe to be the abode of the honored dead, the immortal gods, or both.
In either case, Celtic folklore is full of stories which suggest that when our orderly clockwork universe comes into contact with the eternal otherworld, the resulting amalgam may play havoc with our comprehension of the passage of time.
This seasonal change in perception would go a long way toward explaining why this time of year seems almost unbearably crowded with activity for me. Each year, as the last days of the season slip by, I find myself deeply weary and thankful that the calmer winter season is at hand.
As Samhain approaches, I feel the weight of not one October, but three.
The first is just a month like any other. It is filled with all the socializing, shopping, bill paying and 40-hour work weeks that are the general business of the other eleven calendar months.
The second October is, for me, the buildup toward Samhain. It is at this time of year that I try to put my spiritual house in order. This may take the very practical form of deciding exactly how I plan to celebrate this year: bonfire (weather permitting), altar dressings, devotions, sacrifices and menu planning for the traditional feast. I must also put myself into the right frame of mind to dig past the niggling details and into the ebb and flow of spiritual energy colors this season. It is a time of meditation and reflecting upon the year past and using those experiences to prepare myself for the year to come.
The third October has to do with Halloween, which is, to me, a separate holiday entirely from the Celtic holy day of Samhain. There are decorations to plan and put up, pumpkins to carve, costumes to complete and parties to attend. It’s a lot of fun and a great break from the everyday, but also involves a tremendous amount of work and a considerable drain on time and resources.
And so here I am, with just a handful of days left in October, absolutely exhausted.
Most of the actual Halloween planning is done although I’ve still got pumpkins to carve and decorations to put up. Mounds of Halloween candy sit, awaiting an army of Trick-or-Treaters (the bags thus far unopened, but very tempting).
The costumes were completed just in time for the holiday party my girlfriend and I annually attend. This year she dressed as a sort of Cyberpunk Medusa while I played the part of her victim, a Greek soldier long ago turned to stone, mossy and crumbling under the slow violence of age and erosion. It’s fun to slip out of your own skin for a while and into another persona, even if it’s that of a decaying statue. It also helps if you can stand perfectly still for long periods of time!
As much as it is possible to do so, I have put the work-a-day world on hold for the remainder of the month. I’ve scheduled most of my remaining vacation hours for some well deserved time away from the grind and one last chance to get my head on straight before the blitzkrieg of the holiday shopping season begins in ernest.
So, by my count, that’s two Octobers down and one to go.
On the 31st day, we shall greet the sunset with a worthy feast and by sharing the stories that have been handed down to us from our ancestors long departed. And then, once we are sure that the last of the trick-or-treaters have had their way, we shall retire to the backyard where a sacred fire will be waiting. We shall ask the gods to bless and protect us in these times of change and uncertainty. We will give our love to those who have passed before us, and ask that they in turn illuminate our path through the dark part of the year and onward to the seasonal renewal that will surely follow.
The next morning I’ll be sleeping in.
I think I’ve earned it.
After all, I just made it through three whole Octobers.
A blessed Samhain and a Happy Halloween to you all.