I don’t want what you are about to read, to give you the wrong impression of me.
The simple fact is that I love Halloween. I love every single waxy-candy-corn-polyester-spider-web-plastic-bat-cheap-sound-effect-paper-skeleton-fog-machine-gooey-candy-booze-soaked-thriller-zombie-great-pumpkin-watching moment of it.
And so, you’d think that it would be easy…,
Because it is common knowledge that this time of the year, more than any other, has held on to so many old traditions and associations, it should, therefore, be the easiest time of the year to be Pagan.
Which is not to say that we stop being Pagan during the rest of the year. We are what we are, and do not change religious status as matters of convenience…, (well come to think of it, I suppose that some of us do, but that’s another topic altogether).
But as conventional wisdom would have it, it should be easy to be a Witch or a Druid in these waning days of October, because everyone is just a tad pagan come Halloween. Tis the season of dress-up and pretend, ghosts and goblins, tales of hauntings told around a fire, and the incessant cackle of that animatronic crone which the neighbors (who look at you funny all the rest of the year) have propped up on their front porch, standing guard over a bowl of candy shaped like a cauldron with a bloody human hand thrust out of it.
It’s okay to be different from everyone else, because this is that special time of year when everyone is trying to be a little different. And if you are lucky enough to be ‘the pagan’ in your social group, well that has its own very special benefits…,
“Hey, (‘nudge-nudge’ goes the elbow) I read an article in a magazine I bet you would have liked.”
“Yeah, it was all about the REAL origins of Halloween (their head does that ‘wise nod’ thing). I can loan it to you if you’d like?”
“Ummm, I’m good, thanks.”
And it’s not as if we can be upset about it, because we know that they love us and they just want to know us better, and to feel included in a part of our lives that they really don’t understand very well. Society has told them that Halloween is their best opportunity to gain that deeper understanding, and to truly share something with us.
Because, for the Pagan, every day is Halloween. Right?!
If you are a Christian reading this, I beg you, stop trying to understand us through the lens of Halloween. Imagine, for a moment, trying to bring your gospel to the natives of some far away land, who’s only previous exposure to your religious tradition comes from repeated viewings of that 1969 animated Frosty the Snowman special, as narrated by Jimmy Durante. Same difference, trust me.
And my fellow Pagans of every stripe, I beg you with equal fervor, to stop trying to educate people about our traditions by doing that same tired old compare/contrast between Samhain and Halloween. Honestly, 99% of your audience stopped listening the moment they figured out Jack Skellington wasn’t going to make an appearance.
Halloween is not an educational opportunity – it’s a party – so just enjoy it.
And, if I may dole out one more piece of advice: don’t allow your spiritual practice to get caught up in the orange and the black. Halloween is not an accommodation that the world makes for us, and neither should our Samhain be an accommodation for the rest of society.
So then, what am ‘I’ doing for Halloween?
This year I’ll be taking a break from handing out candy to all the little ghoulies, and will instead be having a long overdue dinner with a dear friend and her new gentleman.
And what about Samhain?
This year, I’ll be participating in an ancient rite which I have studied for years and yet never experienced first hand.
“The druids…, hold nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and a tree on which it is growing, provided it is a hard-timbered oak. Mistletoe is rare and when found it is gathered with great ceremony, and particularly on the sixth day of the moon. Hailing the moon in a native word that means ‘healing all things,’ they prepare a ritual sacrifice and banquet beneath a tree…, A priest arrayed in white vestments climbs the tree and, with a golden sickle, cuts down the mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak…,
—Pliney the Elder, 1st Century CE
The Sixth day of the Moon, being the sixth day since the moon was reborn from darkness, and that point when it is entering the midpoint of its transition from New to Full, a time of balance between darkness and light, falls (to the best of my calculations) in the early evening on Thursday, October 30th.
I usually do not celebrate Samhain so early, but an opportunity like this is rare, and this year, more than most, I feel the need to make a change in my usual habits.
Oh, I will still feast, and honor the gods and the dead with the sacrifice of meat and drink. I will build a great fire for them, and I will pass bodily through the flame that burns in two worlds. And when I am done, I will take the mistletoe leaves I have gathered, which my ancestors called Uileiceadh – the cure all, and hang them to dry.
And when Imbolc dawns, come February, I will welcome the spring with a hot cup of Mistletoe Tea – a new tradition for a new year.
A blessed Samhain and a Happy Halloween to you all.