Halloween for Pagans
Come gather around and listen to my words. The wheel of life has begun its cycle all over again. As the wheel turns to Samhain we celebrate the birth of another new year. For the believers of the ways of the old (Shamans, Witches, Wiccans, Pagans, etc) this day marks the start of their new year.
Samhain is pronounced Sow-wen. According to Christopher Penczak it is “the traditional meat harvest and the Celtic New Year.” Everyone knows it today as Halloween, or the day of the dead.
What is Samhain?
This day is a day where it is believed the veil between the worlds of the living and the non living is at its thinnest. It is believed that the dead can come back to visit us. Since the veil is the thinnest it is also a day where divination or fortunetelling is said to be more accurate and powerful. Finally, due to the focus of death, it is also a day to focus on, remember, and celebrate our ancestors that have gone before us.
The God and Goddess of Samhain
The Crone and Horned God are the deities most often invoked during Samhain. It’s important to understand that in pagan traditions the Horned God is not the same thing as the devil. Rather, the Horned God is known as the god of the hunt, which in ancient times was important due to the fact that this day was about the first harvest and having enough food to last through the winter.
Likewise, the Crone is seen as an old grandmotherly type of energy. She is responsible for teaching us Wisdom and helping us to learn to let go of material items as well as our feelings and expectations. She reminds us that we all will grow old and eventually die, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy life while we are here.
Altars and Traditions of Samhain
Altars are traditionally made for this day. In Mexico the Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 2nd. The families there (many Catholic) tend to make elaborate altars to honor those relatives no longer in the physical world. Many pagans also follow this ritual, only on Samhain. Photos of the deceased, items they loved, and items which help in keeping their memories alive are all placed on the altar. Stories of the deceased loved ones are shared with the family. Many times ancestors are thanked for something special they have done or passed on to the family.
It’s also not uncommon to put objects that represent the autumn season on the altar, such as pumpkins, fall leaves, hay, scarecrows, skeletons, jack-o-lanterns, and so forth.
Another very popular Samhain tradition is that of dressing up. Children and adults both dress up. In the old days the Celts dressed up and danced around a bonfire. This bonfire marked the start of the celebration of Samhain. People dressed up primarily as a means of honoring the dead. This wasn’t the only reason however. It was believed that not all spirits that returned from the dead on Samhain were good spirits. To avoid being recognized people would dress up. This helped them to avoid the evil spirits and their trickery they would play on those that they could recognize.
Since the day is a day to honor the dead it wasn’t uncommon for people to dance and tell stories about the cycle of life. Perhaps the most popular of these stories was the story of Persephone and the underworld.
The Story of Persephone
Persephone was taken away to the underworld. While living in the underworld she ate from a special fruit, the pomegranate. This fruit typically appears in stores and markets right around Samhain. After eating of this fruit she came to an important realization. That death is gravely misunderstood by most people. Death isn’t about endings and darkness, but rather it’s about change and hope.
The journey into winter is a reminder of the story of Persephone. It is a time when the days are growing shorter, darkness comes faster, and we tend to retreat inside. When we learn to embrace this, and indeed death, as a time of healing and as preparation for new beginnings we will have come to an understanding of one of the many mysteries of life.
Heaven and the Shining Isle or Summerland
For many pagans there is a place one goes upon their death. That place is called Summerland or the Shining Island. It is of the same concept as the Christian Heaven. That is, it’s a place where the dead go to live after death. It looks different to everyone, but most will see it as one of the most beautiful places they have ever been.
Here is also where the wise god and goddess of pagan traditions live and play. It is a place that many pagans believe can be visited once a year, on the evening of Samhain. There are many ways to get there. Meditation, however, is the most common. Still, others leave an offering at the foot of their bed in hopes that they are taken there as they sleep. Most often, only the brave of heart are allowed upon its shores.
This is an important concept. It gives people the knowledge and understanding that through acts of bravery and not giving up when life becomes difficult, there are rewards to be gathered. These rewards can and do come both in the physical and non physical world.