Long before there were sexy nurse costumes or vast quantities of sugar-coma-inducing treats, what we now call Halloween was a 2000-year-old Celtic holiday called Samhain (pronounced sow-en). Samhain literally means summer’s end, which translates as you can get a parking space on Main Street in the village without an altercation. Before you could have Fresh Direct or Uber Eats delivered to your door, the bounty of the crops determined whether you would thrive or starve. The end of October celebrated the season’s harvest and preparation for the dark part of the year. Our traditional Halloween decorations of pumpkins and corn stalks and apples and squash reflect this bounty.
This was also a time when the community came together and agreed not to discuss politics of offensive tweets. The village members would put out the fire in their home hearths in preparation. When darkness fell, they would form a circle in the central green and build a roaring bonfire. Each family would take a light from this fire and return home to light their own hearth, a symbol of the fact that we are all in this together and people’s survival and happiness are contingent on each other, and agree not to bitch about neighbors’ loud leaf blowers.
In the pagan community it was also believed that Samhain is a time when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is at its thinnest. It represents a time to honor ancestors and even create a “dumb supper” where a place would be set complete with food and wine for those who had passed. The veil is also considered thinnest on borders such as where land meets sea. No wonder the beach is a perfect place for rituals. For modern witchcraft, wicca, this is still considered a very psychic time for divination. And although the tradition of maidens peeling an apple in a single strand and throwing it over their shoulder to take shape as the initial of the name of the man they would marry has now morphed into a Tinder profile, this time of year is still optimum for divination about the future. If you feel a bit spooky, it may be because there are actual ghosts or pixies about, so maybe give a friendly hello and ask for a selfie with them.
One of the wonderful parts of Samhain is that the wheel of the year changing also presents a time of endings and new beginnings. It is a time to throw (symbolically) into the bonfire any weaknesses or habits which keep you from attaining your potential. Anything which does not serve you should be cast out. Long before Marie Kondo told people to declutter and only to keep that which “sparks joy,” villagers would clear out the home and sweep it clean, allowing room for prosperity to enter. This is the perfect time of year for literal and metaphorical house cleaning. Lighting a black candle is considered a way to banish any negative energy.
There is a solemnity to Samhain, the acknowledgement of duality: light to dark, life to death. And then the cycle repeats. Amidst the costume parties and trick or treating it is a time to connect with the natural and supernatural world. A time to gaze into a candle’s flame or the fire to reflect on the past and loved ones lost but also the future and potential love. And know you don’t have to put on a pointy hat or ride a broomstick to be a witch. Just believe in a little magic.