It’s almost Samhain, or as it’s better known today, Hallowe’en!
This has to be my favourite holiday, in both its Pagan and secular forms, of the year. There’s something magical about a night when even the most staid, “normal” people carve jack o’lanterns and hang skulls, bats and witches in their windows, or dress as ghosts and demons.
I love the way this time of year takes all those things that are dark and scary, things that mainstream society and religion tends not to talk about, and turns them from objects of fear into a carnival of colour, celebration and life. What better, what more cathartic, what more human way to face our fears of death and the unknown?
While I love the fun of Hallowe’en (and I will be decorating my home and handing out sweets to trick or treaters, and watching the Evil Dead trilogy), I also love the more thoughtful stillness of Samhain.
The two are very much connected of course, historically the Christian feast of “All Hallows” was placed right on top of the old Pagan festival of Samhain, but for me the two also have rather distinct characteristics. Where Hallowe’en is riotous, Samhain is quiet.
Samhain is a time to reflect on death: both that of those we have lost, and that of our own. I’m fairly active in the Death Positive community, so I probably think about this more than most, but I do believe that it is healthy and good to spend some time thinking deeply about mortality. I think that coming to terms with death, and learning to live with it rather than fear it and hide it away, is an important part of growing both individually and as a society, becoming more open and more responsive to life. Yes, thinking about death can make you appreciate life all the more.
Samhain can also be a time of letting go: of aspects of yourself or your life that are holding you back, or of any lingering guilt, anger or resentment harboured for ancestors who have died. It can be a time for forgiveness and healing.
And of course, it is the turning point of the year: the old Celtic new year, the night before the new dawn of the Winter Solstice.
So, go out and visit places of the dead: local churches and cemeteries are a great place to sit and reflect surrounded by memento mori. Enjoy dressing up and watching your favourite cheesy horror films, but spare a thought for ancestors, whether of blood, of land, or of inspiration, and in the Autumnal evening, be still.