Autumn is my favourite time of year. The cooler weather, the tree colours, falling leaves, fires, jumpers and warming food. The culmination of that is Halloween. My favourite day of the year. It appeals to the teenage Goth version of me, everything takes a darker turn, skulls and monsters are everywhere, ghost stories are told, and the unknown is celebrated.
For all that I love a good party, I’ve never been one to party on Halloween. The day before, the day after, yes. But never on the actual day. I spend that with my nearest and dearest. For me, Halloween is much more than a knees up in fancy dress, it’s a religious holiday. The most important one of the whole year. Samhain.
Let’s rewind and go over a little history…
The word Halloween is a contraction of All Hallow’s Eve, the day before the Christian holiday, All Hallow’s Day. Traditionally, on the eve, the Christian church would hold a vigil and parishioners would pray and fast. On the day itself, there would be a feast in honour of all of the Christian saints and martyrs. November 2nd is All Souls Day, a day intended to commemorate all souls by praying for and remembering dead relatives and friends. The holidays form the basis of the Day Of The Dead celebrations in Latin America and parts of Europe.
Christianity was brought to the UK and Northern Europe by the Romans as a way to control the populations. However, it took a long time to convert the masses. The ancient religions and their traditions persisted, they remained pure in places the Romans couldn’t reach and they were celebrated alongside the Christian ones in other areas. When the Pagan holidays were all eventually replaced with Christian ones the traditions were so ingrained they were melded together. Yule, the shortest day of the year, on December 21st became Christmas, the September equinox where day and night are the same length became the Harvest Festival, Samhain became All Hallow’s Eve and Day.
Not only do we remember and revere the ancestors and our deceased loved ones, but on Samhain night the veil between this world and the next one is at its thinnest, so we invite the spirits to join us.
Samhain, pronounced Sah-win or Sow-in, is the end of the Pagan year. It is the end of the harvesting season and the beginning of winter and the dark part of the year. The year doesn’t ‘start’ again until Imbolc on February 1st. Yes, that sounds odd, but the dark part of the year is considered to be a kind of hibernation, spent in close quarters with family. An introspective, reflective time that has a big party right in the middle of it, Yule, the shortest day, a celebration to mark the light returning. Thereafter, you make plans for the coming year, set goals and work on changing what you need, and want, to change. You emerge from the darkness when the weather starts to change in February and the very first signs that spring is close start to show themselves. The Celtic wheel of the year is a fascinating element of ancient history and paganism. The fertility festival, Beltaine, on May 1st is the traditional time for weddings. The idea being that you fall pregnant soon after with the baby being born around Imbolc. That would mean that the most difficult months of pregnancy, towards the end, would be spent at home with family around you during the dark time of the year.
It’s only fitting that the first day in a period of reflection, introspection and change that is Samhain, would be spent thinking of those no longer with us. Family and friends that have long since passed over and the ancestors that watch over us and started our family lines. The people we owe our very existences to. This, in particular, is what Samhain is all about, remembering and celebrating the people that made us who we are.
Every person under the Pagan umbrella, be they Wiccan, Hedge Witch, Heathen, Druid or one that follows the old traditions celebrates in their own way. Some join large open ceremonies, some meet with their covens and small groups, some gather with close friends and/or family, and others worship or acknowledge their ancestors alone. A single prayer, a single lit candle or 5 minutes remembering a loved one is no less powerful and respectful than speaking in front of 100 people or setting up an alter to include photographs of passed family members. That’s the joy in Paganism for me, nothing is wrong so long as you’re not disrespectful.
This, in particular, is what Samhain is all about, remembering and celebrating the people that made us who we are.
My parents and my husband all identify as Pagan, the umbrella term for people that follow the ancient polytheistic (multi God) religions. We all have slightly different thoughts and beliefs, we all celebrate and worship in our own slightly different ways. My mother was brought up within the Baptist Church and my father was brought up within the Spiritualist Church. Until I was about 5, my mum took me to the traditional Christian church. That stopped when I told her they were all liars and asked why they kept saying God was a man!
At that point, my mum began to openly follow her heart and truly embrace the Pagan ways that she had been drawn to for many years before. So, essentially, I’ve been Pagan my whole life. As soon as I was old enough, I read every book I could get my hands on. When I ran out of books on Paganism, I started on the history books. I am a sponge when it comes to Ancient British religious and historical knowledge.
Not only is Samhain a festival where we remember and revere our ancestors and our deceased loved ones, but on this night, the veil between this world and the next one is at its thinnest. Where Christain tradition says ghosts roam the earth, we invite the spirits to join us. This is where Halloween, Samhain, really comes into its own.
And this is where I know I’m going to lose some of you, talk of spirits is where some draw the line, it’s also where some are going to get very interested though, so I’m going to double down…
I’m psychic. I have the ability to communicate with the dead. It’s a family thing. My dad’s side of the family were all members of the Spiritualist Church for a reason. The women, in particular, could all communicate with the dead. My great-grandmother was very good at it and made quite a name for herself. Before she died, she recognised the same skill in me and started to teach me how to control it. After she died, she continued. My path has extended from the student to the teacher. Over the years I have taught meditation, Pagan studies, healing, psychic development and various forms of divination. I have also given personal readings. My interest in the paranormal, the psychic world and the occult knows no bounds.
When I celebrate Halloween, Samhain, this is the reason I stay at home. After sundown, I am visited by family and friends that have passed over. They come to me at home. For years I would settle down for the evening with my parents and wait. We never waited long. Now I live with my husband we light the candles and we wait, sometimes I speak to my parents on the phone and we pass messages and talk about what’s happening.
I have many wonderful memories of visits and conversations with loved ones. This is why my husband and I chose to get married just before Halloween last year. We had a Pagan Handfasting conducted by my mum and a great friend. Not only was it true to our faith, but it also allowed us to open the ceremony to our loved ones too.
We don’t know how the world was created, or why. We respect science and all of the answers it can give us, we don’t proclaim to be the only ones that are right, we don’t disrespect other religions and we are all open to new ideas.
I don’t expect anyone to believe me. From the outside, I can see how incredible it must sound, but if you’ve got this far, you must be interested! I’m not alone in my beliefs, Paganism is the fastest growing religion in the Western World. At its heart, no matter which flavour you choose, it is fair and simple. there is only one true precept; treat people how you would like to be treated. No steadfast rules, no one way to worship, no right way and only one real wrong way and that is to put yourself first. It’s homely, comforting and it doesn’t profess to have all of the answers. We don’t know how the world was created, or why. We respect science and all of the answers it can give us, we don’t proclaim to be the only ones that are right, we don’t disrespect other religions (we’re polytheistic, their God is just one of many!), and we are all open to new ideas.
A lot of good things come from paganism. Christmas trees, the days of the week, the Yule log, eggs and rabbits as fertility symbols, plus many, many more. We gave you the roots of a holiday that celebrates horror, monsters, ghosts, ghouls, things that go bump in the night, witches, scary stories and magic. We even gave you trick or treating and the fancy dress elements. Seriously. Google it!