Halloween & Samhain

Halloween was always my favorite holiday. I have fond memories of dressing up in costume, going door to door for treats, and of being frightened by someone jumping out of a prop casket. That spooky time of the year was the one time of the year when I could freely explore the weird and supernatural without being judged as harshly. As I grew older, it became the time of year when I felt more like myself. The beginning of autumn and the sense of change leading up to Halloween were always energizing to me.

For several years, I struggled to really enjoy Halloween. My dad had passed away a few days before Halloween and so the date of his funeral fell on that day. By that time, I was a young Pagan and was aware of Samhain being the same date as Halloween. There was some sense of comfort in this. I wasn’t yet actively celebrating any of the Pagan sabbats, but I knew that Samhain was the time when “the veil between worlds was at it’s thinnest”. (That particular phrasing turned out to be a Victorian-era invention, but regardless…)

This autumnal harvest holiday is a day originating in Ireland. Samhain (pronounced “Sow-wen”) is the Irish/ Gaeilge word for the month of November, in fact. Many Pagans of various traditions celebrate Samhain to remember our ancestors and beloved dead. The “dumb supper” traditionally held at Samhain to honor the dead is an Irish tradition that has been adopted by those outside Ireland.

Because of the connection to the dead, I also have a personal/ UPG association of the day with Hel as caretaker of the dead. But, relevant to Samhain’s Irish origins, there is a mythic connection to The Morrígan in the Cath Maige Tuired that I feel should not be ignored. For these reasons, I like to honor both Hel and The Morrígan, separately, on Samhain. (The Morrígan is, after all, one of my primary deities.)

Though Halloween and Samhain are typically celebrated on the same day, it would be remiss to treat them as the same holiday. I love both, but I consider them separate. One is secular fun, while the other is sacred. And yet, at the same time, they are linked by popular culture in a way that perhaps cannot be fully undone. How many Halloween-themed movies and tv shows throw in the mention of Samhain (often while butchering the pronunciation) as a poorly researched plot tool? It can be difficult to untangle the threads between the two holidays. For me, these threads are further tangled by the loss of my dad just before Halloween and Samhain. They are tangled by the popular media association of witches with Halloween, and the celebration of Samhain by many modern day witches.

Halloween is still my favorite secular holiday. I love decorating, going to haunted houses, getting pumpkins, dressing up, watching spooky movies, and all of those sorts of things. Samhain probably ties with Bealtaine for my favorite spiritual holiday. It’s important to me to remember my beloved dead, celebrate the ongoing changing of the seasons, and honor my goddesses with whom I feel a stronger connection to on this day.

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