The Hallows season is soon upon us. What does this mean for us as Witches? Lately I have heard a lot of people confusing what we call Samhain with what the public knows as Halloween. Many Witches practice both, but that doesn’t mean these two terms mean the same thing to us. Growing up in Britain I never experienced Halloween as a seasonal event, though today it is considered an American import. There is recorded folklore history of mask wearing, what we call guising, and other seasonal observations that could easily be seen as a source for Halloween. But the manner in which people see and experience these observances of Halloween as a secular holiday is all about fun, fun, fun! Monsters and ghouls, witches and just about anything scary is what people dress up as. Watching scary movies to delight us, parties and just embracing the naughty darker side of our nature with a heavy layer of tongue-in-cheek fun is what the Halloween observations are about. But this is not, nor has it ever been, how Witches approach the Sacred Sabbat of Samhain!
Though some Traditions may hold different names for the Cross Quarter Fire festival Sabbats, and some may even practice other Tradition-specific observations, these fire festival Sabbats are commonly known as Imbolc, Beltane, Lammas, and Samhain. These Sabbat festivals are still observed by many as Seasonal Pagan Sabbat days, and as such are Sacred. These seasonal holidays were the actual daytime festival events marking the shift in the life force energies that underlie the seasonal changes of the year. Witches, being invested not in observing but rather in claiming for themselves these life force energies of change within their Magical practices, engaged in what is known as the Witches Sabbat. These were powerful and provocative workings held on the eves of the seasonal day observances. Much of the folklore associated with Witches as scary comes from the profane (mundane) perspective of these Witches Sabbat workings. The two most well-known of these Witches nighttime eve Sabbats are the night before Beltane, called Beltane Eve or Walpurgis Nacht, and Hallows Eve, the night before All Hallows Day, or All Saints Day.
In today’s world generally Beltane Day is mostly commonly observed, though some old-time Witches still observe the mysteries of Beltane Eve. Strangely, when it comes to All Hallows, it has become normal for everyone to observe the eve of All Hallows Day where the daytime observance of All Hallows Day/All Saints Day is all but gone. This shift from an Ancestral focus to the more scary arena of the eve is the reason I believe there has sprung up some confusion as to the distinction between what a Witch may call Samhain as opposed to observing what the general public observe as Halloween!
Samhain is a Sacred working of Witches that in some manner addresses the transition of Death, the boundary that divides this world of the living from that of the living Ancestral Spirits. There is a great deal of Witchcraft Legacy material associated with Death and access into the Ancestral Realm, often called the Underworld or Mound. For Witches to claim access into this realm beyond the living, they must take the power and responsibility associated with the Death transition. Whether they work with Herne, Gwyn Ap Nudd, Charon, Hecate, Cailleach or any number of Gods and/or Spirits associated with this work, including the Reaper him/herself, the work is chthonic and personal. As Witches we get our hands into the work and do what is necessary. And this work in all its facets is approached with respect as Sacred.
Yes, dealing with Death and all that we may experience from the underworld can mean it gets gnarly sometimes, and facing the darkest recesses of reality means we have to master our fears. The key is knowing that whatever may emerge from the other side or reality, it can only emerge into our reality through us as a threshold into this world. We are the ones that can bridge between this world of reason and the other world. When we are gripped by fear and accept the power of what lies beyond, we lose control over ourselves and can become a doorway for “whatever” to reach in through us. Normally when experiencing such an event, our self-protective impulse is to snap the door shut and step back with a gale of laughter! Laughter is how we distance ourselves from things when they get too real. And laughter is how we close the door to those things from beyond.
This impulse to laugh is something we as Witches have to get past when dealing with the deeper work. Grasping the Sacredness of our work is how we place a filter upon ourselves as thresholds, which then only allows the Sacred into our reality, and not the profane. But the general public, not looking to have a Sacred experience with the Ancestors but rather seeking the titillating experience of fear and then laughter, has built a whole industry on just this.
Horror movies have become a big-selling industry and have been incorporated into the Halloween experience, as have haunted houses and all kinds of fun scary experiences for the general public and witches alike. This entertaining rampage of camp and fun is one of my favorite holiday experiences, but I make the clear distinction between the terms Halloween and Samhain because the two are for me separate and unique in their identity and demands, and this needs to be made clear so we don’t lose our Sacred Sabbat to be devoured by the commercial machine, the way Christmas has. Not to mention Yuletide as something completely other than Christmas but which is also threatened!
Cut to the chase: Witches truly enjoy the fun and camp that surrounds the Halloween season like few others can. Well, when it comes to indulging our Witchy, we have that down, right? We get that we are different and that means we either have fun with ourselves, or we are seen as threatening or plain nuts! Having fun with ourselves is a way we get to interact with the public and enjoy our lot in life! We take our work, which is sacred to us, very seriously, yes. But we don’t have to take ourselves so damned seriously. Our life path and identity, living in the world out of the broom closet, is packed with fun and we like it that way. Do Witches cackle? Hell yes! And you will have a hard time finding any community that holds as much fun, laughter and cackling as ours. Sure we can get dark and even sharp with our humor but that’s because we own our power and can laugh at ourselves and all that life can throw at us! It’s how we handle living in an uncertain reality that extends into the unknown.
So this year we have a great lineup at the Green Man Store. Two Séances, a Death Mysteries Class, an Anubis Vision Quest, a Hallows Psychic Faire, a Grand Witches Ball and of course our popular annual Samhain Ritual. More may be added, so keep an eye on our calendar!
So to all of our amazing and loving Community of kick-ass cackling Witches, I say…
Blessed Samhain and Happy Halloween!