Samhain is a time when the veil between the worlds is thin. We give honor to our Ancestors, the Dark Lady and to the Gods of the Underworld. We use divination to seek guidance for the coming year, one that begins with gestation in the darkness of the tomb-turned-womb.
Halloween is when we dress up our kids in costumes so they can go extort candy from the neighbors, or so they can go to carefully chaperoned parties because some neighbors might sabotage the extortion, hurting the kids.
How do we as Witches reconcile these divergent situations? Some don't give out candy or coins, but leave their houses dark because they don't want the kids to disrupt their Samhain experiences. They try to keep a stiff upper lip in the face of the distortions in the media. Others feel that the survival of Pagan customs in our Christian dominated society is a sign that, even for those who do not See, the cycles of the Goddess have power, and that carrying on the customs gives honor to our Ancestors, whose festival this is. Many are not at home not because they object to distortions and extortions, but because they have gone to one of the public rituals, like Reclaiming's Spiral Dance.
As a mother and a costumer and a hedgewitch, I love Halloween. I like helping with the class parties at school. I like making jack o' lanterns. I like dressing up and taking the kids trick-or-treating. I like giving out treats and seeing what my kids get.
I also make a point of telling my kids why we celebrate Samhain. If they have a loss to mourn, as they did two years ago when our white bunny had died ten days before, they are specifically included in the ritual. Otherwise they have the option of sitting it out. (They are usually asleep by the time we are invoking deities anyway.)
Our coven keeps a list, started afresh at each Samhain, on which we write the names of those who have affected our lives who have died during the year. This year's list includes Rudolf Nureyev, Thurgood Marshall, Andre the Giant, Cesar Chavez, and Scott Cunningham. We sometimes carry over people from times past whose deaths we still grieve, like Betty Burkhart-Periera who was murdered in Fresno in 1991 "because she looked like a witch". We have a large shallow baking dish that we call "the candle boat" in which we burn tapers for each person we are grieving. For mass deaths we burn pillar candles. When we are finished lighting them, the candles look like a bonfire. We talk, we cry, we sing, we stare in silence. Eventually we end the ritual and sleep.
I have only been to two of the Spiral Dances, one in 1982 with about 300 people, the other in 1989 with about 1200 people. They were both wonderful and intense. Most of the people are not practiced at doing spiral dances, so the chain is sometimes broken as an alternative to having dislocated shoulder joints, but it doesn't seem to diminish the effectiveness of the ritual. I would recommend Spiral Dances especially for people who don't have children and aren't working with a coven.
However you spend your Samhain, be Blessed with Strength and Beauty, Joy and Prosperity.
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