All Hallows marks an important turn on the wheel of the year. From now until the winter solstice the darkness grows.
Halloween in ancient Celtic times was known as Samhain, (pronounced sow-en, with sow rhyming with cow). It is a word that comes from two old Irish words meaning summer’s end. It is the final harvest festival of the year when pumpkins, gourds, turnips, parsnips and squash are gathered, and animals were brought back from summer pastures to the safety of barns and stables.
In pre-Christian times Samhain was celebrated in Ireland with great gatherings of clans and tribes. In Medieval times there were games, and feasting to celebrate the end of the growing and harvesting seasons. With the growing darkness there were stories of faerie folk, and goblins making mischief in the dark. Stories that echoed more ancient and more primitive fears.
Samhain’s association with death didn’t emerge until the church instituted the feast of All Saints on November 1, in the ninth century, and the the Feast of All Souls on November 2 in 998 AD. This is when Samhain became known as All Hallow’s Eve, the night before the feast of All Saints Day. From that point on there was a merging and mingling of celebrations around the final harvest festival, the preparations for winter, and the remembrance of the dead.
This is the time during the year when our fears of change, death, and darkness find a voice.
Why embrace a time for working with our deepest fears? Why not neutralize the fears of Halloween by designating it a children’s holiday, or skip right over it and and fast forward to All Saints and the comforting knowledge that a great cloud of witnesses has tread the path of death and entered into new life before you, and now upholds you in prayer.
To only focus on what comforts and soothes you is to miss the opportunity to deepen and expand your capacity to live and fully embrace all of life. It is in the dark that you begin to better understand the mysteries of life and death and to integrate with compassion those parts of yourself that seem undesirable and dark, parts that we call shadow.
Beyond the universal fears of change, death and darkness there is always the fear that you are unworthy of love. If that fear is left to itself, the uncertainty of what death might bring grows more menacing.
Carl Jung wrote “one does not become enlightened by imaginary figures of light but by making the darkness conscious”. As you pass through the gateway of Halloween into the darker half of the year it is important to allow the darkness to become conscious and instruct you.
The saints of All Saints that we remember, might be better thought of as Halloween heroes and heroines. Before being swept up into the eternal light when they were released from the body, these saints were ordinary people, not imaginary figures of light. They faced some of the deepest, darkest fears that can be known. Rejection, betrayal,, ridicule, poverty, persecution, hunger, oppression, torture, captivity, temptations and weakness, the dark night of the soul and martyrdom. It was in the darkness of fears, and the darkness of their own shadow and doubts that they were transformed.
Halloween revels in what is scary. What scares us is precisely what we need to face. The fears, doubts, betrayals, abandonments, wounds, and disappointments of life scare us. Yet, within these difficult feelings is the creative opportunity to reshape them and mold them into something new that strengthens and supports the growth and development of your soul.
Before the light of All Saints and the quiet rest of winter, during this tumultuous, dark time in the year when fruit, nut and leaf drop to the ground embracing decay and death to ensure new life, make some space to sit with what you fear. Learn what the fear has to teach you and learn how to use those lessons as part of the great cycle of life and growth that you are held within during your time on this earth. Let your descent into this place of darkness be a conscious one, so that what falls away makes space for transformation and new life to emerge. This is the gift the season of All Hallow’s Eve brings to you.