We are approaching the time of year when the weather is getting cooler and crisper, the sun rises later and sets earlier, and you can feel a shift of energy in the air. Between October 31st and November 2nd are the recognized holidays of Halloween, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day. These Christian observances have their roots in Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween), and Dia de los Muertos, the day of the dead.
The Encyclopedia of Religion states that “the British church attempted to divert the interest in pagan customs by adding a Christian celebration to the calendar on the same date as Samhain, the ancient Celtic name for the festival that eventually would be renamed Halloween.”
Similarly, 500 years ago the Spanish conquistadores and missionaries moved the Mesoamerican festival of Dia de los Muertos from the July/August harvest time to coincide with the Catholic All Saints’ Day on November 1st and All Souls’ Day on November 2nd as a day to honor the dead. All Saints’ Day was originally known by the middle English word Alholowmesse. Over time this was shortened to All-hallowmas and the night before was known as All-hallows eve which eventually became Hallowe’en or Halloween.
Samhain is an ancient multi-faceted Gaelic holiday that originated with the Celts and is believed to be as old as 2,500 years. Samhain is one of the four major sabbats and is considered to be the highest holy day for “witches” or visionaries, due to heightened levels of perception.
Samhain is also considered by many to be the beginning of the spiritual New Year which falls on November 1st. Since this holiday occurs as we enter into what will become the coldest, darkest part of the year and the last of the fall harvest is consumed by frost, it marks a time of death and the corresponding rebirth. In ancient times, each hearth fire was extinguished as the towns people gathered for a celebration. A huge bonfire was lit for their ceremony and it represented the sun; light, power, growth, purification, and renewal. The people carried torches lit from the bonfire back to their homes so their hearth fire could be rekindled from the sacred fire. This commemorated a new beginning, and their new hearth fire would carry them through to the next year’s celebration.
It is said that the veil between the worlds is very thin at Samhain, and that the past, present, and future are one. The spirits of the ancestors and those who have departed human form emerge at this time and communicate with the living. A festival for the dead, whose ghosts were fed at this ceremony, the huge bonfire prevented evil spirits from entering through the gateway that had opened. Samhain provides the potential to connect with the mysteries that lie beyond our realm of perception. There is no better time of the year to align with the spirits, ancestors, or that which lies beyond our knowledge.
Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead originated with the Aztecs, Mayan, and Nahua peoples in Mexico over 3,000 years ago as a way to celebrate death as a state of transition for living within another plane of existence. This was not a time of mourning; rather a celebration of eternal life and it took place for a whole month beginning on the ninth month of the Aztec solar calendar to coincide with the corn harvest in July/August.
Ancient celebrations were a time of gratitude for the harvest and included creating altars decorated with real human skulls and carved wooden skulls as a way to honor the departed and to symbolize death and rebirth. Offerings of food, beverages, copal incense, and flowers were provided to appease the spirits of the dead. The Mesoamericans painted their faces and danced in celebration around huge ritual fires. Like Samhain, it was believed that the veil was thin during this time and that wisdom and knowledge were passed down from the spirits and ancestors.
Incidentally, Diwali occurs in the same timeframe as Halloween. It is the Hindu festival of lights and is known to spiritually signify the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair.
For those who would like to connect to these ancient ceremonies and align with the mystery and knowledge from the ancestors that flows through the ethers, lighting a fire is a great way to focus intention. This could be an outdoor fire in a fire pit, a fire in the fireplace, or some candles. Gazing at fire is a powerful way to see through the gateway.
While gazing into the fire, setting intention to release old habits, illnesses, toxic relationships, and all things that no longer serve you is like a powerful recapitulation as the fire consumes all of these old energies. The result is that you become empty, gain new life-force energy, and open yourself to perceiving in new ways. This time of the year, when the veil between worlds is thin, is a great way to honor our ancestors, make death an advisor, expand our awareness, and enter into the portal of the unknown.