Halloween and Samhain

(NOTE: this is an updated and expanded version of a universally unread post that appeared on my LJ last year. Caveat lector. Also, casual readers may wonder why I am writing about this at all, since Samhain is not a Hellenic holiday; but while I don’t write about this aspect of my spirituality as much, I am also a Druid.)

I am a pagan and an American. Halloween is my favorite secular holiday, and has been for as long as I can remember (I’m 41 now). Our family has a lot of fun with it, watching campy old horror movies, trick-or-treating with friends, and generally carousing our little hearts out. Along with Independence Day, Memorial Day and Veterans Day, Halloween is for me the high spot on the American cultural calendar.

As a pagan I (perhaps obviously) don’t have theological concerns about this holiday, although I respect people who do – except when their concerns are based on false data (e.g., “Sam Hain, Celtic god of the dead“), and they are unwilling to consider correct information.

However, I *AM* concerned about our culture’s change in focus from “ghosts and goblins” to “sluts and slashers”; sadly, I have been somewhat hesitant to take my daughter into the Halloween stores because of the prevalance of dismembered body parts, torture-themed party decorations, and so forth. We do what we can to shelter her from the most excessive of these things (actually, we try to shelter her from the worst excesses of our culture in general – we don’t have TV service, for instance), but it is a challenge. Either we as a society have completely lost sight of the value and purpose of Halloween, or our world is so radically different that it takes “torture porn” like the Saw movies to actually scare us; if that’s true then I weep for our future.

In short, we love Halloween but we try to love it responsibly.

That’s tomorrow.

The next day – or possibly the day after that, depending on your calendar and/or which scholars you believe – is Samhain. This is the day we remember our ancestors of blood and spirit, those who walked before us and made the ways we follow. We will attend their altar, and take down the family photo albums to share once again the lives and memories of our beloved dead with our daughter, so that she can know whence and from whom she comes. (This year, sadly, we will also be installing another ancestor in the shrine; my mother’s brother passed away in the spring.)

This is certainly not the only time of year we talk about family – decorating the Yule tree with old family ornaments is another time, and my wife is heavily into genealogy, so talk about various ancestors is not unknown around our house year-round :) – but we believe that having this holiday, especially in this modern world where so many people are completely uprooted from their history, both familial and cultural, is important, perhaps vitally so.

Bob, Ruth, Janet, Al, Ati, Dot, John – we remember you.

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4 thoughts on “Halloween and Samhain

  1. Ali

    I wonder, too, about the shift towards “sluts and slashers,” as you’ve called them… For me, it seems to speak to the prevailing fear of modernity, a degradation of the self not by the foreign or mysterious (the goblins and ghosts that seem to slip into the safe home community from another world) but by the familiar, everyday stresses of a national consumer-driven society taken to an extreme. E.g. the pressure to be sexy and desirable, the pressure to fit “square pegs into round holes,” that, when literalized, manifest in chopped off and mutilated bodies and costumes that exploit every possible way of inciting lust. In this sense, maybe, the value of Halloween to confront subconscious fears is still very much at work, though as long as they remain largely subconscious I’m not sure if it helps much.

  2. executivepagan Post author

    Hm – now you’re making me think of this in terms of a cultural Procrustean bed… I’ll have to give that some more thought!

  3. Ali

    I’d never heard of a “Procrustean bed” before, but (having now looked it up ;) yes, that sounds very much like what I was trying to get at. Yay for discovering new metaphors and ancient myths! :)

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