You've probably guessed that we want you to have the best Halloween ever, but why stick to modern-day, store-bought costumes and candy? This year, consider looking back in time to the traditions of Samhain (sow-en), the Wiccan and Pagan holiday from which Halloween gets its spooky roots.
As Brian Cain, psychic and Warlock of Festival of the Dead in Salem, MA, describes it: “Samhain, Halloween, is the time that death takes the throne.” (Whoa.) Witches believe in a balance between life and death, and Samhain is a celebration of that — “something had to die, so you could live,” he says. There's no better time to stop and consider death than when the seasons change, harvests come to a close, and the nights start earlier.
Here's how modern-day witches mourn their loved ones, contact the dead, and party like it’s 1699 — all in one night.
The night begins with a "dumb supper" — a dinner eaten in total silence. If you're new to Wiccan practices, this might be the toughest Samhain tradition to get comfortable with. But it's only when you stop talking that the dead can start communicating; remaining silent will heighten your sense of the energy around you and allow any spirits close to you a chance to make contact.
"We live in a world where we disassociate ourselves [from] death," Cain tells us. This can be a difficult barrier to cross, he says, but "the power that we tap into when we reconnect with our ancestors...helps us go through that grieving process and eventually reach a stage of acceptance." Just like with more modern Halloween traditions, scaring yourself a little can have a major payoff. Although the dumb supper isn't intended to raise actual dead people and bring them to the table, some covens leave place settings open as offerings to spirits.
It's not all silence and solemnity, though: Happiness and mourning coexist on Samhain, says Betty Turner, psychic, healer, founder of Black Hat Society of Southeast Wisconsin, and owner of Wonderfully Wiccan. "The evening will host times of joy and sorrow, just as it should," she says. The transition from sorrow to joy, she explains, begins with donning a costume for the subsequent witches' ball, part two of the evening's festivities: "Costumes...allow the living to blend in with the dead," she adds.
As far as parties go, a witches' ball is the best of both worlds — equal parts feast and dance party, it can go into the wee hours, and those costumes are a must. Tradition holds that the night must end with a divination ritual, to take full advantage of the thin veil between the worlds of the living and dead on Samhain. This brings the evening back around to where it began: with an attempt to reach loved ones who have passed on.
How could you party at a time when you're supposed to be mourning the dead? Turns out, people have been doing this kind of thing for centuries, Cain says. Even back in ancient Celtic communities, Samhain "really was a party for the old gods and the ancestors," he adds. "People would drink, and they would dance, and they would light fires... It could be a very somber affair, but it depends on your experience."
So if you're looking to take your Halloween way, way old-school this year, it can be as simple as having a quiet dinner with friends before hitting the town. Just knowing that this time of year is particularly tied to the past and the "other side" can be enough to make your celebrations feel more significant. Cain adds that "it’s an important time of year to open up that window, but I think it’s something you can bring into your everyday life."
As you prepare for Saturday's festivities, keep an eye out for signs of the supernatural or reminders of late loved ones. As Cain puts it, with any luck, you'll find "a little magic in your life — and realize that everyone you’ve ever loved is with you." We'll drink to that.
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