I had a wonderful night last night, giving out tons of candy to kids who were happily scurrying from door to door in my neighborhood, all in costumes. I was in costume too; I had an 18th century highwayman's coat on, with a tricorn hat, and I had our jack-o-lantern burning, grinning, and glowing in the darkness on our front porch. I had the obligatory candles burning along the railings, too- a perfect touch. We had a lot of ghouls, fairies and goblins this year- they wiped us out quick, making me go across the yard to my neighbor's house to do some trick-or-treating of my own, to get extra candy for the kids.
I love Halloween. It is my favorite holiday; I love the spirit of fall and autumn which Halloween captures in a very ancient and curious way- the way of guizing and masquerading, both of which are ancient customs in Britain and Europe, no doubt going back to Pagan times. And this fact- that they are rooted in Heathenry- is what makes them so cool, and so timeless. The name "Halloween" means "Hallowed Eve"- and the sacredness of that night is nothing but a reflection of the sacredness of the season all around it.
This holiday follows our Asatru Winter Nights festivities, and coincides with the start of November, when the adherents of the Celtic native paths draw in for their Samhain celebrations. For our crafty Celts, Samhain's dark season is very similar to our Yule; the dissolution of the order of the world (and the order of the year) into the pre-creational chaos that preceded it. At such a strange time, which all European Pagans felt and enshrined in some manner, anything is truly possible- and spirits awaken to the time as well, including the spirits of the Ancestral dead.
Some can be dangerous; others are yearning to be with their living relatives here and now. The custom of dressing up in frightening costumes is the simplest and most ancient form of sympathetic magic- humans become like ghouls and spirits themselves. In this manner, the boundaries between the living and the dead are crossed; they are permeable and confused. In their masks and costumes, whether in older times or now, the dangerous spirits cannot tell humans apart from other spirits- or at least, this was the hope.
Where I come from, everyday is Halloween; I'm a member of a re-enactment troupe, and I just love masks and costumes anyway. There is something shamanic, something spiritual about the change of identity that occurs when a person dresses up, takes on a mask, and for a moment, tries on that new personality. It reminds us that we are not just what we appear- or perhaps, we ARE what we appear, and appearances can be changed; they are deceitful.
At heart, the Hallows season is about going into winter with all precautions taken, with bonds renewed between people, and with a lot of revelry and fun. Life and fun in the face of a dark time of cold and death- THAT is the spirit of Hallows. For those of us who engage the unseen reality on a deeper level, Hallows is equally as sacred for the opportunity it affords us to experience extra-sensory reality in a deeper manner.
I am always (as you might imagine) disgusted by the fundamentalist Christian attack on Halloween: around here, these types are in deep denial, and try to change the name from "Halloween" to "Fall Festival". All the pinhead churches around here have "Fall Festival" signs on them, in attempts to get parents to bring kids there instead of bringing them trick-or-treating. It is well known that all the bullshit stories about kids being "poisoned" by "satanists" with contaminated Halloween candy were debunked by federal investigations; they were lies started by the same religious idiots who want to stop people from enjoying themselves at this time of year in a non-Christian way.
They whine and complain endlessly about how "Pagan" Halloween is- because to them, in their narrow, black-and-white worlds, it's all "satanism". I'm so tired of hearing these idiots preach these ridiculous ideas, pregnant with their own ignorance, misinformation, and fear.
As a proud modern Pagan, I love Halloween, and I think that Halloween (along with the Yuletide season) are the greatest and best survivals of the Pagan spirit into the modern day- and see how timeless they are! See how persistent! Nothing these fear-mongers can do will ever change what people feel in these times. Paganism wasn't evil; it wasn't the devil's way. It was and is the first way, the natural way of the Land and the Gods. It is the way of traditions far older than Christianity. There is no evil in it; the evil is all in the fear and ignorance of these Christians.
We Pagans and Heathens in the modern day belong to ethnic religious traditions that have a right to be seen, heard, and accepted, every bit as much as faiths like Shinto or Buddhism or Hinduism are seen and accepted. People criticizing Halloween or Easter (or whatever traditional holiday) as "rooted in Paganism"- as though "Paganism" was a bad thing- are insulting our religious traditions, and being hateful while doing it. They are also showing an enormous amount of ignorance about the Ancestral past.
It's so acceptable for them to do it, but when we stand up for our right to be accepted and not considered "satanists" while pursuing our Ancestral and non-mainstream religious preferences, we are further subject to their baseless attacks, and our calls for a level playing field fall on deaf ears.
I'm not the sort that sits by and suffers in the name of "tolerance" or "being better than the Christians". Lines have to be drawn, and people have to make a stand at some point- I can assure you that Buddhists or Hindus would make a stand if their sacred times and days were being attacked in such a manner, or if their holy past and the roots of their cultures were being called "satanic". In some places, they have fought back. If we don't stand up for this, we cannot say that we truly love or believe in what we say we believe.
From this point on, I will campaign to have Christmas called "Winter Festival". They want to keep the Christ in Christmas? I don't believe in their Christ and I don't want him in my schools or around my kids, so I think "Winter Festival" is a better thing to call Christmas.
I'm going to ignore 1700 years of Christian tradition because I don't like the sinister forces and negative histories that swirl around their religion, and because I can just do that; they can do it to Halloween, and we can do it to Christmas.
See how that works? It's marvelous. We don't have to walk on eggshells around the absurd and propagandistic religious sensibilities of Christians. How sickening that these people rage against their own Ancestral roots, both directly and indirectly! How dismal that they cannot face their own fears and see how deep the well of life really runs!
As for Halloween, let's try and keep the Hallows in the season. Encourage everyone to take their kids, in costume, trick-or-treating. Have fun with it. Celebrate. Go to costume parties. Remember that these modern revels are just dim reflections of ancient revels, but that the spirit of those ancient feasts and parties is still very much alive. Enjoy yourself! This life- even at its dark moments- is to be celebrated. Not all celebrations are goofy parties; sometimes they are moving or rapturous for other reasons.
There's no need to fear the unknown; death- one of the themes of this numinous season- is something that we all end up coming to terms with, in this world or the next. One of the best ways to do that is to ghoul yourself up and have a stiff drink. Might as well enjoy these realities of your life, because if you can't find a way to enjoy life and accept its Fated end, living it will be a thankless chore.