Halloween. For me, it isn't a time to wear my sexy kitten or sexy pirate wench or sexy superhero outfit. It isn't about handing out candy. It is the time of the year when the door between the worlds cracks open a little bit, a time to say goodbye to the year's dead and welcome the new babies into life.
Halloween is a real, religious holiday that pagans call Samhain, which is pronounced "Sow-en," because Celtic is such a messed-up language.
Pagan? Suebob? Well, uh, yes. Before I became a fine upstanding church board member, I was a dyed-in-the-wool, full-moon dancing, chanting, wheel-of-the-year pagan. And I still have no problem with it. The pagan holidays are the only ones that have ever made sense to me.
So back in the day, I celebrated Samhain as a pagan.
In San Francisco (of course San Francisco) the Reclaiming Collective sponsors a huge annual Samhain ritual that has involved as many as a thousand people. I went with some friends for two years back in the 90's and it was one of the most magical experiences of my life.
Here's how I remember it: everyone gathered outside, chilled by the San Francisco October air, waiting to be let in. When the building opened, we went in to find elaborate altars around the edges of the room. They had been set up by people of all different cultures. My favorite was the Pacific Island peoples' altar, with shells and sand, painted in shades of blue.
Pagan rituals begin with the creation of "sacred space" - a call to the gods and goddesses representing the four directions to join the ritual and for the people attending to put aside their everyday reality.
Then the ritual, which varies but always includes the elements of earth, air, water and fire and involves all of the senses in some way or another. I remember chanting, dancing, incense, and meditation. Since it was Samhain, we asked for the doors between the worlds to be open so we could send off the dead, then we chanted the names of the dead from the past year. After each name, the hundreds of people chanted "What is remembered, lives."
And after that sadness of letting go, the new babies were welcomed by chanting THEIR names, this time with joy and welcoming love. It feels so good and healthy, a recognition of the cycle of life and death that we are all participating in.
Then we all danced a spiral dance. Everyone holds hands in a single line and dances in a spiral pattern. It sounds easy, but this is like the biggest, craziest game of crack the whip you have ever played. With 500 people in one line, sometimes you would be running like mad and other times slam to a complete stop. Just simple physics, but it added a zany element of fun to the whole thing. Of course, at the same time you were spiral dancing, you were singing - or trying to sing - a song "She changes everything she touches and, everything she touches changes. We are all changers, everything we touch must change."
At the end, you release the sacred space and go back to ordinary reality. But you always carry a little of the ritual in your heart with you.
Blessed Samhain, friends. Remember that the angel of death is always on your shoulder, urging you to make the most of every day. It isn't bad. It isn't scary. It's just life and death and the turning of the wheel around and round.