BY SARAH FISH
Halloween has been celebrated for centuries the world over, and it’s known by many names, depending on who you ask. Though October 31 is widely known in the modern world as Halloween, a day for costumes and candy and horror films, it wasn’t always celebrated that way.
Traditionally, this holiday was a Celtic Pagan spiritual celebration known as Sahmain, the single most important event of the year. It was, and is still, a day for those who worshipped the earth and its archetypal deities by having seasonal celebrations that aligned with celestial events. These include both equinoxes and solstices and the various dates halfway in between those, in which Samhain falls.
To the Celts, October 31 was a day to celebrate a new season and say goodbye to the abundance of summer, welcoming in darker days and colder nights. Starting the night before, the veil between our earthly realm and that of the spirit world is the thinnest. And for those who believe, it makes it easier to see into the future.
This is how Halloween got its name; the evening prior was historically known as All Hallow’s Eve. The 24-hour day for Pagans parallels their calendar, or wheel of the year, making divination easier in the dark. Particularly at dusk when light and dark become one, like during yearly Samhain, which lingers on the cusp of both the longer days and darker months, the dusk of a year is signaled. This night was reserved for spiritual activities and divination.
The following day, Pagans focused their energy on the earthly realm and the day was devoted to preparing meals and festivities. As things changed over time due to religious oppression of the Celts, more modern traditions dropped the heretical night-before rituals, eliminating its spiritual aspects, and celebrated just on the 31st. All Hallow’s Eve was then dubbed “Devil’s Night” in order to make Paganism and Celtic traditions seem dark-sided.
Celtic Pagan tradition was also very strongly tied to agricultural practices. Samhain was no different, as it served as a way to celebrate the work of the year, pay gratitude to the earth for an abundant harvest, and plan for winter months. Today, those traditions are still expressed in bobbing for apples, carving Jack-o-Lanterns, and having certain seasonal pies reserved for certain holidays.
The Celtic culture was largely and almost solely expressed with oral tradition, which preserved their history and expressed their culture. During the darker months, it was traditional to tell stories around a fire to pass time in the evening, especially Samhain through Yule, or the end of the year when days are shorter. And thus, as time went on, Halloween became associated with ghost stories and scary movies.
Today, you can celebrate Celtic Samhain traditions in several ways around Bradenton or at home if you prefer. Here are a few earth-friendly ways to party like the Pagans on Halloween:
Create an Altar
You don’t have to be Pagan to build an altar as a way to attract abundance or pay gratitude to the earth on Halloween. An altar is a sacred space in your home or outside where you place items that have significance to you and help you focus your intentions.
Some items Pagans would use are crystals, candles, flowers and herbs, images of ancestors or deities, or items that signify an intention you wish to set. You can clip images out of a magazine, collect natural items you find on a meditative walk, or use items from around your home that have special meaning. Spend a few minutes each day at your altar to ponder your intentions and help you stay focused on them, and change it up as you see fit, or seasonally like tradition calls for.
Cook Seasonal Foods with Intention
Visit the Bradenton Farmers’ Market and choose some seasonal local vegetables to cook with on Halloween. The Celts had very strong ties to the earth and agricultural practices and their celebrations always included a feast made from the harvest of that season. Think root vegetables, cauliflower and broccoli, lettuce, Brussel sprouts, avocado, mushrooms, squash, and corn.
There are a lot of dishes you can prepare with those foods, so get creative and try something new. Make meal prep fun, but also mindful. As you prepare your meal, think about the season that just passed, and contemplate how you foresee the next one. Like the Celts, feel gratitude for the earth and its crops and, while you chop, think of behaviors and energy you want to eliminate going forward.
Telling ghost stories and watching scary movies in October is a popular way to spend the holiday. To make it even more traditional, try making your own story to share each year. Getting to know your ancestry is a great place to start, and so is learning about local lore. Do a little research into the history of the home you live in or historical events in your area and tell those stories to anyone who will listen.
If hearing tales is more your style, take a ghost tour of Bradenton and learn all about the numerous haunted buildings and spirit sightings old Btown has to offer. From Main Street’s murders to pale apparitions at the pier, you’re bound to learn more about Bradenton’s past and the people who perished here.
Whichever way you choose to celebrate Halloween in Bradenton, consider where those traditions came from and how you might tap into your own ancestral energy to find new, personal ways that make the day your own. Be safe, and have a Merry Samhain!