Although we Pagans and Witches celebrate many festivals throughout the year, Hallowe'en (which most of us call by its old Celtic name of Samhain) is the one that most people know about. Although of course, their concept of witches and what they get up to on Hallowe'en is pretty far removed from ours!
Whilst I enjoy seeing all the Hallowe'en trappings in the shops, carving pumpkin lanterns and handing out sweets to trick-or-treating children, all of that has about as much relevance to the true meaning of Samhain as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer has to the true meaning of Christmas.
For me, Samhain is about acknowledging our entry into the 'dark' part of the year (don't be spooked, I mean literal darkness, i.e. shorter daylight hours!), a time for introspection and rest.
It is also the festival at which I remember and honour my ancestors and my Beloved Dead - in my tradition we tend to use the term 'ancestors' to mean those who have gone before us, and 'Beloved Dead' to mean those ancestors and loved ones we actually knew from this lifetime who have passed away into death.
Each Samhain I create an altar to my ancestors and Beloved Dead. As well as being decorated in autumn colours, with fallen leaves, probably a carved pumpkin or two and plenty of candles, the altar will have photos of my Beloved Dead; sadly, there are usually more of these each year, but I suppose that's part of life and growing older. I also put out trinkets and mementos I have of them: Grandpa's cuff link box, Granddad's bronze Buddha statuette, Gan's ring, Thomas the cat's collar and name tag. And some years I put out little offerings of their favourite foods for my Beloved Dead - ice cream for my Nanna, a cup of tea for cousin Enid, tuna for my cat Julie. Doing this is part of remembering them, who they were, what they enjoyed in life, the times we shared together. Sometimes there are no treats or mementos - for our son Peter, who was stillborn, I have only an ultrasound photo. Yet the love is still there and he is remembered each year with the others.
The altar becomes a focal point for my ritual, which is usually fairly simple and involves creating sacred space, honouring my ancestors and then inviting in any of my Beloved Dead who would like to be there. Pagans usually say 'the veil between the worlds [of life and death] is thin at Samhain' and so this is thought to be a good time to contact the spirits of the departed. I sit and talk to my loved ones, tell them what is going on, how I miss them, what memories I carry of our times together. This is usually an emotional time, but I find it really helps with the grief process.
I like remembering and honouring my ancestors and Beloved Dead at this time of year. We are, after all, stitches in a tapestry which stretches backwards and forwards through time. It is good to acknowledge our place in the warp and weft, the threads we are part of and those we interlink with, if only for a brief time. Glimpses of the grand over all pattern are simultaneously humbling and inspiring.
And I'll also carve pumpkins, buy sweets for the trick-or-treaters, tell ghost stories by the fire, wear fancy dress for your Hallowe'en party and buy cute little witch ornaments. Because I love Hallowe'en and all its funny-spooky trappings too.
That's who I am and some of the things I enjoy in this life. And if I'm lucky, one day I'll be someone's Beloved Dead, remembered with a place on their altar and an invitation to visit for chocolate and time together at Samhain.