There is a chasm of possibility between our everyday lives and our deepest, truest selves. Halloween is the holiday for recognizing that reality, and maybe doing a little something about it.
Children play dress-up to get a handle on the slippery subject of identity. Knowing what we are, and what we are not, is a powerful aspect of defining ourselves.
As adults, however, we can become far too married to our identities. Halloween is the day to break free.
Every Day but Halloween
Truth be told, Halloween is not the only day we play dress up. We wear costumes every day. There is our work-costume, family-costume, home-costume, Internet-costume and so on. For every circumstance, we have a different “costume” we wear.
Nor are our daily costumes inherently fake. They are tools — broad methods of communicating meaning and negotiating value. How we dress, how we hold ourselves, how we talk, and so forth can never be wholly and truly authentic.
We can only be authentic to the rules of each and every situation. This is because our notions of who we are do not exist in a vacuum. In fact, our identities (at best) provide the social tools that help us fulfill most of our needs. They provide the rules for connection with others and proper boundaries that keep us safe. But identities, if too carefully constructed, can become straitjackets. If we are to maintain some semblance of sanity, identity cannot be static; we constantly negotiate it in the shifting contexts of our lives.
As malleable as our identities are, at the end of the day we are far more than the sum of our roles. That is why there are entire industries, from entertainment to psychology, that help us rectify the distance between the everyday realities of life and who we could be.
This constant monitoring and shifting of identity is real work. It is the labor on which our civilization rests. Without it, we would tear ourselves apart.
But no matter how necessary, it is exhausting. And so, one day a year, we give ourselves permission to cast the rules to the wind and become what we are.
This is not dress-up to explore, but a claiming of our own power. This is Halloween!
This Is Halloween
Some holidays have to do with putting our wrongdoings behind us and promising to be better people. Others are about giving thanks for what we have. These are worthwhile things to do.
Halloween isn’t about any of that. Halloween is the day we admit that we are far more than we pretend to be.
Hidden inside of us might be a sexy beast, a princess born worthy of respect, a powerful wizard shaping reality, or even a horrific monster. We all have parts of ourselves that we do not share into the world. This is the price of civilization.
And so, as the Fall turns colder and the leaves change, we are allowed for a moment to open up a bit. The rules are not cast aside, but for a brief time, we exist within a different set of constraints.
The Rules of Halloween
In many ways, Halloween is like a game. We agree to certain rules, for a certain time.
Halloween is not anarchy, but rather a parade of revealing. As such, it has unspoken rules.
- Halloween has boundaries, both in time and space.
- We will not judge each other for what we reveal.
- By keeping the holiday safe, we keep it for future generations.
It would probably be a terrible idea to simply allow everyone, for one night, to truly let out the hidden parts of ourselves. As Halloween revelers, we do not let our suppressed selves truly run amok. Our shadows are let out, but only to play nice.
While I am as big a fan as the next Pagan of the run-up to Halloween, the holiday itself is bound to a sacred time and place. Halloween is the time when we get to share a little bit of who we are. Yet, there is danger in over-sharing.
The holiday does not work if we judge each other for what we reveal. If we understand that everyone walks around in costumes every day, then a blow-off day becomes reasonable. But it does not work if cannot accept what other people reveal.
At the same time, there will always be boundaries. We have to reinforce the idea that this is a game. Dressing up as a pirate is great. Bringing a live sword is uncool in most contexts. Probably the most important Halloween rule is safety first.
This Is Samhain
Samhain, the Pagan holiday that coincides with Halloween, is about the thinning of the veil between the everyday world and the the spiritual one that begins just beyond our sight.
Halloween and Samhain are tied together by their theme of revealing. This is the time when we peer beyond and see what is normally hidden from us. But while Halloween exists in the social sphere and is about revealing the self, Samhain goes much deeper.
At the ending and beginning of the Wheel of the Year, Pagans gather to accept and revel in the truth that we are more than our everyday selves. We are everything that exists not only between birth and death, but also everything that lies beyond.
The holiday, Halloween, is about revealing hidden truths about who we are. The holy day, Samhain, is about revealing the mysteries of the Self.
If Halloween is about dressing up and revealing ourselves to others, Samhain is about shedding out everyday costumes entirely and revealing the truth of who we are.
The Holiday of Transformation
Halloween and Samhain are two sides of the same coin. They both encompass a process of revealing, a creation of a new context, and a recognition of the limitations of the masks we wear in our lives.
In Halloween, we reveal to those around us a little bit of who we are. In the ritual of Samhain, we ask that more of ourselves be revealed to us.
Both of these holidays require that we set aside the rules of the everyday. Halloween is a moment where we set aside the everyday self. The Pagan holiday goes further. In that magical space, we set aside our limitations and become something more.
Halloween is the day to wear a mask that reveals more than it hides. Samhain is the night we drop our masks and become what we are.
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