The Rich Spiritual History of Halloween

Contributor: Saffron & Sage
Photographer: Taylor Balding
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October 31st every year is Halloween. People get to dress up in costumes, pumpkins get carved, kids get bundles of candy, and the ghost and ghoul decorations come out. What most people do not know is Halloween has a rich spiritual background associated with death and the afterlife. 

Samhain (pronounced saw-when) is an ancient Pagan holiday. Pagan traditions believe from sunset on October 31st to sunrise on November 1st, the veil between our world and the spirit world (where the dead reside) is the thinnest, making our opportunities to communicate with passed loved ones much easier. This night is also considered the Pagan New Year. It is when the harvests are over for the year, the herds are brought in from pasture, and the season has come to be inside with family. It is a time to do a thorough “Fall Cleaning”; clear out any old items—material, emotional, and mental—from your life. Clear out things that no longer serve you. Set goals for the future. Look into the New Year with a clean slate. Take time to let go. 


This holiday coincides with Day of the Dead, on November 2nd. As we have just spent the previous night celebrating the end of a season and the beginning of another, Day of the Dead is important to honor those who have passed. It is meant to be a day of celebration, as ancient traditions believe that the spirits of the dead have moved on into another world. We can both mourn their loss, rejoice in their life, and celebrate their journey. 

All of these holidays—Halloween, Samhain, Day of the Dead—can teach us a great deal about loss and mourning. It shows us that while it is OK to mourn and miss loved ones we have lost, they are not all that far away. While they may have left us in this world, their spirits are living on in another. That veil between our worlds is thin the night of Samhain, and we can feel closer to them, honoring their presence, providing us with necessary closure and peace. And, as Samhain is celebrated as the start of a New Year, it is an ideal night to let go and give yourself the gift of forgiveness, as well as the freedom to mourn and take that time for yourself, however you see fit. It is a truly powerful time of year, as Summer has gone, Autumn is nearing its end, and Winter is upon us. How magical it is to watch the energies of the seasons transform our spirits in ways we may not even be aware. Autumn naturally brings out our grief and reflection from the past year and encourages us to deal with heavy emotions related to loss. 

So yes, Halloween is a fun holiday. Enjoy the costumes, the friends, and the trick-or-treating with the kids. But also look at it as an important transitional time. Celebrate loved ones that have been lost. Breathe, meditate, light candles, and reflect on the past year. What goals do you have for next year? What are you still hanging on to that needs to be released?