I’ve been sharing a bunch more purely personal posts here in recent months, largely – if not entirely – due to being in a pandemic and feeling the importance of simply offering connection to others. As Halloween was fast approaching, I was thinking about what to post just for the holiday… a tarot reading? a Samhain ritual idea? a brief history of divination practices during the thinning of the veil? my favorite Halloween tarot decks? a ghost story?! And what it came down to was just writing a little about my own experience of this exuberant holiday, throughout my life and now in 2020. The holiday has always been significant to me for a number of reasons, culturally and spiritually, and also due to long family traditions.
Sometimes I feel it’s a little pointless trying to distinguish the holiday from the rest of the year, because so much of its symbolism and significance sort of underlies my life the whole year. If you were to step into my office space, where I write these blog posts (also where I pay the bills online and do other mundane things), you’d see that I surround myself with ancestor photos, family mementoes, skulls, graveyard imagery, strange dolls, crows, feathers, nests, bones, Pagan talismans, horror and fantasy art, and gargoyles… Oh, and nothing to do with Halloween or Samhain, but you would also notice some Tolkien artwork hanging around my desk, and a touch of Van Gogh as well. Because the cozy little room my desk is in used to be a front parlor in this very old farmhouse, it is rather open to the rest of the house. There are shelves of books and board games, my D&D stuff, and a couple armchairs that are great for settling down and spending a few hours reading in. There’s no TV in this room. And not just what I tend to surround myself with, I also frequently dress in a way that some might mistake for dressing for Halloween or a darker season; not always, but often. So, sometimes it might feel like it’s Halloween everyday…
But all that being said, I do enjoy other holidays (especially Christmas). What marks Halloween as being really distinguishable to me, it might be the old, constant cliché, but it’s that feeling that there is an even closer, readier connection to those who have left us – person or animal – during this time. That is year-round as well, but I recognize there’s often an increase in such experience around this time of year. I also just absolutely adore Halloween decorations – fine or tacky! – and love seeing the country’s embrace of what I dig all year long.
My dad, who worked in theatre from the time he was a teenager to the time he grew too old to remain involved, has always loved Halloween, and always loved making our costumes as well as all of our decorations growing up. Only when my brother and I were very little did we have store-bought costumes – a tradition of handmade that my husband and I continued as our daughter grew up (and she continues to make her own costumes each year as well). My parents had both done costume design for theatre, and my dad was also a make-up artist (in addition to his biggest passion, set design), so he was quite good at making costumes for Halloween! In the early 1990s he and other local businesspeople started a popular haunted house attraction in my hometown, called Casket Manor, that raised money for charity. This was the kind of stuff my dad did just for fun, and this was the kind of stuff I was raised in. If I have a deep love of Halloween and an unusually strong taste for the macabre, it must be at least partly due to his influence. I also grew up in a town with great Halloween festivities. Most of the houses in my neighborhood had front porches, and many of our neighbors went all out decorating them, adding spooky lights and eerie sound effects. The town still prides itself on its Halloween decorations, and it’s a lot of fun visiting during the month of October to see what people have put up.
… and costumes
If I had more photos close to hand I’d share pics of some of those old Halloween costumes, but for now I’ll just share this one from 2017. It had been a long, long fall. My dad had suffered his first stroke, and I’d been in Connecticut caring for him alone, 24/7. I was exhausted – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. When I returned home to Vermont at the end of October I saw that our small rural town was going to have a Halloween parade. All ages were welcome, and encouraged to dress in costume, of course. My husband and I had about two days to get something ready. We grabbed a few things from our closets, picked up a mask and top hat for him and a plastic skull for me from the seasonal Halloween store, and we went as a sort of swamp witch and her consort… with a respectful, grateful nod to Maman Brigitte for inspiration and strength. Not the most brilliant costumes, but we had a lot of fun. It’s not shown in the pic, but the skull I carried (which now sits next to my desk) has eyes that light up red with a little button on the bottom. It made for a great prop, while walking the small town streets! My favorite costumes from that night though had to be those of a whole family who had dressed up in great gnome costumes – all very artfully made by hand. As fun as it was, taking part in that was also important emotionally and spiritually – the celebration helped me move on from the immense stress and pain of the previous few months, and helped begin the much needed process of renewal and healing.
Halloween during COVID-19
So this year, 2020, Halloween during pandemic… I’ve decorated the house rather profusely… (unlike my dad, I don’t need everything to be made by hand!). The dining room and living room are both dominated by Halloween; the kitchen cabinets are full of creepy mugs and dessert plates; black roses adorn the bathroom; Beistle cats, vintage witches, and haunted houses abound; purple twinkle lights cast a cool glow; and a jack o’ lantern lights the bedroom. We’ve been catching up with our favorite Halloween and horror movies and watching a few new ones, and I’ve been enjoying the decorations all around our region, which include hundreds of lit jack o’ lanterns along the edges of fields. I’ll finish out the week with more movies, a few tarot readings, a spirit board session if I can convince my husband to join me, and of course, a Samhain ritual of some kind. Yeah, it will be different this year. Everything is. But we are all still finding ways to celebrate this fantastic holiday while complying with covid rules, and those of us for whom it is also a spiritual holiday, are of course still able to fully honor the day, especially those of us who are solitaire.
I hope you have a super fantastic holiday, however you celebrate. If you’re in the US as I am, and heading into the long-awaited end to a heated election season, I hope you can keep your spirits up, engage in revelry, and enjoy the holiday! Hopefully the political ugliness will subside, and hopefully we will see an end to this pandemic in the not too distant future. As always, feel free to get in touch – I’d love to hear how you celebrated!
If you’d like to read a little bit more about how I celebrate the season, see my piece about ancestor reverence, Among the Bones.
Looking for a great Halloween deck? Check out my review of the Halloween Oracle: Lifting the Veil Between the Worlds Every Night, or jump straight to it at Amazon.
If you’d like to see more of my graveyard photography (as shown in the top image), please visit my small portfolio site, and thanks for the interest!