Is it Still Samhain?

The accepted wisdom in most NeoPagan, and increasingly in mainstream interfaith, circles posits that Samhain, the feast of the dead, happens on October 31. On this one magical night, many believe the veil between the spirit world and our own becomes thin, and we can most easily communicate with our ancestors and loved ones who have gone before. 

But not everyone agrees that Samhain happens on the date which has been fixed by tradition. Samhain, like Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasadh, is a Cross-quarter day, so named because it happens exactly between the astronomical dates of the equinoxes and solstices. Going by the astronomical date, Samhain happens on or around November 6 (in the Northern Hemisphere), halfway between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. And not in small part because of the influence of Druid Astronomer and Priest Earrach of Pittsburgh, who argued for celebrating all eight of the NeoPagan Sabbats or High Days at their exact astronomical dates (and times, by marking the moment), more and more Pagans are starting to hold their Samhain rites in November. 

Merry and Pippin: "Yes, we've had one Halloween, but how about second Halloween."

Earrach also argued that Samhain did not mark the ancient Celtic New Year but rather the end of the year with the time between Samhain and the Winter Solstice serving as a liminal time between one year ending and a new year beginning. If we take Samhain to be a time of the thinning of the veil between worlds, it follows that this time between the end and the beginning of the year would remain as thin. 

But even if one chooses to celebrate Samhain on the traditional October 31 date, I would still argue that we could, and perhaps should, continue to celebrate into November. It feels abrupt to me to spend so much time preparing for a holiday only to drop it the second it’s over, like a radio station that plays Christmas music starting on Thanksgiving only to return to regular programming at the stroke of midnight on December 26. I see holidays as not being merely one and done celebrations but as holy tides, and holding on to sacred consciousness and allowing the spirit of the holiday to permeate our lives a little longer enriches and deepens our experience. In extending Samhain into November we also stand alongside those celebrating Día de los Muertos (the Mexican “Day of the Dead”) and the Christian All Souls Day, finding common ground with our neighbors in disparate traditions. And on October 31 we wouldn’t have to choose between trick-or-treating and religious observance, or having to try to squeeze in both (unless you live in Central Ohio where trick-or-treat happens before the 31st, but that is a whole other topic).  

Hermes Pompaios, Blessed Guide Lead us through the veil of grim November, Shepherding us into the increasing dark of the waning year. Guide the souls of our Beloved Dead That they may join us at the Feast of Remembrance With places set for the Living and the Dead. While candles light the early night We welcome… We dine… We remember… Listening for Their voices in the joyful and solemn silence.  [Image is orange/yellow vase painting of the god Hermes with wide-brimmed hat, beard, and winged sandals]

So don’t throw away that Jack-o-Lantern just yet.  Leave your ancestor altars up a little longer and spend some more time dancing with your beloved dead.

Sources

McClure, Bruce. (2021 Oct 28). “Halloween is an Astronomical Holiday.” EarthSky.comhttps://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/halloween-derived-from-ancient-celtic-cross-quarter-day/

Earrach of Pittsburgh. (2013 Dec 8). “The Power of the Impending Moment.” The Book of Sassafras. http://thebookofsassafras.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-power-of-impending-moment.html

Earrach of Pittsburgh. (2013 Nov 15) “The Year as a Torc.” The Book of Sassafras. http://thebookofsassafras.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-year-as-torc.html

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