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Happy Samhain!

David Cowles

Oct 26, 2023

“On Samhain, everything is possible and everything is permitted...”     

Are you familiar with this image? Do you immediately associate it with Halloween? Probably not.

The modern ‘Christian Era’ (CE) calendar breaks the year into quadrants, which we call seasons. Each season begins or ends at a solstice (maximum darkness or light) and at an equinox (equal darkness and light). The two solstices and two equinoxes provide the four nodes of the calendar.

Graphically, the CE calendar can be represented as an equilateral diamond with its four nodes situated, two each, on the horizontal and vertical axes. 

On the other hand, the traditional Celtic calendar (BCE) consists of eight nodes: the four nodes of the CE calendar (above) plus an additional four nodes, each one located at the mid-point between two CE nodes.

Graphically, the BCE calendar is the CE ‘diamond’ (above), plus its reflection, skewed 45°.  We (CE) define a ‘season’ as a period of time bounded by both a solstice and an equinox, but according to the Celts, we should define a season as a period of time bounded by either a solstice or an equinox. It’s Symbolic Logic 101(a):  {E} ˅ {S} vs. {E} ʌ {S} - the move from conjunction to disjunction doubles the number of seasons.

4, 8, 16—who cares how many seasons there are? After all, they’re just arbitrary divisions of a cycle defined by the revolution of Earth around the sun, right?

Yes, and no; yes, they are just divisions of a cycle, but no, those divisions are not arbitrary. They are defined by astronomical events that are highly correlated with overall weather patterns. 

Inuit languages are purported to contain as many as 50 words for snow; English has just one. Our snow is just snow, a delight for all children, and an annoyance for most adults. To the Inuit, however, snow is substructural: it dictates daily activity and is both life-enhancing and life-threatening. 

Living close to nature and utterly dependent on the predictability of its cycles, the Celts needed a more detailed map of meteorological time. A calendar with eight nodes just made sense.

When referring to the Celtic calendar, it is customary to refer to the additional 4 nodes as ‘Cross Days’, typically celebrated on February 2, May 1, August 1, November 1 – Samhain, later Christianized as All Saints/Souls (Hallows) Day, and its famous ‘eve’, Halloween. 

Sidebar: Note that we still celebrate secular analogs of these days: e.g., Groundhog Day, May Day, and Halloween, for example. 

Many pagan cultures imagine that there are two ‘worlds’ separated from one another by a cosmological membrane. On the one side – all that was, or might have been, or may yet be, a world populated by the souls of the dead and other spirits; on the other side – the actual world – the world as we know it, what is. Past and Future vs. Present. 

The significance of Samhain is that on this ‘liminal’ day, the membrane separating the material from the spiritual is at its thinnest. If you or an ancestor of yours ever wishes to make the jump, this is the day to do it. That’s why spirits and demons roam abroad on Halloween.

There is a narrow launch window roughly spanning Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls days on the CE calendar. If this window is missed for any reason, it is best to wait a full year before trying again. 

Samhain is emblematic of all life experience. On the one hand, it is the moment of celebration (everything is possible now); on the other, it is a moment of dread (everything is possible now). We disguise ourselves on Halloween so that teleporting spirits will not be able to recognize us. This custom protects us, both on the astral plane…and on the plane we know as ‘civil society’. 

Our costume conceals our identity from neighbors as well as from demons. On Samhain, everything is possible and everything is ‘permitted’, de facto if not de jure; ergo, ‘Trick or Treating’. What you will not share with me voluntarily, I will take from you involuntarily. 

Note the Marxist tone. Each of the feasts accompanying the eight nodes of the pagan calendar includes a call for socio-economic justice. It is not surprising then that the celebration of Samhain goes back at least 4,500 years…possibly 6,000.

Because we are disguised, concealed, and anonymized, our actions have no ‘consequences’, social or metaphysical. We have returned to the state of nature. As a result, Samhain celebrations often include a reversal, or at least a suspension, of the usual social hierarchy. The nobles wait on their servants at the table. Children escape their parents’ control, making this holiday #1 for many in the 6-to-12 set.

The Sufi Bible, Mary Poppins, talks of one day each year when the cages at the zoo are opened, leaving the animals free to roam and their human attendants locked in their cages overnight. 

We have entered the period of the earth’s Sabbath. The old year ends at Samhain, and the new year begins at Yule (Christmas, Festival of Lights). In between, the earth lies fallow, metaphorically and, most often, literally as well.     



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