Hallowe’en is cool. For one night each year, the dead return to walk the earth with the living, like a George Romero film with candy.
We all have our own way of celebrating Halloween, whether it’s scarfing down bags of tiny Snickers bars, petty vandalism against pumpkins, or a drunken encounter with a costumed weirdo at a party. However, there are much more ancient traditions out there, and people who still observe them.
Hallowe’en has it’s origins in the Celtic holiday of Samhain (pronounced, in Irish Gaelic, SOW-win), which celebrates the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. The Celts believed that on Samhain the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead disappeared. Much like a zombie, or an annoying metaphor, that belief was hard to kill, and Halloween is some scary shit to this day.
When the Christian Church converted the Celts in Ireland and Scotland, they planted All Saints Day over top of Samhain, hoping that everyone would settle down and forget how much fun it was to be a pagan. It didn’t work, of course. Halloween is technically All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day. Since the latter day is dedicated to holy but mind-numbingly dull prayer and meditation, people felt they deserved a good debauch the night before, and Halloween was born.
Torontoist contacted some local pagans to see what they’re doing for Samhain this year. We spoke with Nicole Cooper, High Priestess Second Degree of the Wiccan Church of Canada, who explained that while the Wiccan Church draws it’s rituals from a number of belief systems besides the Celtic, Samhain remains an important day in their calendar. This year two events are taking place, and both are open to all.
Despite what you may have fantasized, Wiccan celebrations are not characterized by naked moonlit orgies. On Friday October 27, the WCC is hosting the Witches Ball, at Zemra, 778 St. Clair West. They promise “good music, good company and good fun”, and there will be prizes for the best costumes. Nicole tells us that it usually draws a good-sized crowd, and it should be, um, a magical evening.
The more serious event is the Samhain Sabbat, taking place on Sunday October 29. This ceremony will feature a mystery play based on the Sumerian myth of the descent of Inanna into the Underworld. If your Sumerian mythology is a little rusty, this will be a great chance to get a refresher. The WCC asks that you bring “feast foods”, which specifically do not include those little Halloween toffies that taste like baked mud and chip your teeth.