Oh, don't misunderstand me, I really don't like Halloween, won't be dressing up, and yes, believe it or not, I will leave the lights off and the curtains drawn on Halloween (well, I do live on a 'visited' street, so it's mostly self-preservation)!
I'm already ready to drop offline for the next couple days because I don't need to see anymore zombie makeup and slutty 'fill-in-the-blanks' costumes!
However, I do love the solar and lunar cycles - I celebrate the 'eight-spokes' of the wheel year, where the solar equinoxes and solstices, as well as the quarter days are to be celebrated. Time to set aside experience from daily observance, and to mark moments as ritual. Timeless observances, cross-cultural relevance, ancient yearnings that still exist within us.
And, this resonates for someone who follows the "eight-limbed path," who seeks the cakra (wheel) to move with both sthira (steadiness) and sukha (ease), out of the dukha (unease, bumpy path, wheel not spinning cleanly). So, it takes eight-limbs to follow Patanjali - no coincidence that it takes eight-spokes to spin the wheel, to make the year.
Samhain is one of these spoke days, a quarter day (not a Solstice nor an Equinox). It is a Celtic and Pagan festival marking the end of the harvest season and the transition to the onset of winter, or the "darker half" of the year. It is typically observed from sunset on October 31st to sunset on November 1st, and celebrated in contemporary society as Halloween.
In actuality, if one follows the solar/lunar cycles, the true observance this year would be midday, November 7th, but as with all modern holidays, we simply moved Holy Days to convenient days, and aligned the 'lesser' festivals with the 'majority' culture.
Samhain honors that point in time which is nearly halfway between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. Along with Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh it makes up the four Celtic seasonal festivals, as well as completing the eight-spoked wheel of the year.
As at Beltane, special bonfires were lit. These were deemed to have protective and cleansing powers and there were rituals involving them. The simplicity of burning away the chaff and the over-burden from the crop harvest, the protective element of making sacrifice via fire; the fat of the meat, the best of the crops.
Samhain (like Beltane) was seen as a liminal time, when the spirits or fairies could move between the worlds - when the veil was at its least dense. It was believed that the spirits needed to be propitiated to ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter, so, offerings of food and drink were left for them. The souls of the dead were also thought to revisit their homes.
Feasts were had, at which the souls of dead kin were beckoned to attend and a place set at the table for them. It's supposed that the act of leaving treats and tasty bites for the spirits, and the expectation of the spirits from the other side, led to tricksters dressing up as spirits or the dead in order to come and take the treats through their tricks... hmmm.
Purify, light a fire and pass yourself before it. Make ritual, create purpose, imbue meaning. The old ways are new again, and we renew ourselves through tradition, owning it and creating it.
Allow things to pass - harvest what is due, what is ripe; separate the grain from the chaff... burn that which binds, release the energy. Prepare for what will come, cleanse, purify, clarify and discern.
Observe... isn't that what we are called to do. And, if we are to escape the habitual, we must create ritual. Try it - let me know!
And, give thanks and praise!