Many well-intentioned people conflate spirituality with religion, but the two differ considerably. Spirituality can be likened to a crystal-clear, free-flowing stream; religion, on the other hand, is the dam that arrests the crystal-clear flow and then seeks to define the brackish muck that collected behind the dam. Halloween can help to illuminate this point.
The word Halloween is a contraction of All Hallows’ Eve that denotes the evening before the Christian celebration known as All Saints’ (All Hallows’) Day, a festival invented by the church in the 8th century. But the rich history of celebrations on this day is well over 2,000 years old.
The ancient Celts celebrated New Year on November 1. The Celts, of course, were Pagans, a word that simply means country folk but has become a pejorative. The Pagan feast, which the church sought to eradicate, is known as Samhain (pronounced SOW-in). The word itself comes from an Old Irish term meaning summer’s end. Pagan feasts begin the evening before the feast day itself. Indeed, Samhain is still celebrated on Oct. 31-Nov 1.
Samhain calls attention to what is known as a “liminal” time – that betwixt and between separating spiritual time (eternal) from worldly time (temporal). It’s a time when ancestral spirits danced on the curtain separating the two. Liminal time is also associated with the hypnagogic state between wakefulness and sleep; with out-of-body experiences resulting from deep meditation, and with bilocation, the ability to be in two places at once – to possess an earthly body and an astral body simultaneously.
Propitiation of the ancestors, which the church vulgarized and anathematized as “ancestor worship,” as well as paranormal expressions of liminal time, are heresies. Hence the dam named “All Saints’ Day” was built so that this unseemly Pagan spiritual nonsense could be corked, codified and rendered respectful. This is what dogma (correct beliefs) does to living, breathing spirituality.
As a secular holiday Halloween is a joyous occasion, as are all holidays that sharpen our focus on kids and families. But there comes a time to “put away childish things,” said Saint Paul. You can do that by mitigating the brackish water of dogma and by not allowing it to morph into a self-satisfied entropy of your spirituality.
For adults, tonight is also a night to remember and honor our ancestors. It is a night to light candles, muster courage and venture behind the threshhold curtain; a night to experience the spiritual wonderment commonplace to our ancient pagan ancestors – Celtic, Greek, Roman, First Nations, Latin, Asian, Aboriginal, Egyptian, et al., but especially to the shamans of the world, masters of the ultimate liminal experience.