Sabbats

Why Witches “Dance with the Devil” at Samhain

Witches have long been accused of–and killed for–being associated with the Devil. At Samhain, in particular, when the veil between the worlds is thin, people’s fear of the Devil may be intensified, and thus their fear of witches.

In most ways, such people are terribly mistaken. Witches do not “worship the Devil;” how can we, when we don’t believe in a literal Devil or a literal Hell? Yet, there is an element of truth in the religious patriarchy’s irrational fear. At Samhain, we do get in touch with what the Devil represents: the unconscious.

The Devil is feared as the one who leads people away from the light. Pagans do not adhere to this dualism. We know that dark and light are one, as are the conscious and the unconscious. Although we may not be aware of them, we all wear chains that hold us to some reality.

We all are influenced by temptations and vices; we all participate in harmful behaviors. We stay in relationships that prohibit us from reaching our potential. We reach for cigarettes or junk food to numb difficult emotions. We believe we are unworthy of abundance and thus do not receive it. We choose the easy or the safe way. We do not give as much as we could. We make decisions based on fear.

Is this the work of the Devil? Yes, but it’s not something to fight or fear. We are not meant to conquer the Devil, but to understand it. The Devil is a part of us. It is not the behaviors themselves, but the energy behind them. The Devil is whatever we want to hide, whatever truths about ourselves we fear to acknowledge.

imageWe can see this in the representation of the Devil in Tarot. Take, for instance, this version from a Rider-Waite-inspired deck. The Devil appears as in popular imagination: red with horns, tail, and cloven feet. He sits in the darkness above a man and a woman, both chained to a tiny wall. Yet, what is he doing? He is not keeping the people where they are. In fact, their chains are loose enough that they could escape if they wanted to. Notice too how the Devil is shining light upon them, waving to get their attention. However, they are too afraid to look into the dark to find their freedom.

Like Death, the Devil represents not a final destination but a gateway. He is the guardian of the unconscious. In the Wheel of the Year, the God has taken his position as the Lord of the Underworld at Samhain. He has brought his Goddess to join him, and he gathers departed souls as they cross over into their next state of being. When we meet the Devil, we need not fear him. He is not leading us to hell, but to a deeper understanding of how we have created our own hells. He shows us our chains: how we have bound ourselves to harmful patterns and energies that prevent us from growing into our truest, best, and freest life.

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The Wildwood Tarot

If the Devil is scary, that’s a sign of something we fear to admit about ourselves. If we turn away from this fear, rather than dealing with it, we keep ourselves energetically bound to the past. To fully enjoy our lives as we are meant to, we must accept our whole selves, the darkness and the light and everything in between. There is no shame in having a dark side. There is only shame when we try to hide parts of ourselves. The act of burying truth is what creates a Hell. 

At Samhain, witchy folk may commune, or “dance,” with the Devil, because this is the way to the new life. We reflect on the lessons of this past year. We settle our debts. We honor our dead and help them find peace. We free ourselves from the energies of the previous cycle by meeting them, accepting their wisdom, and laying them to rest. We do not shirk from the darkness. We walk through it, knowing that we will find truth and freedom.

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Sabbats

Death, Darkness, and Haunting in the Season of Samhain

This is the season of Samhain (pronounced SOW-en). The leaves are changing color. The air is blowing cooler. The days are getting shorter. The veil between the material and spiritual planes grows thinner. The season of death and darkness has begun.

For many, the thought of death and darkness inspires fear, but that’s not a bad thing. Death has many forms, and, in one way or another, it is always the beginning of a new cycle. That is why Samhain marks the witches’ new year.

It is well known that this is the time when the veil between the worlds is thinnest and “ghosts can walk the earth.” But what does that mean?

The spiritual and the material worlds are never actually separate; they coexist, but when we, as physical beings, are preoccupied with our physical lives, we do not so easily sense the presence of the spiritual.

In spring and summer, we have work to do–planting and growing and harvesting. And even though, for most of us, our work is not tied to the land anymore, the energy of the seasons that influence our lives is the same as it has always been. So in autumn, we put up our harvest and prepare for winter, when the physical world is cold and dark and dead.

As night gets longer and overtakes day, we respond by spending more time inside, literally and figuratively. We naturally become reflective and introspective. This is the time to settle all our debts and our overhanging issues, so that we do not carry them into the new year. We put to rest what needs to be done with.

This is why we might experience “hauntings.” If we have residual energy tied up in issues that will hold us back from growing in the new year, that ghost will come knocking. As scary as it might be to face our ghosts, the fate of locking the door is far worse than answering it. To be free from haunting, we must let the ghost pass through us. We must make peace with our issues, learn our lessons, and lay rest what must die. Then, and only then, can a new life be born.

The days leading up to Samhain are a good time to invite our ghosts to visit us. Perhaps our ancestors have wisdom to share with us to help us along our path. Maybe a previous version of ourselves, from a former life in this incarnation or another, has unfinished business that needs to be settled. Whatever the case may be, we honor the lessons that death has to teach us, individually and collectively, in our Samhain rituals.