I’ve always loved Halloween.
And for me it is Halloween. Not to begrudge those who seek their Samhain blessings or their Hallelujah parties, but I’ve only ever experienced this as Halloween. Where others have found their spirituality in crossing the vale, fighting the underworld denizens, or hunting Formorians, for me, it has always been about the costumes and masks.
“Who do I want to be this year?”
That was always the question asked as a child when choosing a costume.
“Who do I want to be?”
We didn’t know this, but as kids, we were being put in touch with a very ancient and powerful magic that gifted us with a deep and soulful wisdom. For as we chose our new faces for the evening, we embarked on a sacred journey of shapeshifting.
Shapeshifting is a complex experience. It facilitates a relationship between yourself and the other. It connects some inner aspect of yourself with an aspect of the world outside of you. You leave yourself while welcoming the other in. You’ve lent out your eyes, your ears, and your very experience of being just so you can glimpse at how another lives. You learn how another sees, hears, acts, and thinks. It puts you into an intimate relationship with something outside of you. In ancient times, this rite was used to join a community to a sacred story, connect with the guardian spirits and gain their wisdom, or partake in the bliss and freedom of exploration that comes in sharing another’s existence.
Which brings us back to Halloween and the question of “What do I want to be?”
Modern Halloween is, in many ways, a shapeshifting ritual. When we choose our costumes, we are asking ourselves what we want to connect to. Do we want to connect to a hero, an animal spirit, a fear to conquer, or an otherkin creature? Do we wish experience courage and valor, or do we wish to let go of societal norms and engage in mischief? And in doing practicing this change, in taking on another self for the night, we also connect to a profound wisdom.
In Buddhism, there is a concept of “No Self.” As explained by Robert Thurman, “No Self” does not mean you don’t have an identity or sense of self. Rather it is an observation that when one picks one “self,” one identity that you hold in all circumstances, you become inflexible. Eventually, you find yourself in a situation where that stagnant self does not work, and as you fight to hold onto that stagnant self, you bring suffering to yourself and those around you. The No Self that liberates you from this suffering is a self that knows how to be flexible, to flow with the demands of the situation. You still exist, and you are still you, but you are willing to move and change with the needs around you. You have a “You” that is your core, and you have many selves that each serves as a mask you wear to function in the many situations in which you find yourself. When the mask matches your environment, you have your bliss.
“What do you want to be?”
When you shapeshift on Halloween, you get a night where you try on another self. You become fluid. You get to learn about who you are by pretending to be someone else. By playing the hero, you learn to work in courage an valor. By playing the wizard or witch, you can open you mind to the possibilities of magic. The mask of goblin brings back wild playfullness. The monster helps you to love yourself, ugliness and all.
This shapeshifting, this ritual disguised in play, helps you to eventually find the masks that will serve you later.
That is what I find in Halloween.
Oh, that and candy…