Like it or loathe it, Halloween is here to stay. It is a night of contradictions: a night of glitter and gravedust. But is it Pagan or Christian, ancient or modern, spiritual or commercial? Is it a time of diabolic fiends and scary ghosts or a sombre time to commune with the ancestors? Is it a harvest festival with sacred symbolism of apples and nuts or a night without meaning fuelled by endless sugary sweets? Is it a false construction of a mythical past which never existed or an instinctive yearning after something beautiful and poignant that has been brushed aside by the forces of modernity?

One thing we can say for certain about Halloween is that it is a time of mystery and imagination. A time of darkness when strange things can happen. In whatever guise it takes, 31st October seems to have always been seen as a special time when impossible things become possible, where imagination lets loose, where spirits roam the Earth.

We all know the symbols and motifs of Halloween (grinning pumpkin lanterns, ghosts, witches, cats, skeletons) and we all know what we are supposed to do (bob for apples, go trick or treating, watch horror films) but few understand the origins of this most mysterious of festivals. There is even confusion over the name itself with many Christian evangelicals condemning Halloween as Satanic while forgetting that the name itself means ‘Holy Evening’.

Halloween is a night of inversion, a night of freedom, a time to have some fun before the long darkness of winter. It defies categorisation, it inspires improvisation, it does not belong to any one religion, nation, culture or age group. It appeals to the darker side of ourselves and the darker side of life while offering a release from the mundanity of modern life. It is a chance to connect with our primordial selves, to reawaken our childishness, to put the thrill back into life. Halloween is more popular now than ever and as we are not able to celebrate All Hallows’ Eve’s Dark Gathering festivities down here at Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle, Cornwall this year we’re happy to introduce you to a week of haunted happenings with Rough Trade Books on The Social Gathering instead.

Go treat (or trick) yourself in the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic online shop – this is the only way the Museum is surviving whilst they’re closed so they’d appreciate your support.

To ease yourself into the week’s celebrations, check out Sophy Hollington’s soothing playlist to help you reflect on the 100,000,000,000 people who’ve known this Earth and know what it is to depart it. 

Simon Costin

Photo: Charlie McKay