The same thing happens every October: I stand on my patio, listen to palm fronds rustle like brooms, and think, This isn’t what Samhain is supposed to be like. In my dreams, the season glows copper and gold, even as the air bites ice white. Not here, though—not in tropical, perennially green Florida.
Samhain was originally a Gaelic festival, the last of three harvest days. During this time, herdsmen led their animals from pasture, slaughtered those whose meat would sustain them through the cold months. The doors to the Otherworld opened. The heavens aligned in cross quarter, the midpoint between an equinox and a solstice. Cosmologically speaking, Samhain is the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere.
This is what I tell myself when the still-warm sun creeps through my blinds.
It’s hard to fight geography, but I do what I can. Change my desktop wallpaper to something autumnal. Buy motherfucking decorative gourds from the local farmer’s market. Blast Type O Negative, October Project, and Wendy Rule until my neighbors complain.
Pumpkin-flavored everything helps. So do the Halloween aisles* in the major stores.
Ask a dozen practitioners about Samhain, and you’ll get a dozen different answers. For some, it’s the holiest day in the liturgical calendar, a time for quiet, solitary reflection. Others treat it like “witchy Christmas” and gather with friends and loved ones to celebrate, reminisce, and give gifts. Still others, reconstructing the ancient Celtic practices, light bonfires and dance around them. One thing that most agree on, though, is that it is a liminal time, perfect for interacting with or honoring gods, spirits, and those who have passed on.
Honestly, I don’t consider what I do to be very Samhain-y. My deities and mythopoeic narratives are Roman, not Celtic. But the associations loom large in my mind. Fall. Livestock. Harvest. Bonfires. And, of course, death. All those ghosts. All that conquest. The Romans taking Gaul, their gods mingling. Rosmerta, consort of Mercury. Epona, invoked with the Emperor.
In many ways, my religious observances are closer to an Allhallowtide triduum than a Samhain sabbat. On October 31st, I symbolically reenact Aeneas’ escape to Italy after the fall of Troy. November 1st is when I pray and leave offerings to the gods—especially those lost, forgotten, and erased. Finally, I honor my ancestors and other venerable dead on November 2nd.
I could bore you with specifics—my preferred tarot decks, the offerings I choose, the song I play before approaching my altar—but they’re not important.** Or, rather, they’re only as important as I’ve made them. Preparations, props, and theatrics matter because they help construct the liminal space, not because they’re significant in and of themselves.
The point is to move beyond Florida, its palm trees, and persistent warmth to a time(-that-is-not-a-time) and place(-that-is-not-a-place) where I am my most genuine self and can touch the divine. And in spite of my seasonal frustrations, I do move “between” once I reach that altar. But it doesn’t happen just because my altar—which is really nothing more than a bunch of (pretty cool) stuff arranged on my grandmother’s old radio cabinet—exists. What makes it sacred is the continuing, conscious labor. So, bring it on, Florida. I’ll grumble like always, but then I’ll change it.
* Except those ubiquitous anti-Semitic witch stereotypes.
** They really aren’t, but if you’re the curious sort, read on:
- The short answer is, it depends. Most tarot readers I know own several decks and select which one to use based on a number of factors; I’m no different. Last year, I used the Thoth Tarot. Those looking for a solid all-purpose deck, though, should check out the Golden Thread Tarot and its companion app.
- Last year’s offerings included—but weren’t limited to—roses, allamanda, tequila, bourbon, red wine, white wine, Coca Cola, Diet Coke, Halloween candy, and some really excellent ciabatta from a local bakery. Actually, these are all pretty common offerings in my practice, particularly the ciabatta. It really is good enough for the gods.
- Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters.”
T.A. Noonan is a queer writer, artist, educator, and priestess. Her books include The Bone Folders, Petticoat Government, four sparks fall: a novella, The Midway Iterations, and a forthcoming collection of radical translations, The Ep[is]odes: a reformulation of Horace. She lives in Florida and serves as an associate editor of Sundress Publications, the development director of the Sundress Academy for the Arts, and the founding editor of Flaming Giblet Press. Her favorite post-ritual meal is a grilled cheese sandwich with a cold Diet Coke.