Donald Adams wants curious locals to stop by the Halifax Common on Sunday to experience a public Samhain ritual. Adams is a neopagan who also happens to be an atheist—so he sees deity as a metaphor—and he has been organizing the annual ritual since 1997.
Neopaganism is a modern recreation of paganism, based on what’s known about the ancient religion. Since the pre-Christian Celtic people relied on oral tradition, Adams explains, there isn’t a lot of documentation about it, although it's widely understood Halloween is the Christian-friendly version of pagan Samhain.
“We know people did get together at certain times of the year. It makes sense. Solstices, equinoxes, and then there’d be things like this,” Adams says of Samhain. For many pagans, Samhain is considered one of the “bigger” rituals. It focuses on the themes like the cycles of nature, life and death.
“A lot of folks do see it as the end of the year,” says Adams.
The public Samhain intentionally reaches people outside the pagan community. Adams wants to “drag it into the light” by opening the practice up to everyone. This way, other folks can see there’s more to paganism than people dressing in cloaks and “lurking around Stonehenge.”
“I try to make it as inclusive as possible, and folks who come to it—it’ll often resonate with them.”
For first-timers who do show up, there’s no pressure. People can join in the ritual or simply watch. Music, chanting and offerings of food are all part of it.
“We want to recognize and give thanks for the harvest,” says Adams. “We also have an element where we want to focus on the dead.”
As with many religions, there’s time dedicated to invoking deity as well. Hecate, for example, is a Mediterranean goddess of death. “It just makes a lot more sense than like, the Grim Reaper—this bogeyman character who doesn’t really have any meaning other than being scary,” says Adams.
Participants also have a chance to speak about death and feelings for the coming year. This might be a time to name someone that has been lost in the past year, or a general recognition of ancestors. Adams says he’s even seen people mark the moment to quit smoking. It depends on the person.
“A lot of pagan folks have a very healthy attitude about death,” says Adams. “We don’t really buy into the idea of damnation and sin.”
The ritual ties together with a spiral dance—something Adams suggests to put on your bucket list if you’ve never done it before. The idea is for the celebration to be active and participation-based, hopefully with an element of fun.
“The last thing I think any pagan group wants, in one of these ritual settings, is that people are sitting around being preached to,” says Adams.
The public Samhain ritual takes place Sunday at 6pm on the Common, and will last sometime between hour to an hour and a half. If the ritual gets rained out, it will happen on Halloween Monday instead.