“The Celtic Mysteries took shape in the flux of in-between-states, such as the twilight between light and dark…”
~ Celtic Mysteries by John Sharkey
Newly-dark evenings, ghost stories, traditions that connect us with the world beyond the mundane…there has been something about Halloween that has always appealed to me in a way that no other festival does. And sure, the routine of dressing up and collecting a bag full of treats as a child was always fun—as is having an excuse as an adult to let loose some rarely-expressed persona.
But it’s something deeper that I’ve always loved about Oíche Shamhna (pronounced ‘eeha howna’), to give it it’s Irish name.
For the ancient Celts, Halloween corresponded with the end of the grazing season for a pastoral society, marking the end of one year and the beginning of the next. ‘It was considered to stand independently between the two’ (The Celts by T.G.E. Powell) and was a time when the veil between the worlds lifted and magical forces were free to mingle with the human world.
For me, this time of year still encourages that sense of opening up our second sight (as it was referred to in Scotland), of turning our vision to the darkness to see what might be lurking there. When else is there such open encouragement to explore the boundary that separates the visible and the invisible worlds?
Here where I’m writing, on the fringes of western Europe, the evenings start to draw in at the end of October, until darkness descends before five and stays until around eight in the morning. Outside of urban areas particularly, the moon cycles become more apparent and the stars become regular companions again. We become dependent on modern lighting in order to continue with our usual lifestyle until daylight starts to return after the winter solstice in December.
But before the arrival of electric lighting, it was different. Societies had only the limited light of fires or lamps to see them through the dark evenings, and there was a natural reduction in physical activity along with a withdrawal into the comfort and security of close friends and family. Dark evenings were times of sharing stories and song, and many of the stories told were about non-human forces and beings.
As a child, I was lucky enough to experience first-hand some of the last of this pre-modern lifestyle in Ireland. There were two brothers and a sister living in the remote Blue Stack Mountains of Donegal, in a house worthy of any re-constructed Irish folk village. The chickens ran in and out of the door, and the old threesome spoke only Irish. The eldest brother, aged around ninety when I met him, had taken to his bed by the fire, waiting for his time to pass on. But he was only to happy to share his stories with my linguist father and to answer questions about whether he had any personal experience of fairies and the supernatural.
As a city child, it was the first time I had ever heard adults publicly acknowledge the existence of fairy folk and other magical wonders.
According to some old storytellers, the fairies disappeared from Ireland with the arrival of electric lighting and, from where I am today with experience in shamanic practice and energy healing, this makes perfect sense. But it’s not so much that I think they’ve disappeared—I think it’s more that we’ve become desensitized to what may be ‘out there’.
In a fast-paced world where we’re constantly bombarded with artificially-enhanced sounds, smells and images, we’ve forgotten how to slow down and really look, listen and feel.
It’s not only that electric lighting has dulled our ability to see in the darkness; it’s also that constant exposure to noise and artificial scents has dulled our hearing and sense of smell. And what about the impact from the electromagnetic fields of our daily household and office appliances? And the mobile phones we carry everywhere? With all of this around us, how often do we get a chance to hone our senses in the way that is needed so that we can pick up the subtler currents of energy which lie beyond the normal range of modern living?
So, for Halloween, here are three simple exercises that harness the power of darkness to develop your natural psychic abilities.
1. Grab a close friend, two blindfolds and a safe, quiet room. Sit facing each other but not necessarily close, put on the blindfolds and, with a commitment to silence, spend some time exploring what happens for you when verbal communication and normal sight are no longer available. Try to stay out of the mind as much as possible and tune into the remaining senses to see what they are noticing. What do you smell? What do you feel or hear? Do you sense/intuit anything? Although we tend to think of having a psychic gift as the ability to see what is commonly unseen, each of us has our own particular way of sensing—and for some of us it may be through the sense of smell, or it may be kinesthetic, or even auditory.
You can also take this exercise further by deliberately tuning into your friend and becoming aware of what you notice through the senses. It may be difficult to put this into words, and that’s fine. Simply noticing is enough to start with—the ability to describe it verbally can come later, if at all.
2. On Halloween or one of the following two nights before the new moon—the dark nights when the moon is no longer visible—find a quiet place in the countryside. Wrap up in a warm blanket and lie out on the ground. Bring yourself fully into your body, by focusing on your breath or on the connection between your body and the earth. Then simply lie, for at least half an hour, and bring your awareness to your skin and to the area within a few inches of it—allowing it to become a receiver for the energies of the earth. See if you can feel the natural, pulsing energy of the planet as you lie on her. It may help to imagine you’re breathing in and out through the skin.
As with all living things, we are surrounded by an energy field that interacts with the energy field of other things around us. The more we become sensitive to our own energy field, the more aware we become of other energies intersecting it. Some of these intersections we can explain easily—someone standing close by, for example—but there are times when we feel a definite sense of something without any obvious explanation. And that’s when we have a choice of either dismissing our senses as unreliable or of delving more deeply into the realms beyond the ordinary to try to figure out what it is that we’re sensing.
3. Position yourself in front of a mirror with only a small candle between you and the mirror for light. Set the intention for the face you’d like to see—the face of your former self; a face that you hide from others; the face of your greatest strength or of your shadow. Then gaze softly at the reflection in the mirror without blinking, left eye gazing into left eye, allowing the focus to blur until the reflection starts to shift. As much as you can, try to avoid blinking – and if you do, bring yourself back to soft focus as quickly as possible. Then hold a watching space, watching as a variety of faces emerge and recede, until one face holds constant—this is the face you are looking for.
Remember, if you sense or see something interesting, don’t forget to communicate – asking simple questions through your mind to get more clarity. Even when our sensitivity develops, fear can sometimes keep us separated from the non-physical realms, and opening up simple communication can start to dissolve that fear, allowing us to benefit from the connection at times when it may serve us.
I find I’m less interested in what label to assign these energies (fairies, angels, elementals, guides, lost souls, etc.) and much more interested in whether they have are pleasant to connect with and have a relevance to my life.
And, of course, it is a perfect time to delve into those dark places within ourselves that we may be reluctant to go…
(Originally published on Elephant Journal)