As a person who practices witchcraft, October always feels like a homecoming. It’s the time of year where people indulge in the dark, the spooky and the macabre. All qualities commonly attributed to witchcraft.
Autumn is the advent of the darkest months of the year. Over the winter months, nature is healing and recalibrating for another birthing season. As nature dies and releases the unnecessary, it becomes seemingly dormant from a human perspective, but so much is happening beneath the surface. Although witchcraft and other earth-centered practices include traditionally ‘light’ and ‘dark’ elements, like nature, in autumn we focus on the darker parts of ourselves.
Typically, these subterranean parts of ourselves relate to our subconscious, fears and deepest desires. Sometimes, these impulses come out in private—behind closed doors, in moments of weakness or in the company of our trusted friends. Intentionally indulging in these dark parts of ourselves can be a complex and rewarding practice, though it requires guidance and discernment. In many spiritual practices it is a necessary step in personal evolution. This kind of personal exploration can be cathartic and can result in our own transformation as spiritual beings. In contemporary Western witchcraft, this is called shadow work.
Transformation is not a comfortable process, however. When a caterpillar undergoes the painful process of metamorphosis, it essentially breaks down its body and rebuilds itself into a butterfly. After it digests itself from the inside out, the butterfly emerges from the cocoon by painfully forcing itself out. These moments of catharsis push out the unnecessary fluids that may inhibit the butterfly from taking flight. The entire process is painful and uncomfortable, but the caterpillar does it. It goes through something so painful to evolve and dedicate itself to its role in nature.
It is this internal transformative ‘death’ that is celebrated during the autumn months in many earth-centered spiritual practices. If we try to understand the darker parts of ourselves, then, like the caterpillar, we are performing an act of personal metamorphosis. When we explore our darkness through a lens of self-awareness, we allow ourselves to view our fears and deepest desires objectively. Once we understand them, we can mature and reemerge as whole and empowered versions of ourselves.
One healthy way to explore this idea of shadow work is to explore these hidden parts of ourselves through costume. Costumes are a powerful form of self-expression. Many spiritual practices around the world use costumes to elevate people into spiritual states of consciousness. Even in the more mundane world, when we see a firefighter in uniform, a priest in their garb or a clown in their make-up, we no longer see them as pedestrians—-they embody a specific persona. The notion of a ‘substitute skin’ as a temporary personality is widespread in many spiritual practices, where these vestments are sacred objects that are known to connect the wearer to spirit realms or the heavens.
The costume tradition of Halloween has a few origins. One posits that the tradition evolved from the Celtic festival of Samhain that marked the beginning of the winter. Like modern day pagans, the Celts believed this was a liminal moment where the boundary between the spiritual and physical realms was thin. It was a time where spirits could be seen and confronted. On the night of Oct. 31, the Celts would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off menacing spirits that might damage crops or create inopportune growing circumstances.
For many pagan practices, Halloween remains a time for communicating with spirits. Although you may not be a practicing pagan, this time can also be ripe for communion with our own spirit. We can use the shadow work associated with this time of year as a healthy exercise in self-actualization, thereby confronting the things that we fear and even indulging in the things we deeply desire.
Every year we have an opportunity to pretend to be whatever we want to be without much judgement from the outside world. Doing so can be cathartic.
When picking out your costume this year, think about how it can help in your own shadow work. How can you express and better understand the obscure and unknown parts of yourself? At the very least, it will be a fun form of self-expression. At its best, though, you might overcome or confront something you’ve been avoiding or afraid of for a long time.
Elfie Kalfakis is an artist inspired by mythology, play, the occult and consciousness. Her work is multidisciplinary, intuitive and uses mediums such as, but not limited to: collage, film, illustration and street art. She aspires to use her artwork as a means of breaking down stigmas and barriers within popular culture towards metaphysical concepts and has a passion for female empowerment, mental health advocacy and understanding the collective unconscious.