DO YOU BELIEVE in ghosts? Have you ever seen one? What did it look like? Or maybe "see" isn't the right word—perhaps you've "felt" the presence of a ghost, a chill in the air, without actually seeing a coherent visual image? I, sensitive, as you might imagine, to such influences, have had my fair share of ghostly encounters. An unsettled violent energy in a motel room in Laramie, Wyoming, angry because we put our luggage on his chair. A haunted Hyundai in North Carolina, its headlights mysteriously found on, though no one had driven it in days. The antique store in quaint Californian suburbia, so rich with presence it made my stomach queasy. And who can forget New Orleans, magical city that teems with otherworldly companions at every turn.

As I see it, whether or not you're a believer in ghosts has everything to do with your thoughts about death. It makes sense. If you don't think that a person has a "soul" or some other higher spiritual self that lives beyond the end of its physical body, then it's unlikely you think ghosts could exist. What would they consist of, anyway, if not this disembodied energy, left as residue in our material plane? Meanwhile, if you do believe in some sort of afterlife—heaven and hell, reincarnation or a big eternal question mark—you've certainly pondered the specifics of what exactly happens to us after we die. And perhaps you've wondered if we will have the post-death ability to contact our still-living loved ones, to let them know we are okay or to deliver important mystical messages about their lives. (And can we also harass people who we feel are intruding on our memories or in our domains, like that feisty ghost in Laramie?)

If ghosts are real energetic entities or if they are merely nostalgic or imaginative creations of our minds, one thing is for sure: Ghosts are what is left by death. (Or, restated: The idea of ghosts is what is left by the awareness of death.) And this is the time of year we contemplate death, commemorated with the celebration of modern Halloween, its characteristic ghouls and demons spooking us into consciousness of them. Halloween, or All Saints' Eve, derives from the older pagan festival of Samhain (usually pronounced SOW-en), which marked the beginning of the dark part of the year. (For an interesting take on the history of Halloween and Samhain, click here.) According to tradition, during Samhain, the boundary separating the living from the dead is lowered, making it the year's best opportunity for divination and communication between the realms. It coincides with the point in agricultural cycles when the last harvests must be collected in preparation for winter, and when the difficult decision of which livestock will survive and which must be killed so that the others can survive. The Halloween symbol of the skeleton points directly back to the actual hanging bones of stock slaughtered at Samhain. With fallen leaves and dead carcasses, death was everywhere. (What better time for a drunken, or candy-drenched, celebration?)

Astrologically, Halloween is associated with the sign of Scorpio, where the sun travels during its season. Though modern Halloween is celebrated on October 31, its traditional astrological observance was a few days later, around November 6 or 7, when the sun reached 15 degrees of Scorpio, or exactly midway between fall equinox (0 degree Libra) and winter solstice (0 degree Capricorn). Scorpio gets a bad rap due to the intense power it possesses, as a result of a keen sense of psychology. Scorpios like to understand what makes people tick in the deepest and darkest levels of their psyches—which includes their conceptions of death and of sex. In order to pursue this understanding, Scorpios will engage in meaty interpersonal interactions where they can figure out how other people respond in intense situations, often keeping their own psychologies cloaked in characteristic mystery. Naturally, this expense of energy can end up being powerfully cathartic and transformational, or dangerously manipulative—based on if the Scorpio recognizes himself as a talented healer, or is just hungry for control. Not surprisingly, people have strong reactions to Scorpios, some compulsively (and erotically) drawn to them and others shunning them like the plague. This is not unlike the varying responses we all have toward death itself, morbid fascination with it or distracted denial of our deep-seated fear of it.

Take advantage of the long-observed rhythm of the season, and grab a few private moments for your own séance of sorts. Get in contact with the death in your life. This week, the Sun meets up with retrograde Venus in Scorpio, giving added solar power for the ongoing inward focus on revaluation of things in our lives. In order to gain perspective on what's important and what's not, you may have to ask yourself difficult questions about the sources of your current situation. Behind seemingly benign objects and relationships, there could be unspoken pains and submerged memories, parts of ourselves or others that were killed in the process, then forgotten. With the Jupiter-Pluto trine reaching its first exact peak this week, it's an excellent time to embrace those dark parts, as they are now more likely to produce growth. Yes, you may have to dredge up the bones buried in your backyard and conduct an autopsy—but it's better than leaving the bodies there and having them pop up unexpectedly in the swimming pool one day. And with Mercury taking its place as the third point in the grand air trine with Saturn and Uranus, we have solid progressive mental clarity, a safer place from which to pursue less palpable communications with the dead. You'll return from your journey across the boundary with added insight, and be more clearly able to decide which livestock must be killed and which are worth saving.

Do you believe in ghosts, and are you scared of them? If yes, then why? Really, what can something do to you once it's already dead? The scariness of ghosts (and of Scorpios and of death) is counteracted once we acknowledge and embrace their existence. Dead people and things have no power in our world themselves, only the power over us that we give them in fear and refusal to let go. A ghost will haunt us until we hear its insistent messages, invite it in and then invite it to move on. There will be no trick, unless we refuse to offer a treat. The Halloween and Samhain season has a dark beauty to offer those of us willing to speak with the dead, and the mystical gifts that come from listening to them. For those unwilling to risk the explainable, instead there are shivers and spooks. So which will it be, trick or treat?