I am no lover of Halloween—life can be scary enough at times without adding to it—but more specifically I am no lover of the commercially driven sweets and treats festival that is Halloween as we know it. The dressing up bit doesn’t bother me—if a child wants to pretend, for one night a year, that they are something more than small and powerless I certainly would not be the one to spoil their fun but I do think the meaning of Halloween that is rooted in very ancient rituals is a little bit lost in all the tomfoolery and carry-ons at this time of year—a time that was originally set aside to honour those that are gone before us.
For the most part, our modern Halloween traces its initial origin to the practices of the ancient Druids. The Celts and their Druid priests began their New Year on November 1, which marked the beginning of winter. They apparently believed that on October 31st, the punishment of the evil dead could be lightened by sacrifices, prayers, and gifts to Samhain. For those who had died during the preceding 12 months, their spirits where allowed to return to earth to associate once again with their families. To frighten away evil spirits who allegedly feared fire, large bonfires were lit on hilltops. The fires were believed to not only banish evil spirits but rejuvenate the sun. As part of the celebration, people dressed in grotesque masks and danced around the great bonfires, often pretending they were being pursued by evil spirits. In addition, food was put out to make the ghosts or souls of the good dead feel welcomed and at home.
Now a day’s many cultures set this time aside, specifically October 31 and November 1, to think about, cherish, and re-member our loved ones who have died.
Mid autumn is a perfect time to reflect on the richness of life and to honor its endings. As the leaves flitter and fall we watch the soul of nature’s end go out in a blaze of glory – completing one more cycle of life before it rests for the winter months. It makes perfect sense as we are going into the darkness now—everything comes from darkness, a seed germinates, an idea forms—to mark this time of the year which perhaps has more significance than January 1st.
Remembering a loved one at this time of year can be healing, looking over photographs, visiting the grave and telling stories of loved ones that we spent a part of our lives with, their idiosyncrasies, the wonders of who they were, and who they still are in our hearts and memories.
We can also carve pumpkins into scary lanterns, dress up in ghoulish costumes, go to the Halloween party at a friend’s home, trick-or-treat with the kids and eat way too much rubbish but somehow keeping Halloween in perspective, it can be a rich and wonderful time of bitter-sweet. Bitter because it opens us to a profound awareness of the absence of family and friends. Sweet because the faces and lives of those already passed are remembered, bringing us the depth of connection and the understanding that living and dying are both a vital and equally important part of this poignantly, sometimes painfully, beautiful and fleeting moment called life.
Now I’m away to buy a pumpkin and cast a spell on my little princess…I think she wants to be a zombie this time round…a mother gota do what a mother gota do…Have fun!