Enjoy this night of liminality and carnivale – but be safe!
My view of Halloween
Our Halloween traditions are just a snapshot image taken from a long history of blended beliefs, rituals and perspectives from diverse sources; some bits competed or converged with one another, while other aspects were forgotten or overwritten.
I enjoy the mix of all the folkloric and religious traces as part of an appreciation of a celebratory imagination, one that nourishes the human spirit (soul / heart / mind) and keeps us attuned to (and in atonement / at-one-moment with) our souls, our communities, and our planet.
Such imagination and celebration help keep us from becoming spiritless and heartless.
I love the food traditions (pumpkin pie, spice cake, mulled cider, apple everything).
There is nothing intrinsically evil about Halloween, although some people do take it as an opportunity to explore their “shadow side” (Jungian analysts believe this is preferable to repression, since it may contribute to better integration of the self).
Autumn is a time of reflection and remembering, and anyone sensitive to the flow of seasons can feel that. In America today, the celebration of harvest and reflective gratitude has been moved to Thanksgiving, while themes of honoring the dead have been dissipated out into various bank holidays and memorials of war. Figures of death appear in decorations of ghosts and skeletons, but the “holy evening” has been disconnected from most of its various source-roots and made a secular holiday.
Today, Halloween is driven primarily by the “trick or treat” tradition for small children.
“Tricks” are on the way out, and children get their “treats” under increasingly controlled conditions. Some places have replaced Halloween celebrations with “fall festivals.” As the leaves fall, adults can still have a bit of fun in the form of costume parties, although such celebrations have become much more subdued.
The neo-puritans who would now abolish Halloween after so many years of celebration in America would have to take a hint from Jehovah’s Witnesses to be consistent; they would have to stop celebrating the other holidays as well because all of the major holidays are composed of such mixtures. Ironically, some protestant churches honor the powers of transformation by celebrating “Reformation Day” (Martin Luther chose October 31, 1517 as the date upon which to post his Ninety-Five Theses).
I would like to see more frolic/dancing/revelry brought back into the holiday. We have become schizoid in this country, split between decadence and hypocritical self-righteousness. I would like to see more balance, more of a healthy middle ground of conscience and enjoyment.
I say “Boo”! Have we become so fearful even of our own? Are we so afraid of the company of people of all ages and backgrounds? How have we become so alienated from one another?
We share more in common than we tend to think. While we are thus divided, kept busy trying to survive, encouraged to distrust and even hate one another, we are all being robbed of our birthright.
The freedoms that we used to cherish, the rights we used to uphold, and even our viability as a secure nation are being systematically stolen from us. As crony capitalism (corporatism, fascism) in America increasingly devalues the individual in favor of corporate greed, our country is becoming just as corrupt as the instances of communism that we always opposed (and it has less to do with party/church affiliations than one might suppose).
As winter approaches, scattered and diverse traditions thousands of years old suggest that sometimes the metaphorical is real and the real is metamorphical; sometimes the dark is light and the light is dark; sometimes there are rhythmns and patterns to change; sometimes mysteries walk among us – and sometimes, there are twilight spaces where everything is a little more open to transformation.
Even as light wanes, we can share a meal together in community to celebrate what we have and to remember the best of what we have lost – and we can prepare ourselves for more difficult times to come with light and hope and gratitude for our belonging to all that is. As the nights get longer, this Halloween carnivale cheers me somewhat, and gives me hope for another turn of the cycle after this long hard winter will have been done.
World Tradition: Halloween, All Saints, All Souls, etc.
The word “Halloween” is taken from Hallowe’en, a contraction of “All Hallow’s Eve.”
“Hallow” is an old word meaning to treat as sacred or holy (as in “hallowed be thy name”), and e’en means evening. Hallowe’en therefore means an evening to treat as holy/sacred.
November 1 became “All Hallows Day” (“All Saints’ Day”), a Catholic day of observance in honor of saints. Originally held on May 1, it was moved in 834 in an attempt to christianize the festival of Samhain. In the year 1000, the Church designated November 2 “All Souls’ Day.” Christians would walk from village to village to ask for soul cakes (bread or pastry with currants), for which they promised to say prayers on behalf of the donors’ dead relatives to hasten their passage from limbo to heaven. All Souls’ also memorializes the dead from the Deluge (the biblical flood).
Similar holidays include Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Teng Chieh (Lantern Festival), Yue Lan (Festival of the Hungry Ghosts), Chuseok, Mahalaya, Phi Ta Khon, and Alla Helgons dag. In Islam, the Night of Power (Laylat al-Qadr) falls on one of the last ten nights of Ramadan, most likely on one of the odd nights, especially the 27th night of the month. Muslims believe that this night is “better than a thousand months,” and some spend the entire night in prayer.
Samhain (pronounced sow-inn or sow-ayn, sow rhymes with wow) is an ancient “turning point” or “doorway” celebration that marks the start of winter and the Celtic (Irish) New Year (“Samhuinn” or “Samhainn” = Hallow-tide). Samhain celebrated the last harvest of the fall, and the final reaping of what was sown (as in the figure of the Reaper).
The idea that “pagans worshipped the devil” was a construction of the christian church that aimed to suppress the native religions prevalent in Europe at the time.
The festival provided ways for people to physically and psychologically navigate the beginning of darkness and winter. Individual hearthfires were extinguished and relit from a common source to rebind the community. The 3-day festival of bonfires (literally bone-fires that consumed the feast-remains) recognized the cycle of death and renewal. Faeries as well as spirits of all kinds were imagined as particularly active at this season.
At the cusp of this turn of the seasonal tide, the boundaries between the worlds were considered to be most porous, allowing contact and exchange between them. Hallows Eve was/is thus a time to be attentive to death and endings, to venerate the dead, and to acknowledge their energy (or their DNA, if you prefer), which still flows in and around and through us.
At this liminal moment of magical potency, one might invoke spiritual transformation by expressing recognition and gratitude toward the sacred cycles, intentionally nurturing an atmosphere of protection and blessing.
Burying apples in the earth and leaving plates of harvest’s bounty outside the door were thought to nourish beloved spirits, while a candle placed in the window helped to light their way along the journey to the lands of eternal summer.