Before you start throwing things: I think it’s completely fine to enjoy Halloween, and all the dressing up and decorating and whatnot. I’m not one of those people who think something should be banned just because I don’t like it! I know a lot of people, including many pagan friends, who love this time of the year, and I love seeing my friends happy so I’m not going to complain.
What I am going to say is that the way old customs are watered down beyond recognition these days, doesn’t sit well with me. I feel the same discomfort around the way “goddess” seems to have become a general term for femininity and the names of ancient goddesses are thrown around carelessly by just about any unicorn-dust and fairy-wands wielding New Age enthusiast. I like the fact it empowers women, and people in general. I don’t like how most of them are clueless as to what powerful entities they are dealing with, and that magic isn’t just a word or a fun idea.
There is so much more to this. And to get back to the subject of Halloween, it’s essentially the christianised version of the old Samhain, one of the two times of the year when the veil between the worlds is particularly thin (the other being the eve of Bealtaine). We’re talking about a time when having your child stolen by the fairies and replaced by a soulless changeling was a very real fear. People put scary disguises on their kids to fool the fairies.
The transparency of the veil was also used to contact and commune with the dead. It’s a great night to honour our ancestors and to tell our beloved dead what we never got to tell them while they were still alive. It is this association with death which has been adopted by Christianity in the shape of All Hallows (31st October) and All Souls (1st of November). My Catholic mum used to take us to visit the graves of departed family members on the 1st of November, and one of my earliest childhood memories is the sight of a graveyard with “wind lights” (as they are called in German) on every grave, candles in red plastic cups to keep the wind from extinguishing them.
It was a cosy, quiet time, full of contemplation and mystery. Maybe that’s one reason why I dislike the loud, in-yer-face dressing up and partying on Halloween. Don’t get me wrong, I have on occasion participated and enjoyed myself too. Two years ago I dressed up as a pirate for my then workplace and I had fun, but I remember the tons of decorations we pulled down weeks later, most of which were too damaged or worn out to be saved and reused. My costume has been in a box ever since. There is so much unnecessary waste produced and sold in the commercialisation of this holiday, it makes me no less uncomfortable than the overload of plastic Christmas decorations in the shops a few weeks later.
But enough with the grumpy hag now. I have stocked up on conventional chocolate for the trick-or-treaters tomorrow evening, and after that quietens down, I’ll have my Samhain ritual. I’ll be feasting on mead and apple pie, as this is one of two occasions in the year when I eat sugar. Come to think of it, a lot of things happen on Samhain and Bealtaine respectively for me, as they are also the two times of the year when I thoroughly clean my house (I try to keep it reasonably clean at all times, but on these two occasions I do the corners I never usually touch, like the insides of kitchen cupboards and the blinds on the windows).
And I’ll prepare for the “dark weeks”, the time between now and the Winter Solstice when the light returns. That’s probably the main reason why I feel a little gloomy: I look ahead to the cold season and the discomfort I always feel then, and just wish I could fast-forward to spring. Ah well, all things in balance, right? At least I’ll celebrate and make the most of it.
To top it all off, I’ll go up to Massbrook on my day off Tuesday for some archery, complete with lunch at my favourite cafe in Ballinrobe along the way. And whatever you may get up to, I wish you a blessed Samhain!
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