I'll admit it. I love Halloween. Piecing together a costume at a thrift store, painting my face, buying black lipstick, dexterously carving pumpkins, candle-lit ambiance, approving the music setlist, making sure everything fits the desired experience. For a few brief weeks, my inner artist is allowed to stretch her legs and appease the darker side of my psyche.
In my past life, Halloweens were far more sanitized. No scary movies, no scary costumes, no ghosts, no devils, no monsters. And nothing store-bought – one tradition I proudly continue to this day. For a few years in elementary school, I struck a balance between the religiously acceptable and the irreligious by devising a fanciful gypsy costume. But that was short-lived – it soon appeared on the list of banned “politically incorrect” get-ups. No matter; few schools now allow Halloween parties anyway.
Many modern day churches are beginning to opt out of this fanciful and imaginative holiday because of its pagan roots. Originally known as Samhain (Sow-in), this shadowy holy day was first celebrated by the Celts. Like many ancient cultures, the end of the summer season symbolized death and change. The line fixed between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred, opening the possibility for the return of spirits from other realms. (This display of faith can be seen today during the ‘spiritually charged’ Christmas season when many seek signs and miracles.) During this highly supernatural time, crops and animals [and rumored humans] were sacrificed to appease mysterious spirits, and for divination. Celebrants dressed in gruesome outfits to tell fortunes and blend in with malevolent beings, to avoid being snatched into the next world. Another legend says turnips were carved to capture mischievous sprites; thus was born the “jack” of the lantern. The Romans adopted Samhain after assimilating the Celts and added many elements from their own fertility festivals including bobbing for apples. The early Church never liked being left out of the party and incorporated All Saints’ Day to christianize the celebration. More traditions were added and dropped through the centuries until we ended up with the last minute mass candy shop at Sam’s Club, glossy photos of the perfect jacket for a hayride, slutty costumes for grown women, xtian conversion-oriented haunted houses, and growing oversized pumpkins for profit and destruction.
First, let me say that if you choose to abstain from Halloween because you object to the commercialism or simply because you insist that it is wrong, very well. Go on with your life and quit reading.
For those of you still with us, let me say that today’s Halloween traditions are far from the original intent of reaching an open hand into the next world for guidance. I hate to fall back to the current “as a” syndrome, but as a former pagan/self-styled witch, I do object to denouncing the holiday in its current form as ‘evil.’ Dressing in a devil costume will not sell your soul any more than you will find a chest full of gold doubloons if you dress as a pirate. Wiccans, pagans and others who celebrate the religious aspect of Samhain have little to do with trick or treating or playing dress up. And we do not go out and hex strangers on a whim.
And now I’ve spooked everyone. I said former. Moving on...
Like Christmas, All Hallows’ Eve is a very secularized holiday. It has lost its religious significance for most of the general population. There are parties and candy and trips to the apple orchard. But only in October does the reality of our own mortality begin to creep back in to our consciousness. We revisit myths of vampires, zombies, ghosts, and the strange and unexplained. We dress in costume, in a way poking fun at death like many other cultures. reminding ourselves that death should be nothing to be scared of. See Mexico’s Day of the Dead for an example.
My main point is don’t demonize or stereotype a fun holiday. Educate yourself, keep your sense of humor and wonder, and remember how to be a kid. Halloween is a great time to let loose your inner creative and play make believe and remember that death isn’t the end.
image courtesy of www.davezilla.com/2004/10/31/boo/
Labels: Halloween, Harvest Festival, religion