Monday, October 30, 2006

Honour Thy Dead, Wave to Your Ghosts and Awaken Your Pagan

Halloween is one of my favourite holidays of the year, mostly because it makes the most sense to me.

It is, doubtless, an important 'mark of transition' in our year. It connects us with all that is in the past (the season of growing, the sun, the dead) and that which comes to us in the future (the rebirth of the earth, the sun and when we will be spirits of the dead, ourselves). It reminds me to honour those that came before and that one day I will, indeed, be the past... And in so being, will feed the future.

It is a celebration of the season of sleep, death and the spirit of the earth and people around us. It is the one night of the year that I allow the issue of 'time' to become inconsequential just for a little bit. It is the time that I think of myself in terms of being in all of the past, present and future.

I enjoy celebrating the death of the old year (and how wonderful it was) and looking forward to the 'sleepy time' that comes before the awakening of our part of the earth in the spring. I cannot figure out why New Year's Eve is at the end of December. (If someone knows, I would gladly learn something new.) Anyway, I thought I would write something here for anyone who might want to learn more about the CELEBRATION of Halloween... and it is, indeed most worthy of celebration!

In a more simple aspect, Halloween is, in our home, a celebration of the harvest and the subsequent 'great sleep' of the earth... which is absolutely necessary for the 'rebirth' or 'awakening' of the earth in the spring.

This is why it is important to have a day to honour death and the dead, because without them there would be no renewal (new babies, new food, new everything). Nothing grows in soil that is not fed. What feeds soil? Dead plants, animals, people.

Also, on a lighter note, this planet is way too small for everything to just continue on existing forever... And on a science note, if an area becomes over-populated, fertility drops, the whole population ages too much to reproduce, no food is left, disease runs rampant and everything dies, leaving a big blank, yucky space. (Think of that fruit fly experiment in highschool. By the time all the fruit flies died, that jar was absolutely disgusting!)

Also, Halloween is a time to honour the wisdom passed to us by our predecessors. After all, without their wisdom, where would we be today? In kind, without a past, there is no future... and it is important to celebrate the lessons learned in the past so that we may live a better, brighter future.

This is the time of year that I enjoy taking special time out to meditate upon the memories/ideas of those who came before me. Here are a few small examples:

I think of my Grandfather, in South Africa, who passed many years ago. I remember how he taught me to play chess and poker dice and how we would play every day when I would visit him in the summer (winter - over there). I remember how he taught me that it is never acceptable to resort to violence (a rather embarrassing but important memory for me, after having slapped my sister - for the last time). I remember what a good man/male role model he was to me.

I think of my down-to-earth Granny who taught me to love to cook from scratch and filled my mind with the wonder of how to live off the land without the support of a city.

I think of Joan of Arc and how she gave her life and what it means to us today.

I think of our neighbour, who passed in his house next to ours and pray that his spirit is at peace.

I think about how all of our spirits are connected without the barrier of time and space.

And of course, yes, it is also about passing tales of the dead (so as not to forget them) and a few true ghost stories onto my children. Here is one of my favourites:

When my daughter was very young, less than two years old, my husband's work transferred him to a city far from us. And so, until we could find a new home, we spent our mornings at my (adoptive-paternal) Grandparent's apartment.

My Grandmother (Great Meme), my daughter and I, listened to my Grandfather (Great Pepe), read the newspaper aloud as he sat in his recliner, with extra emphasis on the obituaries. (He liked to see who he knew in there.)

While he did this, he would also keep up an, almost constant, dialogue with my daughter who would toddle all around him, trying to steal sips of his coffee. They absolutely adored each other! And so, every day, my daughter and I visited with them just so, for about four months, until we finally moved a couple of hours away and could no longer visit as we used to.

Soon after we moved, Great Pepe was put into the hospital for cancer. He was not doing well enough to be at home but was not expected to die very quickly. Life continued on as best it could in these circumstances.

Then, in the wee hours of one morning, my, now-two-year-old daughter, who was positioned between her father and myself in the bed, awoke, sat up, waved at the unlit ceiling lights and returned to sleep. My husband and I looked at eachother, shrugged and also went back to sleep.

At 8:30 in the morning, the phone rang, it was my Mom. I said to her, "Great Pepe died last night, didn't he?" She said, "Yes. How did you know?" I responded, "He came to say good-bye to the baby in the early morning, she sat up, waved and then went back to sleep."

I asked how he had passed so suddenly. Apparently, he got out of bed for some reason, slipped on the concrete floor and hit his head. They said, he died instantly and did not suffer at all.

And even though all of our children have slept with us, none of them has ever done anything like that again.


Ahhh, I love a good ghost story... I do! And though I have no patience for the ridiculous, creepy, gruesome, evil-spirit type Halloween movies, I do, like a Christian parent who allows Santa into their celebration, allow for some of the celebration to be based on pure fun.

My children bear witness to this as I only bring forth but once a year, my horizontally-striped, purple and black stockings and black dress. And I do try to honestly praise my children for their wonderful creativity... when they come to me, brimming with pride, telling me of their idea to cover styrofoam heads with toothpicks.

All the while I repeat to myself, in the form of a mantra, that there must be some artistic creative puff of smoke involved in there... somewhere...

And my ever dutiful husband may still insist that, in our house, it is really the celebration of many candies and chocolates... sigh...

All is not cut and dried, so to speak, during Halloween, here in.... the Gray zone...

For anyone who'd like to do some more reading up on Halloween. I've listed a couple of good sites and quotes below:

University College Cork of Ireland: explains the historical origin of Halloween and how it is linked into Christianity:

Not only is Samhain (pronounced "sow-in") the end of autumn; it is also, more importantly, the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. ...These two themes, celebrating the dead and divining the future, are inexorably intertwined in Samhain...

Samhain, which means “summer’s end”, according to their ancient twofold division of the year, when summer ran from Beltane to Samhain and winter ran from Samhain to Beltane...

...with its emphasis on the “historical” Christ and his act of Redemption 2000 years ago, is forced into a linear view of time, where seeing the future is an illogical proposition. In fact, from the Christian perspective, any attempt to do so is seen as inherently evil. This did not keep the medieval church from co-opting Samhain’s other motif, commemoration of the dead. To the church, however, it could never be a feast for all the dead, but only the blessed dead, all those hallowed (made holy) by obedience to God—thus, All Hallow’s, or Hallowmas, later All Saints and All Souls...

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