Autumn. It’s my favorite time of year, not the least because of Samhain or what is more widely known as Halloween. For Ancient Celts, Samhain (pronounced Sow-in) was the end of one year and the beginning of a new one. They believed that on this night the veil between the living and those who have passed on thins. I like to think so.
The other night my eight-year-old grandson asked, “Grammy, do you believe in ghosts?” I truthfully told him that I had no evidence either way, but that there is much in the world that has not been explained and that I like to think that those whom I love and have died have not gone far and that on Halloween are closer still.
Contrary to what the American religious Right would have you think, Samhain has never been an occasion for worshipping the devil. Neither the Ancient Celts nor modern Wiccans even believe in the existence of the devil although both acknowledge there to be evil in the world. That evil was not and is not worshipped except by those who have perverted the traditions of the Ancient Ones.
In the 1990s my mother had a pastor who looked and sounded like Reverend Kane in the movie Poltergeist, who admonished their bible study group that Halloween ought not to be celebrated because it was demonic. I was surprised that my mother had swallowed that because as a child carving pumpkins and trick or treating in our ‘50s tract housing development was a big deal that I participated in and my own children had trick or treated in the 1970s and ‘80s with no ill effects. People like “Reverend Kane” prey upon others who are already afraid of life in this world.
I like Halloween because it and its Christian off-shoots of All Saints Day and the Day of the Dead are a chance to honor and remember our loved ones who have left this world. Celtic tradition included a Dumb Supper where a place was set at the table for the missing family member. Last week the Tacoma Art Museum held their annual Day of the Dead exhibit where artists and groups were invited to create altars honoring people. These can include pictures, flowers, and objects that tell the story of the life of the person. My daughter-in-law Ana and I liked the idea so well that we adopted it in our home, albeit on a smaller scale.
Halloween is fun, too. It is a chance for children of all ages to dress up in some way completely foreign to their usual attire and celebrate the harvest. The notion that somehow the devil is going to get children who celebrate Halloween is ludicrous and we are sad that a combination of that idea and our neighborhood becoming largely retired folks means that we don’t get any munchkins knocking on the door. Americans are spending more and more money on Halloween each year so hopefully some inroads are being made on the Puritan notion that if something is fun it must be bad.
So on Wednesday night instead of turning off your porch light and being afraid of malevolent demons in the night, take time to think about those who have passed from this life and welcome them back for a set next to the warmth of a fall fire. And maybe have a bit of your favorite candy.