I’ve never loved Halloween, yet, if I trace this feeling to its source, it resides near the heart of why so many people love it! Halloween sort of freaks me out, right? I often say, “Life is weird enough, I don’t need to encourage it.” (That’s my little offhand joke.) I notice folks don’t always like my thinking this way. They say, “What’s the big deal, Peter? Lighten up and have fun! Halloween is just fun and games, okay?” And, of course, they do have a point!
According to a CNN post, Halloween derives from the ancient pagan Celtic festival of Samhain, which means “summer’s end.” It was believed the dead could walk with the living at this liminal time. (I sort of feel this way, too, as the days tighten, and we head for the winter solstice.) Later, this rite was sublimated into the Christian calendar as the “hallowed evening” before All Saints Day each November 1.
So, maybe my trepidation has deeper chthonic roots, imbedded in my bones? (Getting harder to see this all as play…)
Perhaps Halloween serves a function in the 21st Century more closely aligned to its conception than we care to admit. The ancient tradition was no doubt a way to sublimate the feeling of unease around the end of the growing season and acknowledge the parallel between the harvest of crops and clear intimations of mortality. This rite both honored the bounty of the harvest while also acknowledging the fact of mortality for all living beings including each of us, and, in its way, helped manage our deepest anxieties by welcoming them openly into the present through what the Greeks called “catharsis” or “purgation by fire”! We don’t rid ourselves of fear, pain, or death through our rituals, but we help to manage and accept their presence as an essential aspect of the turning wheel of life—loss and renewal.
So, in a spinning world we cannot control, perhaps it’s essential we learn to embrace these shadow truths and lean into our own fears and anxieties head on and together. A little widespread, culture-crossing fun along the way seems like just the right measure as we head into darker times!