The image above was taken during one of my Berkeley neighborhood’s Halloween celebrations.
Halloween is my absolute favorite holiday, defeated by Christmas only before the age of twenty. Enthusiastic participation was never one of my shortcomings and throughout the years I have partied, tricked, treated, and celebrated on many different levels.
Growing up it offered a half-time break in the schedule between the start of school and Thanksgiving and provided enough candy to hold me over until Christmas. As a young adult it offered me one day of being someone or something that I am not on any other day of the year, to lay out a fantasy, or bring out my personal power in an animistic way. As an older adult, the holiday gives me a moment to reflect on my ancestors and to offer them a space at my table.
While American Halloween has turned the holiday one hundred and eighty degrees away from its roots in Ireland and Scotland, with no mention of Samhain, All Souls Day, or Day of the Dead, or the pagan beliefs behind it, it has turned the harvest festival into a superficial hunt, sending the dressed up children out to beg door to door for chocolate and sweets and to find the ever elusive Great Pumpkin. Even as a child, I felt that there was something deeper to the ritual, although I never knew what it was until I got older.
Yes, it is still a fun holiday, and the kids love it.
And I love it too.
Samhain is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature and is known to have pre-Christian roots. Many important events in Irish mythology happen or begin on Samhain. It was the time when cattle were brought back down from the summer pastures and when livestock were slaughtered for the winter. As at Beltane, special bonfires were lit. These were deemed to have protective and cleansing powers and there were rituals involving them. Samhain was seen as a liminal time, when the spirits or fairies (the Aos Sí) could more easily come into our world. Most scholars see the Aos Sí as remnants of the pagan gods and nature spirits. It was believed that the Aos Sí needed to be propitiated to ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter. Offerings of food and drink were left for them. The souls of the dead were also thought to revisit their homes. Feasts were had, at which the souls of dead kin were beckoned to attend and a place set at the table for them. Mumming and guising were part of the festival, and involved people going door-to-door in costume (or in disguise), often reciting verses in exchange for food. The costumes may have been a way of imitating, or disguising oneself from, the Aos Sí. Divination rituals were also a big part of the festival and often involved nuts and apples. — Wikipedia
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