All Hallows Eve
September 05, 2008
Halloween. My favorite holiday! Derived, as most holidays we celebrate, from ancient customs, the eve before All Hallows Day, evolved into the Halloween we know and love today. In Celtic times, the Gaelic culture celebrated with the festival of Samhain to mark the end of the harvest. They believed at this time (October 31), the boundary between the dead and the living dissolves. According to the Gaels, this connection caused problems for the living through possible illness and damaged crops. In order to placate the (evil) spirits, they held festivals and tried to mimic them, in hopes they would leave alone the living. When we look closer at Halloween, we see areas of our lives where we live in the Halloween state of mind all year long!
With the belief that the head of the body holds all the power, the Europeans initiated the jack-o-lantern. Lighting a candle inside the hollowed out vegetable sent a clear message to any evil spirits that spirit and knowledge shone brightly on the doorstep to dispel any superstitions. Today, families spend time picking out just the right pumpkin. Faces and designs decided upon, parents and children begin the messy job of cleaning the orange gourd of all seeds and fibers. Carving faces, or, more contemporarily, designs, unites a family towards a common goal and desired statement to their neighborhood.
When we take a closer, more spiritual look at the pumpkin carving practice, we see poignant symbolism at work in our lives. By selecting the perfect pumpkin, we choose the best representation of ourselves to work on. Then, we carefully clean out the old seeds of thought which will never bear fruit, and throw away the tough fibers of repetitious behavior. Only then, we are left with a clean spiritual slate, to create anything we want in life. We carefully carve out a new face to present to the world, and then we place the white light of understanding and wisdom inside of ourselves, to beam to the world our transformed spirit.
Begging for Food
This tradition may find its origins in the Middle Ages when the church heavily stressed the existence of souls in Limbo or Purgatory. The church sold "indulgences" which ensured the living sinner that his soul would reach Heaven. If a sinner did not purchase an indulgence, and led a less than exemplary life, he or she might spend eternity in the unknown. Prayers for the lost soul could assist in moving him from Heaven's holding tank to Heaven, itself. At Halloween, since this time of year increased thoughts of death and despair (the harvest ended, and the cold winter approached), resourceful townspeople of little means solicited door-to-door for food. In exchange for food, they promised to pray for the souls of both loved once passed and the redemption of the living.
Today, we beg for food of a different kind. We look to others for guidance and direction in our lives. We look outside of ourselves for answers and hunger and thirst for knowledge and meaning. We live lives of "if only I could…" and dream of ways that our positions might improve if we tried things according to someone else's journey. We spend our precious energy asking everyone around us for insight, all the while neglecting our true hunger for spiritual nourishment. While we may promise nothing in return for receiving tidbits of enlightenment, as humans we practice the same rituals hundreds, if not thousands, of years hence, to attain the same satisfaction.
Pagans celebrated the feast of the sun god Baal with the festival of Samhain. Samhain (Halloween) proved a happy time that marked an agricultural new year, and offered mixed experiences between day and night. During the day, Baal received his due adoration for the grain and the storage of same during the winter. But at night, evil spirits abounded and needed to be curtailed. Pagan charms and spells reputedly held more power at this time of year than any other, and rituals performed by the Celtic priests and Druids served appease the Lord of the Dead. Later, the Christian Church, to earn the trust of the pagans after it unsuccessfully tried to extinguish their practices (along with, I might add, their culture altogether), decided to merely rename the rituals and attach new meaning to them. In the 9th Century, the church moved All Saint's Day from May to November 1st. The festival the pagans recognized for the Lord of the Dead, morphed into a Christian holiday honoring Christian saints. Sometime soon after, people wore a mask depicting their patron or favorite saint and wandered through the town, paying homage to their memory.
The early practices of the Church teach us much about our culture in the present. No longer restricted to Christianity, today we wear figurative masks depicting the best qualities of ourselves that we aspire to put forth. We walk around town, wearing a mask, hoping others notice the disguise and see it as our authentic self. Instead of honoring the miracle of who we are in the present moment, we wear a mask of invincibility, a mask of confidence or a mask of control.
Like sweeping dirt under the rug, the housecleaning of our humanity and beliefs cannot be renamed or relocated. We always face ourselves wherever we are in the moment. Just changing the name or face, doesn't change our spirit itself.
In many ways, Halloween today depicts a truly honest holiday. By deliberately and overtly wearing a mask or costume of someone other than ourselves, we unapologetically announce to the world our inauthenticity. No pretenses implied or expressed - just simple fun pretending to be someone or something you're not.
We reach freedom of spirit when we acknowledge ourselves for all aspects of who we are by removing the mask and baring our soul to the world.
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