Halloween, All Souls’ Night, Samhain – by whatever name it’s known, it is a true night of magic. According to ancient tradition, October 31st is when the Celtic New Year begins. It is during this time that our ailing sun’s light is swallowed up by the ever growing darkness of the night. This time begins the dark half of the year, when our aging sun symbolically descends into our Mother Earth’s womb to be reborn at Yuletide.
Hollywood would have us believe, based on the movies dominating our TVs and movie screens, that Halloween is only for evil ghosts, zombies, and gory murder scenes. Please don’t get me wrong; I also like a good scary movie now and then. However, it seems to me that the scary movies being made these last few years rely not on interesting scary plots, but instead are interested in shocking their audiences with intense blood and gore.
Halloween is truly a time of magic and not only for children, but for us adults, too. All Souls’ Eve is the only time in the year when you can, via costume, become anyone or anything you want. Do you want to be a wizard, witch, elf, gnome, or something more exotic or abstract? All you need to do is find the perfect costume to make your hidden persona come true.
Remember, Halloween is the night when something magically wonderful can happen. I remember as a child, one Halloween night when the moon was full and a warm gentle breeze chased the swirling, golden fall leaves into the air as if they were playing a game of tag, I came to a small white cottage tucked behind a low iron fence. Just beyond the fence was a birdhouse made into an exact replica of the small white house before me. The birdhouse even had its own white lace curtains fluttering in the breeze like ghosts from its open windows.
Overcoming my fear, I pushed at the black iron gate, which protested with a rusty moan as it opened. Nervously, I slowly crept up the old creaking wooden steps leading up to the old covered porch. There was no porch light on, so the covered porch was in almost total darkness, except for a faint light shining through the lace curtain across the small window in the front door. I was really getting spooked by the night and the house. Gathering my courage with the promise of candy, I gave the door a few timid taps. I felt both relief and disappointment when no one answered after my two or three taps upon the wooden door.
I turned to go, when the door was suddenly flung open by a tiny, elderly woman dressed in a gypsy costume, or maybe it wasn’t a costume at all, for the old woman looked like a real gypsy. Behind her, I could see a dimly-lit parlor room and a table with a crystal ball lit by candlelight. The old gypsy smiled sweetly at me and filled my plastic orange pumpkin with candy. Though I tried to find her house the following year, I never saw her again. Perhaps that night I stepped between worlds, for the veil between our mundane world and the world of spirit is very, very, thin at Halloween.
Halloween is also a time to remember our loved ones who have passed into the spirit world before us. If we loved each other in life, then that love still exists between us, even if they have gone into the world of spirit. Perhaps we, like our neighbors in South America, can place a lighted candle on our kitchen table in their memory or even set a place for them at our dinner table. We can leave out some snacks for them and maybe a little something to drink. If such a thing makes you a little too nervous, then you can always just honor their memory by remembering the good times of your life that you spent with them.
I would like, at this time, to honor the memory of one of my ancestors, Elsie Swing. A hundred years ago or more, Elsie was what you would call a good Christian woman. She always went to church every Sunday. She read her Bible everyday and always brought a bowl of hot chicken soup to her sick neighbors.
She did, though, have one bad habit. Sweet little old Elsie loved to smoke her pipe. She would sit in her rocking chair all day, puffing away at her pipe, as it filled the room or front porch with clouds of grey-blue smoke. Family and friends would joke with her that she might not get into Heaven if she kept on smoking that pipe of hers.
Elsie would just grin at them and say,”The good Lord knows that I’m a child of God. Smoking my pipe won’t keep me from getting into Heaven.” Then she would just puff on her pipe all the harder, causing her antagonists to start coughing and leave her to her smoking.
It was on one night, perhaps a Halloween night, when soft moonlight had slipped into Elsie’s bedroom. Outside, the moaning wind, with nothing better to do, convinced the bored tree branches to tap upon Elsie’s bedroom window. Hearing the wind and tap, tap, tap, of the branches against the glass of her window, Elsie Swing fell asleep. To her surprise, she woke up to find herself standing before the gates of Heaven. I must have died in my sleep, Elsie thought to herself. With a shrug of her shoulders, she puffed on her pipe and walked over to Saint Peter who was manning the gate at the time.
“Hello, Elsie,” said the famous saint to the little old lady puffing on her pipe before him. “What can I do for you today?”
Elsie gave her pipe a little puff, “Well, Saint Peter, I’ve come to be let into Heaven.”
Saint Peter nodded, “Let’s see if your name is written here in the book of life.” Elsie became a little miffed that Saint Peter would even question whether her name was written in the Heavenly book or not, so she gave her pipe a few furious puffs, engulfing the saint and his book in a cloud of grey smoke.
Saint Peter let out a few little coughs and waved his hands over the book, trying to clear the pipe smoke away. Shaking his head sadly, Saint Peter said, “I’m sorry, Elsie, but I can’t see your name here.”
“What!” Elsie shouted. “Please, Saint Peter, look again.” More than a little scared now, Elsie puffed up a virtual cloud of nervousness on her pipe.
Saint Peter coughed even more, and, waving his hands more frantically at the smoke, he said, “I am so sorry, Elsie, but I still cannot see your name on the pages of Heaven’s book.”
Elsie panicking, now puffed even more on her pipe, and pleaded, “Please, Saint Peter, just take one more look.”
Saint Peter shook his head, “It’s of no use, Elsie. I can’t see any of the pages at all with this pipe smoke in front of me and the book.”
Elsie suddenly woke up to find herself safely back in bed and still very much alive. However, it was said after that, Elsie never touched her pipe again. To be honest, I don’t really know if this story is true, but it is an old family tale I read years ago when checking into my family history. It is a good story, so I’d like to think it is true.
On Halloween, the Faerie Folk are quite active. Perhaps some of those Trick or Treaters visiting your house are really Faerie in disguise. No way, you may be saying to yourself, but on Halloween, anything is possible.
Halloween is a time of transformation, where you can take off your old costume of the past year that hasn’t been working for you. Just shrug it off like old autumn leaves, and put on a new costume of who you would like to be for the coming year. Remember, after all, Halloween is the beginning of the Celtic New Year, a time for change and rebirth.
First published 10/30/11 on our previous blog.