I love Halloween. As a child it was my favourite time apart from Christmas and in some ways it still is. It was exciting dressing up and going out in the night with a group of other kids, collecting tons of repulsive sweets that would rot our teeth. (If Candy Corn isn’t the work of the devil, I don’t know what is.) But more exciting than all that was the spookiness. Ghosts, goblins, witches and other mysterious things were the real thrill.
OK, I had a slightly macabre bent. My favourite playground was the cemetery— a proper old one. Newer cemeteries are no good at all with their regimented rows of headstones and nasty, manicured lawns. No atmosphere at all. A proper cemetery has trees and bushes, ivy and weeping stone angles, creepy mausoleums and sargophagi on which one could lie. I grew up where there was just such a cemetery and to play there around dusk pretending to be ghosts was mysterious, full of wonder and rich with unrevealed mystery.
Halloween has that quality. The veil between the worlds is said to be thin. It is a time to be aware of that world which we cannot see, to honour the spirits and practice divination to see what the future holds. The Sun is in Scorpio, the sign of transformation that takes place in the dark, as nature (at least in the Northern hemisphere) pulls the life force inside to some unseen place where it will remain until it re-emerges renewed in Spring.
Halloween has its roots in Samhain, the ancient Celtic festival that marked the end of Summer and the beginning of the dark half of the year. It was a time to slaughter cattle, prepare for winter and and remember the dark goddess who held the mysteries of life and death. Long after Christianity become the dominant religion in Celtic lands, Samhain customs continued to be practiced in rural areas. Some of these came to American with Scots and Irish immigrants and became Halloween.
The early Christian church, rather than suppress pagan practices, incorporated and adapted them. So Samhain became All Saints Day and Christian saints were substituted for pagan spirits but the true nature of the festival wasn’t lost as in many Catholic countries All Saints Day is also the Day of the Dead.
Why do kids like this so much? I am sure I was not unique in my love of the ghostly. I can’t speak for others but for me it’s not a fascination with creepy things as such, it’s that the creepy things remind me that life is a mystery that can not be understood by the rational mind. Children know this. They are closer to that other world as they have left it more recently. It’s been a while since I was child but the magic is still there.
A Halloween Omen
One Halloween, some years ago, I was at home with a friend. We spent the first half of the evening receiving trick-or-treaters, then did Tarot readings, spoke of signs and omens and other appropriate topics. We had a cozy, wood fire going and as the evening progressed the room became very hot. Once my friend had gone I left the front door open to let in some cool air and thought about what a lovely evening it had been. The church clock struck midnight and at that very moment a small black cat walked into the house.
He was very young, little more than a kitten, without a single white hair as far as I could see, and very friendly and talkative. He made himself quite at home, wandered around the house while I considered the possibility that he might want to move in. Cats do that kind of thing and I wasn’t sure I was ready for it. After ten minutes or so, however, satisfied with his inspection, he left. I was familiar with most of the animals in the neighbourhood but I hadn’t seen that one before and I never saw him again. Clearly a Halloween cat with a greeting from the spirits. A good omen. On that night, what else could it have been?