Candy, costumes, ghosts, and goblins

The stores are bulging with candy to hand out on the upcoming pagan celebration at the end of the month.  This is probably the weirdest, most convoluted, mixed-up celebration in America, a day when we send our children out to do the exact opposite of what we normally tell them, a day when we want to be haunted, a day that everyone seems inclined to recognize.  What is this ‘all hallowed saints day eve’ celebration, any way?

Halloween, or All Hallowed Saints Day Eve, is the residue of one of the most spiritual of the ancient celebrations, or sabbats, on the witchcraft calendar.  As with other pagan holidays, what we know today is the Christian church’s attempt to bring the ancient celebration into the religious framework of the  church.  Christmas is another one, and some calendars still mark Candlemas on February 2nd.  These are celebrations which pre-date Christianity by thousands of years, and which are deeply ingrained in the psyche of people of Western European descent.

On the Wheel of the Year, early November is a time when Death is recognized and celebrated.  This sounds strange to us today, because Death has been ignored, hidden, and denied for most of modern history, but to ancient peoples, Death was as immediate, everyday, and essential as Life.  Without Death, Life cannot continue, for Life feeds on Death, and Death makes room for new Life.  Death was viewed as a doorway into another realm, not as an ending.  Death was not associated with any kind of judgment, nor with reward or punishment.  When people died, they became part of a spiritual realm, still able to influence the realm of the living, but removed from it.

Because the dead were considered to be still aware of the living, and able to influence events in the realm of the living, the living recognized the dead, venerated them, worshiped them.  The dead were remembered by the living, through rituals, story telling, the passing on of family heirlooms and treasures.  Because Death is all around us during the late Autumn, that was the time to remember and to cherish the dead.  It was commonly believed that the veil, or curtain, between the realm of the dead and the realm of the living was partially pulled back during that time, as the Life Force ebbed from the land.

Even today, the Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico, a deeply ritualistic, formalized remembering of the ancestors.  In spite of the Christian church insisting that there was NO spirit realm, that the dead were unaware of the passage of time between their death and the Day of Judgment, many peoples in Western and Northern Europe clung to their ancient customs, afraid of offending their forebears by ignoring them.  This was the most spiritual time of the year, when many people experienced communion with dead persons, or at least, felt the presence of loved ones who had passed on.

In order for the Christian church to bring a celebration into the church, it had to designate a reason for it, a justification for the celebration.  With the Yule Tide, it was the fiction that Christ had been born on the day of the celebration of the return of the Sun, just after the Winter Solstice.  With the celebration in witchcraft of those who had passed on, an aspect of Life that we call Death, a catchall was created.  The holy day of November first is the celebration of the lives of any person who was considered a saint, even if they had never been sanctified by the church.  This all-inclusive category allowed family members to venerate loved ones, under the pretense that the loved one was ‘as a saint.’

That is the reason for the holy day, or holiday.  That is why ghosts are a part of the celebration.  But the spin that the Christian church put on the whole affair had nothing to do with the original celebration, or sabbat, and does not reflect its intent.  It was probably one of the most peaceful, loving, contemplative sabbats, of the eight on the Wheel.  People were already conserving their resources, knowing that there were many months to go before food would be easily found, and the weather often was cold and bleak.  Harvest celebrations, themselves a recognition of the importance of Death in life, had been held just a few weeks before, so people were not anxious to see each other, as they would be by the time of the Yule.  There was no evil associated with this time, no fear of the unknown.  We have created those things in modern times, perhaps out of our frustration at not being able to observe what was probably one of the oldest annual celebrations on the Wheel of the Year.

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