Saturday, October 31, 2015

The eve of All Hallows, when the veil is thin

Hallowe'en is an eve: the Eve of All Hallows Day, observed on November 1st. All Hallows is, traditionally, the celebration of the saints, those spiritual role models who have gone before. November 2 is All Souls Day, a day of remembrance of all our brethren who have passed from this world. These are two related, celebratory and very hopeful memorial days, days in which we mark the memories of those who have lived lives of purpose or sacrifice, of example and education. We think on them and their actions and consider how blessed we are to have known them, either personally or by virtue of our narrative tradition. 

All Hallows Eve, on the other hand, is an altogether different day, or night, traditionally. Today it is a time of make-believe, where everyone may try on an identity for an evening. But it is also a night of enjoying - seeking out, embracing - frights. A night in which we turn our gaze toward death and the gruesome - indeed, looking upon our own mortality - instead of shying away. It is, in essence, a night on which we look our mortality in the face and declare "You're not so scary."

Long ago it was believed that on the feast of All Hallows the veil between worlds was thin. It was a liminal time and space, wherein the division between the living and the dead became mutable and interplay between worlds was possible. On this day several cultures would entreat visits from the beloved dead with offerings and candlelit shrines. On the eve of All Hallows, however, it was protection from ill-spirits that several cultures sought, and it was for this purpose that jack o'lanterns were carved of squash and gourds, or more historically, turnips. The firelit faces would frighten and repel evil spirits from the homes of those awaiting the feast of All Hallows.

Autumn is a time to face death. The days turn colder, the plants are dying and we know that winter is coming. Not so long ago, it was a time of scarcity and difficulty for everyone; today, largely only for the ill-fortuned. Whether your spiritual beliefs hold with the idea of spirits and spiritual worlds, souls and the afterlife, and the intersection of worlds, we can all appreciate the challenge of acknowledging mortality and choosing to mock that inevitability rather than fear it, especially in the face of the pathetic irony of the seasonal change. As the weather turns colder and less sustaining of life our confidence in our own longevity may falter. Hallowe'en spurs us to stand boldly in the face of mortality, to live without fear of our fragile nature.

In this liminal space, this time of contradiction with the trees arrayed in beautiful foliage in defiance of the pending dormancy and death that comes with winter's cold, we look on our mortality and our fate and challenge ourselves to cast off our fear. And if the veil truly is thin, if the worlds do indeed collide tonight, perhaps we will find ourselves offered assurance from the other side.


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