So it’s Halloween. It’s also Sunday. I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the spirituality of this particular day. Now it’s often treated as a trick, a consumerist holiday with too much candy and befitting spooky decorations. Like all holidays Halloween has evolved from its origins to how we celebrate it today. Other than Wiccans and Neo-pagans, however, not too many take it seriously. At Nashotah House, and therefore likely at some parishes scattered around the world, All Saints Day—which is tomorrow—was a day of obligation. What we call Halloween was the day before this major festival of praising the faithful. There is some evidence that All Saints was moved to November 1 to counter the lively celebration of Samhain, or the Celtic fire festival marking the onset of winter.
The Celts included an intellectual class known as Druids. Druids seem to have been the “theologians” (oh, that word!) of the Celts and they mandated that their teachings not be written down. A great deal of information was passed on by intensive memorization and only became known to us outsiders because after Christianization it began to be written down. Their idea of the afterlife seems to have been that it was being born into the other world. In the otherworld life was different and apparently in some respects better. When our time there drew to a close, our death led to our birth into this world. The cycle continued on and on. Samhain was the time when crossing between worlds could occur. Death wasn’t a cause for sorrow since the otherworld awaited. Birth into this world was more problematic.
Fear of death seems natural enough to us. Even though it’s inevitable and this world’s graveyards are full, somehow we seem to think we can avoid it ourselves. Our evolved survival instinct runs out of control since we’ve eliminated many of the causes of death that have plagued our species (and many other species) for millennia. Eons. As we’ve done so we’ve distanced ourselves from death—dying in hospitals, our corpses prepared in funeral homes, buried and eventually forgotten. To me, the Celtic idea, from a world where death was likely much more close to hand, seems a more healthy outlook. Instead of fear, why not consider it a day of wonder and celebration? To many, I know, that is a spooky thought indeed. It’s more than a day of masks and candy, however. And we might learn from it if we stop and ponder.