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Saturday, 28 October 2017

A Skull is for life, not just for Halloween.

Women's Black Coach

How can we help our children to connect with the deeper significance of this time of year?


Halloween is in the shops; the usual depressing dearth of plastic shit (I bought a plastic skull, I couldn't help myself, but to me, a skull is for life, not just for Halloween) It's also on the streets...lots of sweet little skeletons, witches and Count Draculas are loving the dark spookiness of pumpkins and candles, running round the houses collecting sweets.  Amid the parties, sweets, fake blood and plastic it's as challenging to make the time and space to bring forth the deeper essence of this part of our year for ourselves and our children as it is to remember the true 'meaning of Christmas' among the drink, food, commercialism, stress, expectation and madness of December.

This time of year in the northern hemisphere we are experiencing the diminishing light in our days, equidistant as it is between the autumn equinox around the 21st of September and the winter solstice around the 21st December, depending upon the exact timings of the position of the earth in relation to the sun. People from ancient times in this area felt their dependence upon sunlight far more than we do in modern times. Neolithic passage tombs in Ireland are aligned to face the sunrise around the time of Samhain, 31st October to 1st November.  Samhain (pronounced 'sow-in to rhyme with 'wow'') was observed through the Celtic parts of the British Isles and Europe, possibly as the new year, and was the time when cattle were bought in from summer pastures and slaughtered. 

Their bones were burned in bone-fires...hence our 'bonfire'.

Fire symbolised the continuation of life and light and warmth despite the disappearing sun. The ancient traditions of mumming and guising (going from house to house in disguise, collecting fruit and coins) could possibly have an early origin, but latterly were definitely part of this time too.

Like the Celtic fire festival of Beltane, celebrated around 30th April-1st May, this time of year was historically and still is considered to be a time when perceptions of the otherworld might be stronger and more evident.  Many Christian churches observe All Saints Day, All Souls Day, All Hallows Day,  recognising the bond between those in Heaven and those still on earth. All the various influences on our small island and its neighbours have added to the traditions around this time; ancient Roman, Christian and even more ancient pagan Celtic peoples.

Free stock photo of light, dawn, landscape, nature
The light and warmth of summer is dying, along with the leaves which are falling to the wet cold earth, leaving the Nature's bare bones stark against the sky.

Being in the nature around our communities is so important for our children, to nurture the connection to the greater forces at work in our lives.  Seeing and feeling these energies informs our understanding of life, and it's ever-present companion, death.

  We don't always know what to say to our children about death, because we can't provide the physical evidence for deeply felt truths...but nature can. The fun and frisson of the excitement of this time, mixed as it is with hints of surprise, disguise, trickery and fear is a throwback to the way in which the ancient people dealt with their need, like ours, to engage with the darker hidden energies.

Free stock photo of wood, dark, tree, ground

This Halloween I'm noticing lots of fake blood, spattered on white sheets hanging up.  This special time of year allows us to bring out our hidden taboos into the light.  The manifestation of death that women experience every month when nothing appears to have come to life in the womb, and the darker, rejected tabooed energy is hers to manage, because the rest of the world doesn't want to know.

My personal observance of this time begins with all the bonfire celebrations I attend every week.  Each one will have, amid the fire, the laughter, the dressing up and fun, a time set aside for deep reverence and respect, the silence where we remember and honour the sacrifice of our men and women in wartime.  The dark, still, time starts with All Hallows, transmutes into the fantastic fire and remembrance festival that is bonfire, and culminates a few days later with the still solemnity of Remembrance and observation of silence.



I love this time for it's fearless acknowledgement that there's more to life than just what we can see. I love that young and old can meet these energies in company, and fun.  I hope that, like we do in bonfire, people can include a quieter time, with just a single candle, and an extra place laid at the table. A space to honour those gone before, to honour those in our community who grieve, for whom the presence of death in their lives is an every day reality.  In that spirit of balance, I could almost stop loathing Halloween, as much as I love Samhain and Bonfire!
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