Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Samhain/All Hallows

The 31st of October is a very odd time. According to the wisdom of old, it is the one night of the year when the boundary between the normal world and some other world can be breached. Some say that today, we may receive visits from the dead. The old festival of Samhain falls on this day. This festival was taken over and brought into Christianity, where it became known as 'All Hallows Eve', from which the contemporary term 'Halloween' derives. Originally, Samhain was the festival of the end of Summer.

The significance of this day has become confused and mixed. For some, it is a day to visit the graves of relatives, to tidy and clean them. For others, the traditional significance has been lost. It is a day that has been subverted by candy, Spiderman and similar silly outfits and other ephemera.

One of the things I find most troubling about 'Halloween' is the propensity of people to say "Happy Halloween". This is totally odd to me. After all, what is so happy about the dead?

Where I was brought up, this festival was taken quite seriously. Granted people dressed up in costumes or disguises. However, any disguises worn at this time had to honor the intent and the theme -- they had to be scary. No Spiderman! After all, if one was walking the footpaths and the lanes and you saw a scary looking person, who knew who that was? It could be your neighbor, or it could be his or her dead relatives.

I mourn the loss of the traditional Samhain. There is something undoubtedly special about these days. For instance, any party held about this time of year almost always goes well. Why is that? Yet, the folk wisdom behind this observation, which probably belongs in the Farmer's Almanac, seems to have been lost. The commercialism of All Hallows has also brought about a loss of meaning. This, I believe to be a shame and a sad loss.

As a philosopher, I am generally speaking the arch-skeptic. However, the special nature of Samhain is still something I miss. So, please honor the old traditions tonight, if you can. Dress yourself, or your child as a witch, or a goblin, not Spiderman. It may just make the world a better place (assuming that the 'old wisdom' has some validity). I also recommend learning something about the history of Samhain/All Hallows. Can an event mean too much if one does not understand how it came about? I would say not. I guess Wal-Mart says otherwise. Where do you choose to take your stand?

Sleep well, Jack O' The Green.

The CP


Blogger Oz said...

This was a very interesting post, I enjoyed reading it.

I celebrate Halloween and Samhain seperately. For me, Halloween is a secular holiday and is about the fun, the candy, and the costumes. I dress up as a pirate and give candy to the trick-or-treaters, I host a Halloween party, and I revel in my childhood memories of the holiday.

Samhain, on the other hand, is about remembering those who've passed on, honoring our ancestors, and renewal in the new cycle of the year.

2:11 PM  

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