Lately, I’ve been walking around the neighborhood, taking pictures of the remains of Hallowe’en. I think our neighbors may have gone a little over the top this year. There are straw-stuffed corpses swinging from trees. The figure of Death sits on a porch rocker, and severed heads on spikes line the sidewalks, dripping plastic gore.
I would be traumatized by this stuff if I had come here from a country where monsters are real. It’s a luxury that we can make light of the macabre and celebrate death without losing sleep at night. Then again, Hallowe’en, or All Hallow’s Eve, is a festival meant to help us confront the power of death with humor and irreverence.
I think of Hallowe’en as the day when the door to the underworld opens. We acknowledge that we are once again wheeling down into the dark months, into the land of shadows and shades.
Not all cultures see the underworld as a dark, demonic place. In an aboriginal fairy tale called The Land of Souls, the spirit world is described in a beautiful way. The soul who passes through the door might hear the shadows whisper…
If you are passing through our land, you will have left your body behind. You will be feeling light as air. As you flow along, the scent of the earth will become sweeter and sweeter, and the flowers, more and more beautiful. The animals will rub their noses against you, the birds will circle around you, and the fish will raise their heads to look at you as you pass.Neither rocks nor trees will block your path, here in the Land of Souls….
On this side of door, we hang ghosts and corpses. But I think something else is going on at Hallowe’en. The atmosphere changes as we sturdy ourselves for winter. We make soups and stews. We pull out our warmest boots, hats, gloves, and scarves. We light a fire in the hearth, and in our own hearts. The light within strengthens as the sun departs, until, on the darkest day of the year, it blazes. Trees are lit and an elfin magic infuses the atmosphere, prompting us to notice the light of the world while we exchange gifts.
So, when the children are knocking on ghoulish doors, singing, “Trick or treat,” and opening their bags to receive candy, I wonder if they aren’t receiving another kind of sweetness, passed to them through death’s door. A little light goes into their Hallowe’en pails.
Something to keep us warm through winter.