No – not the polyester black capes, rubber bats and plastic axes. Not the fake fangs and stage blood. Not the tack. It has little to do with the original spirit of Hallowe’en.
And, please, let us spell it correctly. Hallowe’en. With the apostrophe, since it derives from All Hallows’ Eve[ning]. I have read that, before the Christian Church superimposed its holy days on so-called pagan rituals, it was called Samhain (pronounced Sow-in), which means “end of summer”. It was the festival of the harvest, one of the four significant days which marked the halfway point of the four seasons. It was the day the Celts honoured the dead, and which marked the start of the new year. There was nothing ghoulish about honouring the dead. The Celts believed in the immortality of the soul and – as Julius Caesar recorded – in reincarnation. The ancient Druids believed that on Samhain, the skin between the two worlds was so thin, mortals could cross it to go to the other side, and so could spirits. If you had not done harm to folk whilst they were alive, you had no reason to fear their wrath on Samhain. Unfortunately, there is little written documentation about Celtic beliefs, since knowledge was transmitted orally. What we have, is writings by non-Celts, such as the afore-mentioned Julius Caesar. What we do know, is that the Celts had a deep love and respect for the earth, nature and the elements. I understand they practised what we now call sound therapy. Moreover, I am told that they knew the exact distance between the Earth and the Moon.
I have always enjoyed Hallowe’en. There is magic in the air, as autumn takes over the land, turns greens into sienna, scarlet and gold. Cold winds sweep leaves off the trees, and spin them in a whirl before depositing them on the ground. The sky turns a severe grey. After a summer of indulgence and play, Nature seems keen on reminding us who is boss. As someone who drank fairy tales with my mother’s milk, I see magic in this display of natural forces. No time of year inspires a feeling of awe in me, as autumn. Autumn is full of enchantment, when Nature turns alchemist, and transforms the landscape into fiery hues.
As a girl, on Hallowe’en, I would indulge in fortune telling with other girls. We all went to bed hoping that the faces of our future husbands would be revealed to us in our dreams. When I grew older, I had a phase of inviting friends over to read ghost stories by candlelight.
For me, autumn has always marked a new beginning, much more so than New Year’s Day. Perhaps, this is connected to academic years. There is something inspiring about the sight of Nature cleaning house and going to rest before the travails of Spring. The latter may well be about birth, and the coming to light of things new but, in a way, Autumn is the getting pregnant and quietly nurturing the unborn child away from prying eyes, until the babe is strong enough to face the visible world. Around Hallowe’en, I get a feeling of excitement. It is easy to admire the in-your-face splendour of Spring and Summer but you need to sharpen your senses to see the discreet charm of Autumn and Winter. The rustling of leaves in the wind, the delicate crunch of dry leaves under your feet, and the swishing sound of wind’s breath. The comforting sweet scent of moist soil, and the cooling smell of drizzle. The rich taste of roast chestnuts, the sugary flavour of pumpkin; the sweetness of potatoes baked in coals. I pick up conkers, put them in my pockets, and run my fingers against their perfect, cool smoothness.
Today, the clocks went back. A gift of an extra hour. A gift of a new opportunity. In that hour, you could make a decision that could change your whole life for the better. A new beginning.
I shall now go out and buy a pumpkin. I will scoop out the insides and fry them with sage, garlic, Cayenne pepper and pine nuts. The shell, I will carve into a pair of laughing eyes, a pert nose, a joyful grin, and two eyebrows. One of the eyebrows will be raised – with an expression of highly amused scepticism. My pumpkin will appear to say, “Nothing is quite as it seems.”