In long legends from across the British isles, Hallowe’en and the old Celtic Samhain festival which preceeded it, have marked the death of summer and the start of the cold winter season. All Hallow’s Eve was the night before the start of the winter season on 1 November; the night is in between summer and winter, not belonging to either but connected to both. This liminality gives it potency, and is thought to connect the ‘ordinary’ reality to otherworldy realities. Due to this, people thought the veil between worlds becomes thin – thin enough for spirits, demons or the dead to come back through into our plane of existence.
This is why there are so many customs which are in fact old divination techniques – apple bobbing, throwing chestnuts into the fire and so on – as perhaps the veil becomes so thin you can see the future clearly. Ignoring the commercial nature of our modern Hallowe’en and the dentist’s joy of trick or treating, there is a real primal fear underpinning the Hallowe’en legend: darkness, winter and the fear of the unknown. No-one really knows if spirits and ghosts exist or if what people feel are just experiences of something else which science cannot currently explain. Reality is what we construct around us; so we interpret the unknown in the only way our brains can process.
So…perhaps you should lock your door this evening and light a candle in the window.
To mark the day, here is a poem. Samhain by Annie Finch
In the season leaves should move
since it gives them leave to move
through the wind, towards the ground
they were watching while they hung,
legend says there is a seam
stitching darkness like a name.
Now when dying grasses veil
earth from the sky in one last pale
wave, as autumn die to bring
winter back, and then the spring,
we who die ourselves can peel
back another kind of veil
that hangs among us like thick smoke.
Tonight at last I feel it shake.
I feel the nights stretching away
thousands long behind the days
til they reach the darkness where
all of me is ancestor.
I move my hand and feel a touch
move with me, and when I brush
my own mind across another,
I am with my mother’s mother.
Sure as footsteps in my waiting
self, I find her, and she brings
arms that carry answers for me,
intimate, a waiting bounty.
“Carry me.” She leaves this trail
through a shudder of the veil,
and leaves, like amber where she stays,
a gift for her perpetual gaze.