It’s Halloween time again! Americans have adopted Halloween as a holiday almost outstripping Christmas in popularity. But as with American Christmas, very few people really know and understand the background of the holiday and its true meaning. There are excellent articles on the internet that go into interesting detail on its origins and significance. I recommend these as a good starting place:
All Saints Day and All Souls Day
Crossing the Veil: The Pre-Christian Origins of Halloween and Samhain
Three Day Festival
The first idea to consider is that “Halloween” is part of a three day/ night festival, not just a single day/ night holiday. Just as we have lost the concept that Christmas is not “over” on December 26, so it is that few people understand and celebrate All Hallows Day, also called All Saints Day on November 1. The following day, November 2 is All Souls Day. Halloween is short for The Eve of All Hallows, or All Hallows Eve. All Saints Day and All Souls Day are part of the church calendar. The term Halloween refers to the church calendar, but in a way, “hides” the fact that it is also the feast of Samain (pronounced sah-van or sow-in) in the Pagan calendar. Samain is one of the four cardinal points of the pagan calendar and from its traditions comes much of the outward symbols and traditions of All Hallows Eve, such as masks, Jack O’Lantern or other lantern lights, fortune telling and more. One will find correspondences between ancient traditions and Christian festivals throughout the year. Some ancient traditions have been co-opted by the developing Church in the Middle Ages and some vice versa. In some cases, the common people perceived the connection between their own traditions and the festivals of the church. In other cases, the church “fathers” developed festivals that drew on symbols and celebrations of the people they were trying to convert or influence. The fact is, that there are cosmic seasons and energies, points of “power” on the Earth and non-material or “supersensible” influences on both Nature and Humankind. Some of these influences are “good” and some are “evil”, that is beneficial or harmful either in a practical, material sense or in a more spiritual and subtle sense. Knowing about certain seasonal influences gives one a better chance of aligning with beneficial forces and protecting oneself against malevolent ones.
All Hallow’s Eve – October 31 (sundown to sunrise)
This is the feast of Samain. It is the night that is considered by witches or pagans to be the most powerful because of a “thinning of the veil” between the material and spiritual worlds. In living with this Imagination, one may consider that it is a time (between sundown and sunup) in which our Heavenly Protectors, our Guardian Angels, Saints and other Michaelic Warriors, are mandated to “step aside.” The work they do 24/7 on our behalf to protect us from “evil” or malevolent entities is suspended. For these few hours we are, so to speak, on our own. We must therefore become vigilant and take steps to protect ourselves and our loved ones from harm – inner and outer. What kind of harm? Consider the emotions we call negative – fear or worry about future events, depression, anger, hatred or animosity, resignation, self-doubt and others. If one is prepared to take seriously the idea that not all of our thoughts and feelings are only a product of our personal experience, but can also be influenced by unseen “supersensible” beings and entities for good or ill, then one may consider that negative thoughts and feeling may be impressed on us, especially those that arise without practical cause and those that linger when we don’t want them to and try to fight. Our Angels work to influence our thoughts and soul feelings toward the Good – greater love for ourselves and our fellow human beings and the other kingdoms of the Earth; a greater awareness of and gratitude toward the work of the spiritual world on our behalf; more self-confidence, self-love and self-awareness; more acceptance of the course of life and peace in our hearts towards its unfolding; more alignment with God (whatever name one prefers) and the positive Spiritual Beings and Forces who are working to further Humanity’s spiritual evolution in a positive way. Every religion and spiritual tradition on Earth also recognizes the existence of Beings and Powers or Forces working for the negative in Humanity and Earth evolution. As Spiritual Beings ourselves, the Sons of Freedom, we are a fulcrum between the two. We can and do swing back and forth between the two energy streams. We make choices between the two every day, in our thoughts, our feelings and our actions. We know in ourselves (if we choose to be conscious about it) where we lean further in one direction or the other and how much we are willing to do to strengthen one or the other. The forces and Beings of the Good respect our freedom to choose. The negative ones, not so much. The Beings of the Good do as much as they can to protect, strengthen and help us according to how much we allow them to. The negative ones don’t ask our permission, they work on us as much as they have opportunity to do, especially in today’s culture though media and outside stimulation. On Samain, All Hallow’s Eve, they have especially strong influence and power. The very fact that we are bombarded by images of death and demons and encouraged to accept them into ourselves as being some kind of joke or fun that no one is supposed to take seriously is in itself proof that these forces are very actively at work.
He complained in no way of the evil reputation under which he lived, indeed, all over the world, and he assured me that he himself was of all living beings the most interested in the destruction of Superstition, and he avowed to me that he had been afraid, relatively as to his proper power, once only, and that was on the day when he had heard a preacher, more subtle than the rest of the human herd, cry in his pulpit: "My dear brethren, do not ever forget, when you hear the progress of lights praised, that the loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist!"
- Charles Baudelaire, "The Generous Gambler" (Feb. 1864).
- Variant: "The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.", The Usual Suspects(1995)
For anyone who simply does not or can not accept or believe in any kind of existence of a spiritual or “supersensible” (beyond the physical senses) world, the continuation of life after physical death or the reality of spiritual or supersensible entities, then this whole discussion is useless and Halloween is simply a day to dress up and eat candy or ignore altogether. For those who take spiritual things seriously, it is a time to contemplate the existence, purpose and goals of the Beings and Entities who influence the Earth plane against its own positive spiritual evolution.
All Saints Day – November 1
We have recently celebrated Michaelmas, the Feast of the Archangel Michael and All Angels. We spoke about the “Dragon” forces. In the younger grades we didn’t refer to “The Devil” but rather couched the negative (gently at first in the earlier years) in the symbol of the dragon as a force of potential harm to the Human Being. In Second Grade, we were able to allow the image of the Dragon to be a bit fiercer and by Sixth Grade, we could start to tell the Medieval tales of Archangel Michael and his confrontations with the Devil, such as the story of Mont St. Michel in France. Our concept of Angels and Saints are meant to grow and develop as the children progress in understanding and imagination. Ultimately, the child in high school and beyond begins ideally to sort out her or his own relation to the positive and negative impulses, ideas and desires we all possess in our own souls.
In Catholic tradition, children are baptized with names of Saints in hopes of conferring one or more Saints’ protection and guidance in their lives. Another way of determining a connection is through the Calendar of the Saints and looking for which Saint’s Day is closest to one’s own birthday or relates in some other way to one’s life. Even if not Catholic, many people relate to and identify inwardly with the life and deeds of one or more Saints. It is often believed that calling on a Saint will influence that Being in the spiritual world to come to one’s aid or protection. There are many beautiful prayers used to invoke the protection of Saint Patrick or the assistance of Saint Anthony or Saint Jude. Of course, much of this was lost or minimized after the Reformation with its denouncement of the “worship of Saints”, especially with the use of statues, pictures or relics of any kind. Still, even some Protestants feel a connection with Saints and often invoke their help surreptitiously.
November 1, with the rising of the Sun, the Angels and Saints come rushing back to us. They have been held off through the dark night and now they come back in strength to push back the dark and demonic forces that held sway in the darkness. If we have kept vigil, if we have maintained consciousness, we are able to welcome them back and then the real celebration may be made – the reuniting of the Good in our lives and in our world.
All Soul’s Day – November 2
At this time of year, most cultures celebrate some form of connection with the Dead – those who have crossed over the Threshold into the Spiritual World. These world wide celebrations take many forms and have slightly different meanings. But most cultures recognize a time of the year when the “veil thins” or the Threshold widens, permitting closer contact with the spiritual world and hopefully, a closer connection with one’s beloved ones on “the other side.” It may also be a time to contemplate one’s own mortality and either pre-mourn its eventuality or celebrate it, depending on one’s own beliefs in the matter. Where the culture is still connected to death as a part of life’s experiences, there tends to be more celebration and an easier recognition and acceptance of its role in life. In American and other “westernized” cultures, where fewer and fewer family members die at home and where the “processing” of dead bodies is done in hospitals and funeral homes without any family participation, death has become very removed from most people’s experience. Even when there is an open casket at a funeral, the loved one is usually made to look as if “sleeping” and great effort is made to avoid the appearance of death. We don’t generally surround the casket with images of skulls or skeletons or other traditional symbols of death. We are encouraged to think beyond the death of the body and to keep visualizing our loved on in “Heaven”, surrounded by Angels or with Jesus, all of which are right in themselves. However, there is little time for thought of the possibility that not all of the experience one has after leaving the body is pleasant. The ancient ideas of Purgatory and purgatory-like realms and experiences are vastly downplayed in our culture. The idea that there is a review period of three days in which the individuality has a fairly quick “replay” of his or her life and then a much longer time in what is called “Kamaloca” is largely unknown in the West. After the funeral, a family is encouraged to “move on” – to grieve their material loss, but not to try to “follow” their loved one’s experience. In more ancient cultures, it is still largely known that the dead remain connected and that either ceremonies, prayers or other spiritual practices can have a helping effect on their experiences in the spiritual world and on our own through maintaining a positive connection.
Rudolf Steiner gave many lectures on “Life Between Death and Rebirth” and on connecting with our beloved Dead. Many Initiates and Masters are in full agreement with his teachings on the subject. There is a new compilation of Steiner’s indications called “Staying Connected” which is a great starting point for those who wish to understand this subject better.
Celebrating the Festival
In terms of living with and working with children, especially young children, one may still ask, what is the best way to enjoy Halloween as a cultural holiday and still work with (and protect against) the cosmic energies of this time of the year?
So much fun!! Dressing up and getting tons of candy, often prohibited or limited the rest of the year. Adults love it to. One may feel uninhibited and mischievous. The dressing up and mischief is actually borrowed primarily from the European traditions that mark the Fasching or Carnival time just before the start of Lent. They were meant to give people a temporary release from social oppression – allowing men and women to dress as the opposite sex; to hide behind masks while berating and making fun of political powers; to give way to appetites and desires normally kept under tight control. Of course, with the beginning of Lent, all of these wild impulses were expected to come back under tight and firm control! But our society is far more “relaxed” and the loosening and tightening process is much less defined and present.
Candy, or in the older days, sweet treats like donuts (soul cakes) and other goodies were far more rare. Beggars used to be allowed on certain days and with certain restrictions to go from door to door and ask for food in exchange for prayers for the occupants’ dead. This was called “souling.” With our cultural de-emphasis on death and the idea of purgatory, this kind of begging became irrelevant.
When sugar and sweets were rare and expensive, the kind of “trick or treating” that we are used to could not have existed. According to Wikipedia, the first mention of “trick or treat” in the media was in the 30s. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trick-or-treating
After World War II, the media and the candy industry took advantage of the prosperity and the new means of reaching the masses to turn Halloween into a candy-fest! Gradually, the older bobbing for apples, soul cakes and othe r traditional treats were replaced almost entirely.
Unfortunately, what was a holiday for children, most often unsupervised and unaccompanied children allowed to wander the neighborhood at night has been sharply curtailed in the past fifty years, due to various “scares” – child predators and tainted candy primarily. There are fewer neighborhoods where everyone who lives there knows each other and trusts each other with the care of their children. More schools and churches have worked to replace door to door trick or treating with Halloween parties where the children can go from person to person or room to room in a contained space. Many Waldorf schools have created beautiful festivals where the children and families are led indoors or outdoors to various scenes, mostly from fairy tales, where they hear a story or see a little play acted out and then are given treats. There are usually games to play for treats or prizes as well. These kinds of festivals have been a great help to families who don’t want to deprive their children of the fun of Halloween but don’t want them exposed to the excesses of the mainstream culture. In the Waldorf communities, media or “horror” costumes and decorations are prohibited with gentle fairy tale or nature costumes and imagery promoted.
Often due to the realities of weekend scheduling, the Halloween Festivals are held on a different night than the actual Halloween, October 31. This is all to the better. If the realities of Samhain still hold sway, despite modern beliefs, it would be better not to be outdoors at all from sundown to sunup! Wearing masks was a tradition that originated with the belief that a ghost or demon couldn’t hurt you if they couldn’t recognize you – didn’t know who you were! Wearing maskes of the kind that are popular today, which are truly demonic, may actually draw the demonic to the wearer instead of protecting him or her!
Jack O’Lanterns were also created as a kind of totem protection, in hopes of scaring the “baddies” away!! This tradition has also evolved in many creative ways to our time.
Here are some ideas for ways that a small community or several families could arrange a celebration that would allow for lots of fun while providing protection as well as celebrating the return of the Good with the first light of dawn on November 1.
All Saints Day
The ideal would be two pre-arranged homes in walking distance from each other. At the “Halloween” house, everyone would arrive before sunset and bring sleeping bags and pillows! Once everyone has arrived, the doors and windows would be “sealed” with pentacles and other “magic signs” and prayers of protection (spells) against evil said. The children (and adults if they wish) may be in costume. All of the fun activities of Halloween can be had – fortune telling, ghost stories (age appropriate), games and “trick or treating” around the house. Pumpkin carving and other lantern making with the Jack O’Lanterns put by the doors and windows for protection (which they were first created for).
If the neighborhood does participate in trick or treating, perhaps one adult could be designated to wait for trick or treaters outside with the “goods” while wearing a protective mask and costume and maybe being surrounded by Jack O’Lanterns and protective signs and symbols! Better not to constantly open the door. You never know what might float in!
The children can be entertained later than usual and the adult encouraged to “keep vigil” to stay awake or take turns being awake! Very few people have actually tried to maintain a vigil for religious reasons since the middle ages or Renaissance!
Now for the new – just before dawn, several wakeful adults take down the “Halloween” signs and symbols and replace them with Christian ones (if the group is Christian) such as the cross and the dove of the Holy Spirit. The children are roused to greet the dawn and if the group is sufficiently dramatic, simple robes are provided and candles in protective holders.
The participants then walk to the second house in a procession with lit candles and songs of courage and gratitude. At the second house, a breakfast has been prepared. The tables are set with pictures of each person’s name or day saint (or just one they relate to) and a verse of encouragement. Some more songs may be sung and then home to a bit more sleep for those vigil keepers if possible!
A wonderful Imagination of this is to be found in the 1940s movie “Fantasia” (not recommended for children under nine years old.) At the end of the movie is Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” which perfectly and dramatically portrays the demonic forces holding sway through the night. But with the first chime of church bells in the pre-dawn, the demon of the mountain cowers. Despite lifting his fist in defiance, the bells continue and the dawn grows stronger. The spirits must return to their graves and the demon must return to his imprisonment in the mountain. The music transitions to Schubert’s “Ave Maria” and a procession of robed figures carrying lights moves through a primeval forest which becomes a kind of cathedral and ultimately arrives at the gates of paradise embodied in the rising sun.
All Souls’ Day
This is a wonderful day to enjoy one’s cultural heritage in celebrating loved ones on the other side of the Threshold. Of course, many churches have a celebration and many families set a place at the table with a photo of their beloved one. There are many special foods prepared all around the world and special prayers of gratitude to one’s ancestors for their role in our becoming who we are and for their love.
It is a time to remember family stories and to start or continue a family journal for future generations to enjoy. It is a great time to take out family photo albums and to watch a video or look at a picture book about a country or countries part of a family’s heritage and to listen to or create music from those cultures. It is a day to strengthen the children’s awareness of and gratitude for their family and heritage in many creative ways.
A word about visits to a cemetery or cemeteries. This has to be a family choice. Some caution may be advised about including young children or very sensitive children. It is a balancing situation between affirming life after death and working with the idea of death itself. There are no one size fits all answers. It depends on the parents’ truthful feelings and beliefs about death and afterlife. On one hand, exposure to adult grief may be overwhelming to a child, whereas there is also value in allowing a child to express his or her own grief. If one plans to celebrate this festival, it would be good to prepare in advance a story or just to think out for both parents how they desire to answer questions and to handle the subject of death and grief. Of course, celebrating one’s beloved dead will often lead to a child’s concern about the death of her or his parents or self. If there has been a recent death in the family, especially of a grandparent or parent, this may re-awaken the grief. The positive side if handled well is that it may be an excellent opportunity to work with the sorrow and fear that the child is already holding and may not have expressed yet. It may be a difficult but very valuable time of sharing for everyone and hopefully a time when those who we love and grieve for can come closer to our hearts and bring greater peace and assurance that they are still with us.
October 29, 2016