Echoes of Bacchanalia: Witchy Reflections on a Hallowe’en Pub

Our small town had its annual Hallowe’en Pub (sponsored by the Rotary Club) last night, and I went for the first time, with two girlfriends. We’ve lived here for twelve years, and I’d never gone before although I’d wanted to.

I had a great time, of course. It was fun seeing everyone dressed up, relaxing, dancing and joking and in a general celebration. It was wonderful to go in costume and dance with my friends. Some faces were so obscured by makeup or covered by mask that I couldn’t be sure who I was seeing, unless I asked.

It occurred to me, halfway through the evening, what an ancient ritual this was — this custom of fancy-dress and masquerade in the dying days of autumn. There was no orgiastic frenzy, and no use of mind-altering chemicals other than those found in legal alcoholic drinks, but the spirit and purpose were there for any who chose to look closely.

I watched the hot young (and matured) things in their body-baring store-bought or homemade costumes, gossiped with my friends about how this time of year always seems to be an excuse for girls to be slutty (my own costume was hardly modest, but as I was playing on puns to mock 50 Shades of Grey, I figured I was allowed the use of leggings and a bustier — with a shirt underneath đŸ˜‰

I thought to myself, from an anthropological standpoint, and a biological one, it’s a good season for young fertile women to seek mates. I felt like I was observing a ritual of preening, an invitation for admiration — if only for self-admiration — and why not? If you have a great body, be proud of it. (That includes curves, by the way.) Choosing an affecting costume to feel funny, sexy, pretty, adventurous, it’s a release from the stresses of the wrap-up of summer. We’re going to be bundling up for winter soon, covering our lovely legs, waists, and cleavages with woollens and fleeces. Celebrating in the ancient way, with music and dancing and revelry, it’s both a farewell to summer and an act of defiance against the dark and cold of the coming winter.

I watched men of all varieties in their own mock-ups of ideal body forms, with foam muscles if they didn’t have their own to strut, listening to their banter and laughing at their ludicrous and lurid pantomiming… Sex was not quite in the air, but there were echoes of it. Or maybe I just hadn’t had enough to drink. In a college cafeteria, when everyone knows everyone even in masks, there is still a need to take a little care in the small town in which everyone talks. But behind a mask, the eyes are a little freer to admire, and the body feels less inhibited in its movement. A man whose body has gone to seed with maturity can pretend, just for the night, that he’s got the six-pack and biceps that society admires, and we all go along with the image because it’s permitted on Hallowe’en.

Again, this suspension of disbelief — this theatre in which everyone is a participant and an observer at the same time — is a necessary part of the celebration of the fall of the year. Pagans believe that the year turns in a wheel, and the ancient Celts followed a calendar which saw Samhain as the final month. That makes sense to me. We dance, we drink, we cavort, we laugh, we raise our fists against the end of life and toast the memories of those recently or long passed away, in preparation for a time of sleeping and winter chores. The new year doesn’t have to begin right away — there must be a space of wait, until Yule when the longest night of the year passes and the days begin to grow a little brighter. More celebrating.

I think that rituals like Hallowe’en fancy dress / costume parties, trick-or-treating, scary decorations, pumpkin carving, etc., are all symbolic of our resistance to the call of Death. Humans, for the most part, desperately cling to life or resolve to find death of our own choosing when the time comes — we don’t want to be told what to do or when to go. So at the end of October (in the Western calendar), we fight back against the dying light and browning world by surrounding ourselves with colours of red passion and orange warmth, rescinding the dark’s power by reclaiming all the shades of night, lighting candles and bonfires to keep the memory of the sun’s warmth alive through its absence. We are performing a wake for the death of summer. We are reminding ourselves that just because our landscape is coming under the rule of winter, we continue to live.

Last night’s Hallowe’en Pub was nearly as pagan as a secular activity can get… Except there were no symbols of fire. I would not expect candles in an indoor facility, but without even battery-operated votives, jack o’lanterns, torches, or what -have-you, I couldn’t help but think that it felt somewhat incomplete.

I’ve heard the arguments about the commercialization of the holiday. I know that people grumble about the cost of parceling out junk candy to kids in costumes that aren’t fit to wear more than once. But I view it from a Wiccan Witch’s perspective: Hallowe’en represents the sharing of abundance at the closing of the year. It represents acknowledging our fears and our dreams, learning about our imaginations and about boundaries… Going to a party based on celebration of the dead, the scary, heroes and monsters, harvest bounty — it’s an essential and empowering element of the human experience.

So to me, the Hallowe’en Pub was in a way, on some level, a religious experience. I walked home under a full moon, appreciating my life, feeling the energy I’d experienced, knowing that the party was still in full swing, and that the energy would continue to surge into the night.

There is a meaning to everything.

50 Shades of Grey

I love my puns!

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2 thoughts on “Echoes of Bacchanalia: Witchy Reflections on a Hallowe’en Pub

  1. jennytwist says:

    It is, of course, a pagan festival. The Christian church imposed All Saints’ Day on top of what had been All Souls’ Day, when we worshipped the dead. In Spain this is the day of the dead and, even as I write this, the cemeteries are full of people talking to the graves of their ancestors.

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    • The Christian church did that to a lot of pagan celebrations… I find the resurgence (or interest in rekindling) the old celebrations to be really fascinating. Watched a documentary on the Mexican Day of the Dead the other day, and it’s neat, too — I think it’s a combination of Spanish tradition and those of the indigenous people. Next up: Yule / Christmas!

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