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 😉

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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In the corner of your eye…

When you see movement, or a shadow… A reflection where one should not be… Do you dismiss it? Or investigate?

Do you believe in ghosts?

I’ve shared my story of our haunted house on T. Fox Dunham’s blog, Fox True Ghost Tales Project: http://foxghosttales.blogspot.ca — I’d love your comments, and there are many spooky-but-true tales to chill your blood for this Hallowe’en!

Shadows in the darkness…

It seems rather unnecessary, doesn’t it? The title of this blog. How can shadows — which are themselves, dark — exist where there is no light?

They simply do.

My life is filled with them. They haunt me when I am trying to fall asleep. I see them on these grey and dreary days of fall, as the yearly cycle comes to a close. I feel them in my heart, as the dwindling light begins to sap the energy reserves I built all summer.

This is a dangerous time of year for me. I love Hallowe’en and Samhain, but as an adult, I haven’t expressed that feeling as I did when I was younger. My husband is also an eager devotee to Hallowe’en, and given a free rein, would turn our home into the creepiest on the block. So what stops me from fulfilling my every spooky desire at this time of year?

The shadows, in the form of depression. I feel them gathering in the corners and moving slowly toward me, as inexorable as the winter dark. I’m better armed against them this year, and I’m not spiralling as I have done in the past. But nevertheless, I feel them. It is the lack of motivation to get off the couch…the increasing desire to sleep…the lack of motivation to do anything, really, but those low-energy activities that help me feel less lonely. Like going on Facebook, looking at lolsnaps, fails, etc. The more I indulge in these time-suckers, the more connected I do feel but the less I get done in the things that matter in a physical sense. The shadows are gaining ground.

I attended a series of workshops in the spring, learning methods for dealing with my anxiety and chronic depression. To some extent, those techniques are working. I’ve been treated for anemia since May, also, which is helping. The techniques are going to become even more vital, now.

Part of that is learning to accept my own limitations and not comparing myself to others. I need to stop saying “I should” and be satisfied with what I do accomplish. For example, this weekend I aimed to finish my Hallowe’en decorating. Didn’t even start. I constantly visualize one of the best moms I know and berate myself for not being more like her, but at the same time, the logical part of my brain is fighting back to tell me what I am doing well and why I should not be ashamed or feel inferior. That particular mom doesn’t have a mental illness. That particular mom hasn’t gone through the money troubles we have experienced. That particular mom has gone through her own battles, faced her own demons, and for her own personal reasons, has gained victory. Maybe I’m just jealous of that and I want my own battles to be over. Could be a form of battle fatigue — maybe I could call it “life fatigue”.

I remember my mother giving me full control over decorating for Hallowe’en, and not understanding why she didn’t want to do it. Now I know…it’s just not on my to-do list of things that must be done. What I am supposed to be doing — housework, marking, shopping — those things aren’t be done either. And the whole avoidance makes me feel ashamed all over again, so I shrink further into my shell and keep avoiding until every dish is dirty, the clean laundry threatens to topple over in its mountain, and/or people are coming to the house so clean is a must.

I miss decorating for Hallowe’en.

I miss setting up for Samhain.

I miss my enthusiasm. It’s there, just dampened.

I once had a conversation with two of my colleagues and friends (one of whom was the above super-mom), about the point of Hallowe’en. The points of view were a) it’s all about spending money on candy and costumes, which is a waste, and b) it’s the Devil’s holiday, so if anything, the candy and costumes are the main focal point to take power away from the skulls and gore. My perspective is Pagan, Wiccan, witchy, and anthropological: we need a day in the fall to blow off some steam. It was once the Devil’s night, yes — after months of hard work, harvesting, preparing for winter, young people would perform acts of mischief like tipping outhouses and soaping windows. Kids needed that release, and some adults did as well. It still happens in places, when eggs are thrown or trees toilet papered.

Pagans and Wiccans of all stripes recognize Samhain as the night when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest, and it’s important to remember those who have passed on. The traditions in this sense cross many cultural boundaries, and the food that is shared represents honouring the dead, feeding hungry spirits that come to the door, appeasing evil spirits wishing to do mischief, and I think, sharing the bounty of one’s harvest.

Today, the costumes and decorations and candy are mainly symbolic of cultures long dead. How many of us really believe that children in masks will frighten away spirits on the streets, or that the jack’o’lantern will protect the home? Why do we buy sugary junk to fill their sacks? I think it’s a remnant of the community spirit of making sure that all have enough before winter. We have our Thanksgivings, an official harvest festival of light and warmth and nourishing food — Hallowe’en / Samhain is another, celebrating the coming darkness with noise, colour, sweets, and candlelight. As the trees bare their skeletal arms to the sky, the rain and snow chill the air, the plants wither and die, those of us with depression (and even those who are not) are brought to thoughts of death, loss, and loneliness. Death is a solitary thing, after all. So at Hallowe’en, we push back our fears of death by poking fun at it, admonishing it by taking control of it with decorative skulls, gravestones, ghost stories, and gifts to those who represent the dead. If we laugh at what we fear, it has less control over us (or so we would like to believe). Hallowe’en is a powerful psychological device in helping us to deal with our fears. It’s a necessary device, I think.

Which brings me back to my shadows.

One of them is always money, because there is never enough. We live constantly in debt, which is a long story; my wish to indulge in Hallowe’en is necessarily curtailed by budget. I am perfectly capable of whipping up papier-mâché bats and spiders, sewing costumes from clothing remnants, etc., but I find it difficult as an adult with two children to raise. Much easier when I was single and a dependent. When I was a teenager and a young married wife, I envisioned my house changing with the seasons — throw pillows, blankets, tableware, towels, even the pictures on the walls changed to reflect each turn of the wheel of the year. We’re not even close to that goal. But I take out that dream, every October, and December with the approach of Yule, and I polish it. Maybe I should print it and post it on my fridge.

My dreams keep the shadows away.