I grew up in the same small town that my parents grew up in. There were 80 kids in my high school, one blinking light (20 miles away in the county seat) and a little over 7,000 people in the entire county. I grew up thirsting for big city flair, drama and access to art and entertainment. In 2008 I finally got my wish, at the ripe old age of 26, when my now ex-husband and I moved to Madrid, Spain (he’s still there!). We lived almost smack dab in the middle of the city of 3 million people. The noises, smells, crowded subways and alleys were all very exciting and tantalizing but came with an unexpected side affect: social anxiety.
There were probably several reasons I was simultaneously excited and scared of Madrid. It was, after all, over 4,000 times bigger than my hometown . . .er, hamlet. It was a foreign country with a foreign language that I had to adapt and operate in, every day. It was stressful, chaotic and also a lot of fun and more than a little romantic.
However, I was also on the verge of a spiritual awakening, a divorce and my Saturn return and thus was beginning to realize how empathic, sensitive and hermit-ish I really was. Although I was propelled to wander and explore the city streets, I found myself wanting nothing more than to claim the streets as my own and kicking everyone else off of them. Ha! But I soon realized that I had already intuitively stumbled onto a solution for demarcating my personal boundaries, not picking up other people’s chaos and emotions and to reclaim my body and energy for myself after every foray into the bustling streets: I began washing my hands in cool water. Frequently. Every time I emerged from a Spanish powder room, hands cool and slightly damp, I felt refreshed. I felt drawn back into myself. I felt my energy recalled from the various busy distractions and I felt the energy of others be repelled– just like you’d expect something cool and damp to repel — hehe.
Although there is as many different meditations, visualizations, herbs and crystals for protecting one’s energy as there are people in Madrid, one of the simplest, most effective, and available options is to just wash your hands. You may already be doing this. You come home from a busy day of running errands or attending to people and the first thing you want to do is wash your hands– and part of you just knows it’s about more than any germs you may have picked up on the commute home.
Water, as we’ve seen from the work of Dr. Masuru Emoto, is programmable and susceptible to our intentions. Energetically it also makes a great personal barrier/boundary marker and cleanser. In my upcoming Spiritual Cleansing and Protection Course for Soulful Living, I’ll be teaching all about the healing power of water and how to utilize it in spiritual baths, protective house washes and more. But know this: All you REALLY need is water. Pause, take a beat and add the intention to wash away any energy that’s not yours, then wash your hands in cool water.
This works great if you’re an empathic hermit like me. It’s wonderful to use if you’re a hands-on healer type. REALLY handy if you have little children crawling all over and needing you all day e’ry day too.
Let me know how it works for you!
In love and sacred darkness,
P.S. The Spiritual Cleansing and Protection Course is happening next month and it’s only $13! Those $13 bucks get you a front row seat to an hour long workshop PLUS a 30-page, full color, beautifully designed supplemental ebook. I’d love to see you there! You can learn more, register and get a sneak peek at the ebook here.
As I write this, we in the Northern Hemisphere are upon the Winter Solstice. The Winter Solstice, like the Summer Solstice, is a threshold, a time of transition.
The word “threshold” may conjure up images of a doorway, hallway or other passageway that takes you from one place into another. It’s a liminal space, a space in between (limen means “threshold” in Latin). It marks a transition and an initiation of sorts. Dreams are a threshold between this world and the next. The act of birthing and dying are thresholds. When I was in labor for my first son, I had a clear vision of myself walking down a dark hallway, lights on either end of it. My hands were outstretched and I was running my fingers down both walls along the hallway as I walked from one end to the other. I *knew* that one hand was touching life and the other hand was touching death. While I wasn’t afraid for my life or my son’s life, I knew I was in a threshold. I was in a place of initiation, a place in between.
Seasonal thresholds have been honored by our ancestors as annual times of transition for thousands of years. Stonehenge is believed to have been built to mark the solstices. The pyramids of present-day Mexico and in other countries also appear to mark the solstices. While The Ancients all had different beliefs, gods, goddesses and reasons for marking and honoring seasonal thresholds, the basic thought was and is the same:
We are in a sacred and liminal space. Let us honor and acknowledge it. Let us pause, reflect and set an intent for what’s to come.
Although the solstices are well-known and observed times of transition, the truth is we are surrounded by thresholds all of the time. The threshold into your house. The thresholds in between the rooms in your house. Twilight. People who identify as mixed-race, transgender, and/or intersexual embody liminal space. As does the Trickster archetype, who walks, and often purposefully muddles, the fine line between the sacred and the profane.
The tradition of carry a bride across the threshold of a new home, in part, has to do with the idea that evil spirits can hang out in the threshold area. They may be banned from the house but there’s nothing to stop them from hovering in the liminal doorjamb. Carrying the bride through this liminal space for the first time was thought to provide some protection against her health and fertility.
This idea that the threshold is a magical space is seen in many cultures. In parts of India, the women paint and decorate their thresholds and take the responsibility very seriously. Certain colors and symbols are invoked to welcome wealth, health and safety while others are invoked to ward against evil, sickness and other scourges. House witchery, or Cottage witchery often includes some sort of threshold cleansing, protection and beautifying as well (more below).
In The Blueprint Cycles, I teach about the thresholds, or times of transition, present in each day. The day can be marked into quarters, much like the seasons, the lunar phase or our menstrual phase. Half of these four daily seasons are masculine, while the other half is feminine. There are thresholds in between each. A day technically begins at 12 a.m., or midnight. This is sometimes called the witching hour and marks the transition from the feminine phase of the evening into the masculine. Sunrise, a time of twilight, marks the transition into a different masculine phase. 12 p.m., or noon, is the threshold between the masculine half of the day and the feminine half. Evening twilight marks the transition into a deeper feminine phase of the evening. And so on it goes. Taking the time, even just three deep breaths, to mark these transitions during the day, can do a lot to ground and center us in the moment. It can help us “drop” what we don’t need to carry through the day anymore, and it can help us prepare and move into a new time of day/new way of being in the day.
How To Honor Thresholds
I think an interesting spiritual practice includes taking notice of thresholds during our everyday life, not just the big obvious ones such as the solstice (though those are fantastic too!). Below you will find a few ideas for noticing and honoring thresholds. The more you engage with these liminal spaces the more comfortable with them you will become. The more comfortable you become, the more able you will be to navigate the spiritual and the mundane. The more you are able comfortable navigate between worlds, the more divine inspiration you can bring into your everyday (mundane) life!
Do these rituals on any threshold in your house but pay special attention to the main threshold entering the house and to your bedroom threshold!
- Wash and sweep your threshold area. A mixture of warm water and lemon juice (both are cleansing) plus a pinch of salt (for protection) and a bay leaf (for blessing) is a great option!
- Sprinkle a line of salt in your threshold and then sweep it away to seep away stale or negative energy.
- Adorn your threshold area with potted plants, potted herbs, sun catchers or delightful/protective statues.
- Place a bell on your door or near your doorjamb. Ringing the bell when entering will announce your presence, clear the energy AND remind you that you are stepping through a threshold.
- Place three cinnamon sticks, bound by a red ribbon or string, above your threshold. Let the spirit of the cinnamon know that it’s job is to keep out/repel anyone who wishes you or your house ill will. The red ribbon also symbolizes protection. (I have cinnamon bundles over my main threshold into the house, above each bedroom door and one above my husband’s workshop!)
- Pause at your threshold or at EACH threshold you cross during the day. Just a take a beat to come to the present moment and to realize what you are walking away from and into.
- Pause at the threshold of sacred or ritual space to take a cleansing breath and to focus your intention for a moment.
- Lay or sit in a threshold for at least 15-20 minutes. How does it feel? Can you sense your place in between two worlds?
- Hang a horseshoe over your threshold. Shaped like the crescent moon, these goddess symbols have long been thought to bestow blessing and protection over the thresholds they mark.
Menarche, Birth, Death, Menopause, Marriage, Divorce, Graduation, Birthdays. . . these are all examples of life’s thresholds. While we culturally have built-in acknowledgements for most of these times in life (wedding ceremonies, funerals, graduations, etc.), there can be great value in creating your own ceremony or ritual to honor the act of stepping through the threshold from one phase of life to another. If nothing else, when you are in the process of crossing one of life’s thresholds, pause for a moment or two, take a deep breath and just consciously acknowledge that you are indeed crossing a threshold.
Sunrise, Sunset, Noon and Midnight all mark the thresholds of the day. While you may sleep through at least one of those thresholds (and you should!) you can take a moment to pause at the other three. During your lunch break, take the time to feed yourself some nourishing food and reflect on the morning you just had. What did you accomplish? What can you leave behind you? What do you need to return to tomorrow morning? Lunch, no matter what time you take it, is a liminal space between the masculine and feminine parts of the day. After lunch is a time for reflection, analyzing, and resting. If you can schedule your most active tasks for the first part of the morning and then take it more slowly and calmly after lunch, please do so! The Spanish have it all figured out with their afternoon siesta, or rest, after lunch!
I had a powerful dream several years ago when I awoke briefly at sunrise. A spiritual guide came to me as I slipped back into the threshold between wake and sleep. He taught me that the sunrise and the sunset have powerful healing properties and we’re supposed to watch them in balance with one another. The colors of the sunrise (masculine) correspond to the colors of our chakra system, which are also the colors of the rainbow (another threshold between worlds!). Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet . . . as the sun rises higher the sky reflects all of these colors, some of them all but invisible to our eyes. As the sun rises it activates our chakras, beginning with the root (red) chakra and working it’s way up to the violet (ultraviolet) color of our seventh chakra and the noon day sun. This activates our energy system. Past noon, the sun begins its descent, ending with the red sunset (feminine) and deactivating our energy system as it goes. People who watch or are awake during too many sunrises and not enough sunsets are more likely to need artificial “downers” such as booze, television, sleeping pills, food and other things to make them sleepy. People who experience more sunsets than sunrises will need artificial “uppers” such as excess caffeine, sugar, adrenaline, etc. His prescription was to balance your sunrises and sunsets. Try to pause every day just long enough to soak in the colors of the sky and to acknowledge what is happening. Soon, your energy levels will find a healthy balance. Even better, he recommended experiencing sunrises and sunsets in community, with loved ones, as often as possible as this leads to a sort of synchronization and makes for more compassion and understanding in interpersonal relationships.
Pausing between our daily activities (the car is DEFINITELY a threshold place!) is a fantastic and healthy way to separate this from that. Little rituals such as a cup of coffee or tea, changing our clothes, take three deep intentional breaths, etc., can go a long way in helping us be present and to “leave work at work” or other worries behind us as we move onto a new task, activity or part of our day. These threshold rituals can be very healthy for kids as well!
The Winter Solstice
I’m hesitant to include a solstice ritual here for two reasons: 1, my inbox and social media feed are full of these rituals and I suspect yours may be as well. 2, I’d really love it if you sat with this idea of thresholds, took in the suggestions I’ve already given you and create your own solstice ritual.
As for me? I plan to watch the sunset into it’s early grave this evening. I’ll take a moment to reflect on the year, including the dark and hard parts. Then I’ll light a candle or light the fire in the stove and burn what I’m leaving behind. Tomorrow morning, I’ll wake for the sunrise, give thanks and think about what I want to come to me in the New Year.
P.S. If you’d like to learn more about threshold spaces please see my courses. My work deals in thresholds. Daily, seasonally, life phases, dreams, ancestors, altars, food and meals . . .
Here’s the deal: when you post something that is full of your own conscious choices, hopes, desires and wishes, it becomes vulnerable to everyone else’s conscious and unconscious hopes, desires and judgments.
That means, if you’ve just put hours of effort and intention into something like a vision board or an altar, and then post it on social media for all 1,300 of your followers, known and unknown, to look at, your vision board or altar just got messed with.
Keep It Sacred: Keep It Private.
This also goes for sacred space you just set up for meditation or for client work. It goes for sacred tools you’ve created. It goes for any mundane object, say a job application, that you have a lot of energy and emotion behind.
And it also can apply to your body.
I’m all for the sentiment and sense of injustice behind the “Free The Nipple!” campaign, but you won’t catch me freeing mine. Not in public.
Breasts in particular are a very sensitive and very powerful part of a woman’s body. It’s an area of the body where we physically and energetically give and receive, not to mention it’s also our heart area. We often feel embarrassment at the thought of accidentally being caught naked or topless in front of someone, not because we’re afraid of our bodies being judged (though the patriarchy has made us believe that and has also shamed us for that fear) but because we innately are aware that our bodies really are our temples and our power, our juju, our feminine mojo is vulnerable to outside hopes, desires and judgments.
You’ll know your body energy has been compromised, whether you had an audience of one or took part in an impromptu skinny dipping sesh at a festival, if you find yourself suddenly and uncharacteristically concerned with what others are thinking and feeling about you. If you find yourself seeking outside validation or acceptance more than is healthy. If you feel inexplicably “addicted” to outside praise or just as inexplicably shy, anxious and obsessed about avoiding outside thoughts and opinions.
These symptoms of energetic compromise can occur anytime we’ve been vulnerable, not just naked.
What To Do If Sacred Space Is Compromised
You can smudge anything, including your body, with Palo Santo to clear away unwanted emotions and energies. Be careful about doing this to sacred objects if you don’t really need to– you could clear away some of the energy you’ve intentionally built over time. Being clear on how you want the Palo Santo to work is key: Clear away any emotions or energies that do not belong or do not serve the higher purpose of this object— is an example. I don’t recommend sage because it’s actually a consecrating herb, not a cleansing one. Palo Santo will cleanse and then you can come behind with some sage to consecrate if you’d like.
You can also take a shower and intend/pray that the water also washes away those thoughts, emotions and energies that are not yours or are no longer serving you.
If you enjoy being naked or otherwise vulnerable around folks, no worries. You’ve got a natural shield put up, the people you choose to be naked or vulnerable around are energetic rock stars, or you can take a cleansing and intentional shower afterwards to cover your bASSES. (I crack myself up).
In love and sacred darkness,
WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT the Earth Goddess, you probably think of bunny rabbits, spring fever, green meadows and abundant fertility. While yes, Spring is lovely, feminine and indeed fertile time of the year, Autumn belongs just as much to the Earth Goddess and if you know where to look, you’ll see she’s been here all along.
One of the very best teachers I ever had was my second grade teacher, Mrs. Fletcher. We are still in touch today, nearly 30 years later, and when my first son was born she gave him his very first book. I love this woman. And now, when I look back at our year together when I was just 7-years old, I suspect she might be a little witchy. Which, of course, makes me love her even more.
Viola Swamp– Just look at those leggings!
Mrs. Fletcher taught us how to bake homemade bread. And while the bread was baking in the school’s kitchen, she taught us how to make homemade butter. And boy, did she know how to teach us how to celebrate the seasons. She wrote letters to each of us under the guise of elves who were looking for four-leafed clovers around the start of Spring. The elves were supposedly living in the ceiling above our classroom and each student had a different elf assigned to them as a pen pal for a week. We were encouraged to get outside and look for four leaf cloves to help the elves out. Just before Halloween she read Miss Nelson is Missing! And the next day came to school dressed as Ms. Viola Swamp and stayed in character the entire day! I’m seriously tearing up thinking about this woman and her magic as a teacher.
Mrs. Fletcher read the entire Little House on the Prairie books to us (that’s probably where the homemade bread and butter lesson came in) and then she took all 20+ of us to her house for an overnight field trip. We roasted marshmallows on the wood stove, we looked for fossils on her hillside and watched her husband milk the cows in the morning. Something each and every one of us remembers, it was even brought up at our 10-year high school reunion in 2010, is that that overnight slumber party was the first and only time we ever saw Mrs. Fletcher with her hair down. To this day, she still wears her hair in her signature bun, but on that night in 1987, her hair was down. It was impossibly long, past her waist, and she was wearing an old fashioned long white nightgown. She was beautiful. Magical. And although we knew we were completely loved by her (and we loved her in return), she was also still Mysterious. She was, and remains, my kind of woman.
I want you to understand that our ancestors are not just our blood. Our ancestors are people who were influential in our lives. Our ancestors are mentors and teachers we admire and emulate, even if we never met them in life or in person. Mrs. Fletcher is most definitely my ancestor and I am one lucky woman to be able to say so.
Pomona, Roman Goddess of orchards and one of many goddesses whom we can thank for the tradition of bobbing for apples
Bobbing for Apples and the Goddess
I tell you all of this because I cannot think of Autumn without thinking of Mrs. Fletcher. Blame it on my impressionable age when she was my second grade teacher, or blame it on her extraordinary teaching methods. It’s probably a bit of both. Anyhow, that Autumn in 1989 she took us on a field trip to an apple orchard and later she cut an apple in half, around the middle, and showed us that when you cut an apple like that, it made a star. This blew my mind and only proved to me that she was magic.
Today, I invite you to cut an apple in half, around the middle, and see the pentacle for yourself. The pentacle is an ancient symbol of Earth, which is still represent in suit of pentacles in tarot, and is a powerful sign of protection. It is also the sacred symbol of the Celtic death goddess, Morgan, and many others, I’m sure. The apple is also a an ancient symbol of, and gift from, the Goddess. Cultures all over the world are ripe with stories about goddesses and apples. Apples of life, apples of death. Although the Bible only mentions that Eve gave Adam a “fruit” we all know it was an apple. Why? How do we know that?
Because this wisdom is in our bones.
The Thinning of the Veil and Divination
Because the veil between the worlds is thinner now, it is thought to be an ideal time to do divination. You are closer to your ancestors, and they to you, and so it’s thought that any divination you will do around this time of year will be more accurate.
All of the traditions we have discussed this week: Halloween, Day of the Dead, Samhain, All Soul’s Day, were/are a way to honor the season of death while hoping for (and asking for) a return of the season of life. Remember, it’s only in very recent human history that surviving the winter is all but guaranteed. Even in the time of our grandmothers, and certainly our great-grandmothers, winter was a time of uncertainty. The only certainty was that some of the people with whom you were feasting and celebrating the harvest, would be dead before spring. Including yourself. Illness. Cold. Starvation. Exposure. It was coming. So dance. Eat up. Honor your ancestors because you might be seeing them soon (among other reasons), revel and keep your eyes and spirits on the promises of Spring.
One of the best things to look forward to in spring, besides the return of warm weather and abundant food, was fertility. We as humans are obsessed with becoming ancestors, while we are conscious of it or not. So much of the divination that took place in Autumn centered around predicting marriages and other fertility-based endeavours for the Spring.
There is a tradition on Halloween to bob for apples. You fill a large bucket with water, fill it with apples (which bob, or float, on the water) and participants take turns trying to grab an apple with only their mouths– hands are tied behind their backs. It’s easier said than done. An alternative on this game involves hanging apples from various lengths of string and trying to bite into the swinging apple with your hands tied behind your back. Today, the first person to bite into an apple wins. However, historically, the apples would be discreetly marked by every unmarried and eligible young woman. Unmarried and eligible men would bob for the apples and the apple they picked foretold a possible marriage, to the girl who marked the apple, in the spring. Alternatively, young folk would bob an apple and then carefully peel it in one long strand and then throw the apple peel over their shoulders. The fallen apple peel would then be examined to see what letter or letters it was in the shape of and possible love matches would be narrowed down according to the first letter of their names and the letter(s) the apple peels were in the shape of. Girls would also cut an apple in half, to reveal the pentacle, and then sleep with it under their pillow and expect to dream about their future husband.
Tomorrow, finally find out what’s up with black cats, witches and other symbols of the Dark Goddess.
Have fun storming the castle!
YESTERDAY WE TALKED ABOUT the Celtic pagan and Druidic origins of Halloween and the day before that I resurrected an old post on Dreaming with the Dead: Contacting Departed Loved Ones Through Dreams.
Today, I’d like to talk about Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. It is a Latin (Mexico, Portugal, Spain, Italy) holiday that has become very visible and popular with non-latinos over the last few years.
Day of the Dead is actually celebrated on November 2 and Day of the Little Angels (Dia de los Angelitos) is celebrated on November 1. It is believed that the gates of heaven open up at sunset on October 31 and all of the spirits of children who have died come back to be close to their family until sunset on November 1. At sunset on November 1, the children spirits go back to heaven and the adult spirits come to hang out until sunset on November 2. Yes, this time halfway between the vernal equinox and the winter solstice is believed to be a sacred time when death is so close to life to cultures all over the world. In the case of Latin America, however, ancient Aztecs and other pre-Columbian civilizations used to honor their dead for what today would be considered the entire month of August (obviously, the ancients of the Americas did not know what “August” was). The Spanish conquistadors came in and merged some of their own rituals for honoring the dead with the indigenous rituals of Latin America and put it all on the official Catholic holiday of All Saint’s Day. It was a sort of “All conquered nations will now move their ancestor worship to these two days so that we can monitor and control it . . . or else,” move.
Now, with Day of the Dead, instead of trying to trick or scare goblins, demons and ghosts away, participants instead spend many weeks building ofrendas, or altars with offerings, to their ancestors and departed loved ones. They also spent/spend a lot of time and money creating and curating sweet treats, sweet breads, sodas, water, alcohol and other favorites to put on the altars to offer their departed loved ones. All of this is done in bright colors and in good spirits because a celebration of death is also a celebration of life. All of the sweets and photos and bright colors on the ofrendas are meant to beckon ancestors/departed loved ones to return for a day. The food and beverages are needed by the spirits to give them the strength (and motivation) to travel and hang out for a bit– it’s not easy to be a spirit in a physical plane. On November 2, families will often meet in cemeteries to have a picnic and clean or wash gravestones as well.
How to Celebrate Day of the Dead Without Being an Asshole
Yet it’s the bright, yet macabre, decor, the fun and the themed sweets that have caught the attention of the masses. In the last several years it has become popular to dress as a sugar skull or Catrina for Halloween. It’s become common to have Day of the Dead themed parties and decor. I’m not Latina but I will remind you that the Day of the Dead is sacred. While I don’t see anything wrong with thoughtfully and respectfully engaging in your own Day of the Dead-inspired rituals, I would caution you against dressing up as a sugar skull or a Catrina for Halloween and then getting shit faced. That’s not exactly respectful and I sure as hell don’t want to piss off any spirits . . . or living communities.
If you appreciate the aesthetic of Day of the Dead, then by all means, buy some paraphernalia and then take the time and effort to actually use it the way it is intended: create an altar with photos and memorabilia from your departed loved ones. Add sugar skulls, sweet bread, Catrina dolls and bright colors. Add candles and marigolds. Express gratitude, say prayers and invite your loved ones to return for a night. Go to the cemetery, alone or with as many family members as you can muster, and clean up the gravesites of your ancestors. Take a picnic and set aside the first serving of food for your ancestors. (DON’T eat the offered food later. When you are done, ask a tree for permission to leave the food at its base. If you feel the food is appropriate to leave as an offering to the little critters of the area, you could do that. Or throw it away. But don’t eat it. It’s energetically dead and kind of gross.)
Happy ancestors and family spirits are believed to bring good luck and blessings for the next year– and I believe it! No spirit is as interested in your well-being and quality of life as an ancestor spirit is. No spirit can help or protect you like an ancestor spirit. The least you can do is throw a party for them one night. And if you have kids, get them to participate! I can only imagine what my life would be like, what my spiritual life would look like, if I had grown up in a culture where ghosts were welcomed and death was celebrated with all of the colors, indulgences and revelry of life.
Tomorrow we’ll take a closer look at some of the symbols and traditions of this time of year, you won’t want to miss it!
P.S. I’ve recently enjoyed resurrecting old newspaper articles I wrote when I was a young reporter in Iowa and Illinois (2005-2006). I guess I’ve always had a thing for ancestors and the dead.
About Day of the Dead:
Families Honor the Dead
Day of the Dead Keeps Memories Alive
Celebrating the Dead: [Museum] sets Altars on Display for Annual Day of the Dead Ceremony
Honoring the Present and Honoring the Dead:
How to Memorialize Your Pets (don’t forget to include them in your Day of the Dead celebrations!)
He Enjoys Spending a Day with His Son
It’s the last week of October, you know what that means: Happy Halloween!
I personally love uncovering the origins of everyday or commonplace rituals and traditions and Halloween is a particular favorite of mine because it also has its origins in honoring the dead and the ancestors, which (witch?), if you’ve looked around my website lately, is kind of my jam.
In the case of Halloween, we actually have to talk about the history of Samhain (Sow-en) and All Saint’s Day, which are both predecessors to Halloween as we know it today.
Samhain is an ancient Celtic/British/Druidic feast day that marked the turn of harvest and the day when summer met winter, or life met death. Taking place from sunset October 31 to sunset November 1, or there abouts, Samhain is almost exactly halfway between the vernal equinox and the winter solstice. As the life of summer gives over to the death of winter, it is believed that the veil between the worlds was/is thinner as well: just as the death of the land is near, the dead are near. This also makes it easier to communicate with the dead, with fairies and with other spirits at this time of year. As such, feasts were held in which departed loved ones were encouraged to attend (similar to Mexico’s Day of the Dead, which we will discuss later this week), rituals and divination for the new year ahead were also performed at this time– in fact, many scholars believe that Samhain may have actually been the ancient Celtic New Year.
Children would dress up as ghosts or as the dead and go door-to-door, reciting versus or poetry in exchange for food, wine and other supplies to get through the winter– this was called “guising,” does it sound familiar? The fun and merriment had many purposes: to drive away ghouls and other negative Nancy’s rising from the dead, to honor the dying Sun god, to laugh in the face of the approaching cold winter and it’s threat of scarcity (hence, giving treats away), and to likewise boost morale before the cold scarcity of winter hit (which also sounds like another Fall holiday: Thanksgiving.)
In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III tried to distract the pagan Celtics from their traditions by naming November 1 All Saints Day, or a day to celebrate, wait for it. . . all saints. Known and unknown. The new name was accepted but many of the traditional practices were kept up.
Fast forward another couple of centuries and we have the pilgrims, actually Puritans, trying to conquer The New World in the name of God and all of the debauchery and revelry of All Saint’s Day was forgotten in what is now The United States . . . but oh what a sweet comeback it made (see what I did there?).
Okay, so All Saint’s Day was actually originally called All Hallowed’s Day, which is medieval speak for “the day for all who are holy.” So if November 1 was All Hallowed’s Day, that made October 31 (and remember, Samhain spans from sunset to sunset October 31- November 1) . . . All Hallowed’s Eve. Which eventually was shortened to Halloween.
Today’s multi-billion dollar holiday actually owes it’s legacy to the Irish potato famine of the 1800’s. Thousands of Irish immigrants landed in the U.S. to escape the famine and they brought their traditions and folklore with them. (On that note, tell me you have read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods? Do it!.)
Often limited in resources in their new adopted land, or wary of causing a scene, or living in crowded city conditions, the Irish immigrants whittled down their traditional Samhain bonfires and instead put candles in carved pumpkins and other vegetables. The jack o’lantern was born. Its purpose? To sit on your doorstep and scare away any evil spirits that are roaming on All Hallow’s Eve– or the night of Samhain. The glow of the orange pumpkin in the dark of night is also, quite obviously, how Halloween got her signature orange and black colors.
Instead of the whole community dressing up as demons and ghosts and the dead, it became a primary activity for children, who instead of going door-to-door “guising” for food, wine and even coins in exchange for a song, a poem or a lyric, now go door-to-door singing one song: “trick-or-treat!”
So. That’s how Halloween got it’s start. Don’t forget to take a moment next Monday, to honor the time when life meets death and summer meets winter. Eat a little something extra indulgent to laugh in the face of winter. Later this week we will also be talking about ways to honor your ancestors and/or to work with the thinning of the veil at this time of year. Stay tuned!
Trick or Treat!