Halloween is my favorite holiday, and the only one I celebrate. I’ve loved the holiday since I was a little girl, not so much for the candy, but for the opportunity to dress up and be someone or something else for a night. In 1960, when I was 8 years old, my mother dressed me up as a geisha–a rather provocative choice I think upon reflection. Maybe it was because she didn’t have to try too hard. The beautiful silk jacket I wore was a gift to her from her brother, my Uncle Karl (after whom I was named). He’d been a medic in the Sino-Japanese War and treated an aristocratic Chinese family in his off-duty hours. They paid him with family heirlooms such as the jacket, which now hangs in my closet, showing a little wear after all these years but still radiant, the fine stitch work holding up even now.
Halloween is a fascinating holiday with a long and winding history. Wikipedia does an excellent job of tracing Halloween’s evolution. Take a peek, if you wish, then read on below:
Many Halloween traditions were influenced by Celtic harvest festivals, particularly the Gaelic festival Samhain, which are believed to have pagan roots. For a decade (1980s), when I was a practicing Wiccan, I dutifully observed Samhain both solo and with a coven a couple times. And to this day, I still regard October 31 as New Year’s Eve, which it was for pagans. To hell with December 31!
Here’s one of the Samhain prayers I used to recite for my ancestors:
This is the night when the gateway between
our world and the spirit world is thinnest.
Tonight is a night to call out those who came before.
Tonight I honor my ancestors.
Spirits of my fathers and mothers, I call to you,
and welcome you to join me for this night.
You watch over me always,
protecting and guiding me,
and tonight I thank you.
Your blood runs in my veins,
your spirit is in my heart,
your memories are in my soul.
[If you wish, you may want to recite your genealogy here. This can include both your blood family, and your spiritual one.]
With the gift of remembrance.
I remember all of you.
You are dead but never forgotten,
and you live on within me,
and within those who are yet to come.
For more about Samhain, see:
Eventually the ancient Goddess religions were overthrown by the rising patriarchal religions, which co-opted many of the ancient traditions, recasting them in their own light. The Jewish religion doesn’t observe our October 31 in any form, but their seven-day harvest festival, Sukkot, earlier in October during the Jewish month of Tishrei, vibes with both the harvest and ancestral aspects of Samhain. Christianity’s link is more obvious. Winter Solstice, aka Yule, became Christmas and Samhain became All Hallow’s Eve or All Saint’s Day Eve, when it is believed that the veil between the living and the dead was at its thinnest–just as pagans did! And on All Saint’s Day proper (November 1) the panoply of Christian saints were more readily accessible to our entreaties.
So, as a practicing Catholic to this day you might find yourself at Mass on Halloween reciting the Prayer on the Eve of Battle–the battle again evil:
God of power and mercy,
maker and love of peace,
to know you is to live,
and to serve you is to reign.
Through the intercession of St. Michael, the archangel,
be our protection in battle against all evil.
Help me [us] to overcome war and violence
and to establish your law of love and justice.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.
For more about All Saint’s Day, see:
Of course, Hispanics throughout the Western Hemisphere celebrate this turn of the year as Day of the Dead, which they call Día de Muertos or Día de los Muerto. It’s a colorful celebration with festive harvest altars honoring ancestors, the recurring theme for Halloween.
I’ve never observed the Day of the Dead, but part of my annual ritual is to honor my ancestors. I light a candle or three, and say hello to grandmother Beatrice and Grossmûtter Mimi, my mother and father, my only brother, Aunt Gertie, Uncle Karl, aunties Macel and Netta, my most beloved husband Roger, consummate muse Beau, pal Don O’Neil, lovers Jack and Ted and TH, and, I suspect he’s now dead, second hubs Larry, whose saving grace, among so few, was a deep Celtic frivolity in celebrating this Holy Day with kindred spirits.
For more about the Day of the Dead, see:
You might also enjoy listening to Texas singer/songwriter Wade Bowen’s take on the Day of the Dead, seen through the eyes of immigrants at the Mexican-US border:
Like I said, my second husband (who didn’t have to dress up to be the devil incarnate), loved Halloween. One year, during a time when things weren’t yet falling completely apart, he rigged up a boom box on the front porch of our house on Vermont Street in Rochester, and cranked out the then hit song to play all evening for the trick-or-treaters at our doorstep. You remember this, surely:
Several years later, married to my beloved Roger and living along the south shore of Lake Ontario in rural Orleans County, we would let the ghosts, pirates, Hermiones, ballerinas, and princesses grab fistfuls of quarters from a plastic pumpkin and then hand out full-sized candy bars for the few celebrants along Ed Rose Shores.
Now I’m a solo practitioner of some things pagan, some things all-American. I no longer get dressed up as a geisha. If I recall, the last time I wore a costume was in college when I went to a party with my soon-to-be first husband, Robert. We both wore white bib overalls with tools hanging off the belt and loops. We were, ahem, The Carpenters. (Remember that brother-sister musical duo?)
Mine is a quiet celebration. I hear Halloween on Hollybrook Road is a marathon with kids arriving in buses from the city to collect candy in a densely populated safe neighborhood. But I’m not there for that; I’ve already migrated to Florida where kiddies hit the stores at the malls for treats, nary one chez moi in Condoland. This year I’ll probably spend Halloween evening with my acoustic guitars, singing to the dead and whomever living
is hanging out below my lanai at the condo clubhouse. I’ve already stocked up on some fresh apple cider. A mug of that laced with cinnamon and something more potent will be my magic potion for an evening with my ancestors.
Now, I’d like to take this space to say thank you to all the new people who’ve signed up to follow The Muses’ Refugia blog. I invite you to join: Aryanna Mertz, Vivian Rippin, Kaylin Carroll, RetroWorldNews, Tate Willms, Trever Wyman, Berenice Grady, Bette Torp, Demario Zboncak, Clint Davis, Thurman Corwin, Franz Leffler, Sincere Nolan, Trycia Prohaska, Rosalind Welch, Lowell Kilback, Rodrick Bartell, jaynarayajust, Chris Donnelly, Rafael Batz, Giovani Jacobs, Annamae Haag, Jaylin Powlowski, Margarete Tromp, Barrett Towne, Breanne Shanahan, Mmargot Bartell, indianeskitchenjust, Kara Shanahan, Shaina Prosacco, Megane Wyman, Clemmie Von, Matilda Nitzsche, Jaiden Ondricka, Brendon Kerluke, Raoul Boyer, Milo Adams, Charlotte Langosh, email@example.com, Telly Emard, Hettie Zboncak, Carlton Beier, Alverta Reynolds, Lorena Kemmer, Lucienne Torphy, Jade Ullrich, and last but not least, Hanninen Editing. Thank you, thank you! The more the merrier.