My grown children and their families celebrate Halloween like Easter and Christmas – decorations, parties, and special activities. Halloween means candy making, pumpkin carving, corn mazes, haunted houses, and costume parties at the zoo with friends and family.
One of my daughter-in-laws delights in the year-long collection of her style of indoor Halloween decor. We muse together on when is the correct time to start wearing our Halloween sweaters. The baby has several Halloween-themed outfits.
The older children in our family usually get more than one costume. They play make believe all year. As one grows out of a character, another grows into it. They have ninjas in several sizes. This makes costumes a reasonable investment.
This weekend, the older son (who enjoys role playing) and his family took part in correcting a fictional military experiment gone wrong. Their roll was to climb onto a tractor-pulled hay wagon and administer “serum filled” paintballs to attacking zombies in order to restore them to human form.
Our Halloween was preceded by the idea that dead loved ones and ancestors are friendly and helpful. They enjoy being with the family during celebrations. Those that were believed to have traveled to other places could return more easily into our world at certain times of the year.
Like Christmas and Easter, the festivals that amalgamated into our Halloween are based on daylight and moon cycles and the positions of the sun and moon in latitude. Humans have implied an importance to where the sun rises and sets among the stars during these cycles. The Earth’s axis draws a circle into space every 26,000-some years making the starry background for sunsets and rises seem to travel backwards (precession).
How important was timing, the sky, and the travel of souls to cultural stability?
Religious beliefs that were impinged upon by precession set up the Inca (and probably the Aztecs) as easy prey for the Spaniard conquistadors. The Spaniards appeared while the populations were desperately trying to keep the December solstice sun within the river of the Milky Way. That was the door to their home star or plant (depending on tribe). Now it would not open for dead souls to travel home or return back to visit their descendants. There was a feeling of doom and grief among the leaders. The conquistadors had very little resistance because the leaders were fixated on a loosing celestial battle to change the path of Earth’s wandering axis.
This may seem absurd to today’s cultures who can no longer see the night sky due to light pollution, but the task of “keeping time” through the 18.6-year cycle of the moon, the sun’s yearly travels, and planetary rhythms like the 40-year conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter was very important. Knowing when to move for the hunt, and later when to plant and harvest could not be trusted to the weather. Also, stories were created that matched political and important events to astronomical activities so history could be traced through the night sky.
Why have Halloween, Hallowe’en, All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day Eve, The Feast of the Dead, Samhain, Vigil of Saman, and other gateway and remembrance festivals?
My take on the ultimate source of Halloween is based on a confluence of many cultural wisdoms. There seems to be a shared understanding by “primitive” peoples that our bodies go into the ground and our essence is either reborn into new bodies or goes home to the stars or the planets.
Some religions teach that we can get sidetracked by reincarnating instead of continuing on our way to another “planet” belonging to the god or being that we have a relationship with.
The Christian creed states that a one-time physical reincarnation is to come. The Latin Lord’s Prayer begins “Pater noster qui es in coelis” meaning “Father our who is (in) everything above the earth.” Before the Christian church became a power in Europe, Hell was simply the place souls waited to be reborn.
The ancient Greeks were different in that they generally believed the dead stayed forever as a dim, drab, fading version of themselves in an underground world.
Yet, most of these groups also accepted that the ancestors/ghosts/spirits can visit us or that the dead hang around where they died, were buried, or are summoned (even accidentally).
How did a festival, that joined families to their past, turn into our current pantheon of devils, witches, ghosts, and impersonations of well-known characters?
During a period of climate cooling and military conflict that made life miserable for most European people,
- the Catholic Church vilified, warped, or reworked established customs and beliefs to control populations.
- popes needed to have a scapegoat for bad weather and failing crops.
- the Christian promise of a heaven and a better life beyond, sustained them in their harsh existence.
Added to that, monarchies, who controlled the bishops in their countries, used the excuse of heresy, witchcraft, and the church’s newly-created idea of Satin worship to torture church-going citizens in order to steal their property and wealth. This was spread to anyone with in their domain and any lands they were conquering.
To the credit of the Catholic Church, it was a pope who, after the inquisitions, separated church and state.
I often upset myself when learning the truth about the past. I hope we can avoid angst while reexamining our own beliefs when we are exposed to knowledge that sheds new light on why we were taught what we were taught.
For example, an inquisition interrogator in Germany, who was paid by the confession and allowed to torture out not only confessions but the naming of other “witches,” left one town with no female over the age of 14. Men and women in all parts of Europe and in parts of the Central and South Americas were also tortured and burned or enslaved. All property and wealth of the family of a person found guilty went to the state (monarchy).
Today, corporations, banks, and very wealthy “capitalists” are controlling and using governments and legal systems to financially harvest and control regular working people. Nothing is new under the sun, just different power players in a new twist of the game.
Another post concerning the very roots of our beliefs about ghosts and other Halloween lore will follow soon. Until then, consider – is the crack between the worlds of the dead and the living open today?
– ConiAnn Limpert
2012 Carved Pumpkins
By JA & C.M. Limpert
All right reserved
one flying ghost
Torture of wife and daughter of a coachman in Mellingen Hansueli (1577)