In honor of Samhain, an excerpt from story I wrote for Newport Review… The central character was my roommate for a time, until she moved on.
A Person Unknown
I sit by my window as darkness falls this Samhain season and I shuffle the cards, scanning the horizon for storm clouds. My only company is the person unknown. She is frighteningly beautiful, more than an ordinary possession. She wears a face of power and dignity, the face of the goddess Durga, the face of truth. Her jaw is sharp and classic. She is S-curves from head to toe–one of god’s perfect designs. A bare tree, a dragonfly, a river delta–what is left when all is lost. A person not in time, but in eternity.
She was imported and sold in the bone trade. I know nothing about her, except that she was female, small, and poor, and the poor have to sell their labor, their hair, their bodies. I often wonder who she was, but her inscrutable grin reveals nothing.
For the rest of the story of the Person Unknown, go to Newport Review, here.
Perfect day for West Broadway Neighborhood Association Goblins and Gremlins Party and Parade. There were some scary costumes,
There was a giant catapult that was shooting pumpkins the length of a football field.
There was the Really, Really Free Market where everything was free. Unused stuff was re-incarnated as someone else’s must-have, and brisk trading was happening.
Amy Rose and her Troublemakers were rocking the field, there was a funky antique truck parked near the stage, don’t know if that’s the Troublemaker’s wheels.
Many small children and small dogs were running around ecstatically, and grownups had a chance to dress really silly. Looked like a couple of hundred people were strolling around, relaxing, buying beer and hot dogs. I thought a softball game might break out– maybe it did after I left.
The end of October is traditionally a time of reflection on the passing year and preparation for winter. October 31 is the Celtic holiday of Samhain, followed by the Catholic holy day, All Saints, and the Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos.
In the US it’s a kind of free time to just dress up silly and give candy to children. When I first did the trick or treat with my friends and our kids, I was surprised at how friendly and child-centered our neighborhood could be.
Passing for normal is tough– Halloween gives everyone a break, that’s why it’s so popular.
I went to Rochambeau Library on Thursday and saw Dreams Before Waking, a Celtic inspired band that played some truly spooky sounds for the season. Although songwriter Ray Price and guitarist Michael Osler were down two musicians they played like troupers, and a graceful young woman named Melanie did interpretive dance.
Friday I went to the Steel Yard Iron Pour.
Droning mood music, fire and molten metal– it had the feel of anarchy, but the men and women of the Iron Guild moved with concentration and discipline. They had to– that stuff is hot! My technique is to forget my glasses and aim the camera and click, so this photo doesn’t begin to do justice to the amazing spectacle of glowing molten metal flowing in a stream from the smelter– and poured into wooden molds which instantly burst into flames. But there were film crews, so surely youtube videos will appear soon.
Today there are events all over town, street parties and stuff. This is a good time to eat some candy, because Halloween candy has no calories. That’s a scientific fact. My alchemist told me so.
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES! In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, on the knife edge of an election, some words from Starhawk of hope and unrest. Samhain 2012.
From Scottsman.com comes proof of synchronicity. Incredibly, in the same week that Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network posted–and then un-posted, a lurid warning about the occult influences lurking in Halloween candy bars, Catholic theologians issue a warning against having fun on October 31st. Remember that November 1st is All Saints Day, a Holy Day of Obligation. And this year it falls on a Sunday. Woe unto those who miss Mass because they stayed out too late at a costume party…
THE Catholic Church has swung its crook at celebrants of Halloween, warning parents to forbid children to dress up as ghosts and ghouls, and dismissing the celebrations as a pagan night of “terror, fear and death”.
No. Actually it’s a night when neighbors who hardly knew each other discover that doors will open to masked strangers and candy is given and received in an act of trust. I learned that my city block contained way more kids and parents and nice people than I ever would have met if I had not taken my child trick or treating.
And as far as the scary stuff. We have to let it out some time. Life is scary. It’s finite. For just one night a year we dress up like skeletons or Darth Vader or whoever we want or fear to be. We can’t be nice all the time…
Father Joan Maria Canal, a Spanish priest and liturgical expert, was quoted in the paper as saying that parents should “direct the meaning of the feast towards wholesomeness and beauty, rather than terror, fear and death”.
Fine, Father Canal. Maybe I’ll dress up like the nuns. The nuns were about seven feet tall, built like refrigerators, and– come to think of it– dressed a lot like Darth Vader. They wore really strange shoes. We wondered if they had hair. There was mystery then.
Anyway, every culture that lasts more than a generation allows a little space for wildflowers to grow.
Tonight is a religious holiday for me. I look back on the old year, I look at the leaves turning scarlet and yellow. Today was a day of borders– an unseasonable warm front on the last day of October. Fierce Southern winds on the cusp of winter. I walked on Blackstone Boulevard and thought of all those who have passed. I feel their presence tonight.
The moon is waxing, the veil is thin. There’s a goddess who blesses the runners and walkers on the Boulevard. She is manifested by a statue of a young woman walking into the wind. The statue was commissioned by a bereft mother, a monument to her lost daughter. I looked at it today and felt how we all dance on the edge of a cliff.
But we dance.
So don’t eat too much candy– at least not all at once. Pagans don’t proselytize. Paganism isn’t well-defined at all. Maybe it’s just the human spirit that needs to laugh at our fears, eat some candy, and walk outside once on a while.
Happy Samhain. Blessed Be.
It used to be easy. Just throw out all the apples, (in case of razor blades), make sure everything’s wrapped, and tell your kids to stay away from that house on the corner with the barking dogs. Of course, you make sure someone of the age of reason is walking with the little ones, and make them carry flashlights.
That seemed to cover it. We were on to the careless drivers, un-restrained dogs and rumors of contaminated candy (never happened in my neighborhood). But we never thought about the spiritual dangers lurking in that mini Almond Joy bar. The Huffington Post quotes a blog on the Christian Broadcasting Network claiming that most of the candy sold on Halloween is dedicated by witches. I feel very offended that no retailer has offered to pay me to dedicate their candy. Who’s doing all the dedicating? What do they charge? Anyway, link here for a slideshow that rates your favorite candy on the scale of perdition.
Knowing that the HuffPo is a vehicle for card-carrying liberals, I thought that they might be exaggerating, or that CBN might have removed the post by now, but here it is. It’s actually really creepy. If I ever want to read some really scary stories on Halloween, I’ll check out CBN.
Back here in the realm where people believe in the evidence of their senses, and try to practice common sense, October 31st is predicted to be nice, with Waterfire scheduled downtown. And I have the night off. Cool.
UPDATE–Darn it, CBN has removed the lurid post about mysterious Halloween stores that appear in strip malls around this time of year, staffed by temp witches and closing after All Saints Day. Too bad, the writer had a definite talent for the horror genre. I’ll admit I only skimmed it. As an ex-Catholic, ex-Pentecostal who survived three baptisms with my sins intact, and as a Unitarian Pagan, I’ll admit that this stuff kind of creeps me out. If I wanted more of it, I’d re-connect with the Catholic Charismatics or find Kyria Abraham’s Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall. (see Demon-Haunted Pawtucket).
But CBN has a nice condescending post with an amused, superior tone. Did you know that there are only, approximately, 55 shopping days till Christmas? That never fails to scare me this time of year.
UPDATE: Talk to Action has good background on Kimberly Daniels, the author of the infamous Halloween post.
There’s a wonderful meditation on the
circle of life circle of plastic by Mark Morford. He had an epiphany in a discount store while shopping for Halloween party decorations.
Who makes the plastic eyeballs full of bubble stuff that never actually work? What happens when we throw them away? Whence all these screaming skulls for $1.99?
Now I’m not going to do a Bill Donohue and get all aggrieved about the War on Samhain. ‘Put the ‘Sam’ back in Samhain’ doesn’t make sense in any language. And as much as I love my Celtic heritage, my passport doesn’t say ‘Irish’, even though I have relatives there. I’m made in America, where citizens– wherever born and of whatever religion, are citizens. Despite much grief and injustice in our founding. Despite the many ways and times we failed to live up to the ideals of justice and equality. Our aspirations exceed our reality, but we never codified a second class or a state religion.
If any Pagans are reading this, you will understand where I’m coming from. The following are Pagan ‘dog whistle’ phrases. We practice an Earth-based spirituality. Watch out for these subversive ideas–
When you put out the trash, it doesn’t just disappear.
Every manufactured thing you encounter was made by someone.
They needed materials to make it.
Don’t buy junk you don’t need at the super-cheap store. It was probably made in a factory where low-wage workers are hungry and tired and worried about what tomorrow will bring.
At this time of year the veils between the worlds are thin. Do you feel the fingerprints of someone a half a world away? She made this cheap ornament.
And speaking of disappearing trash– diamonds get stolen, plastic is forever.
I envision some sort of massive, teeming, low-rise slab of a Chinese factory that was, not a month or two prior to my visit to this particular store, stamping out a zillion plastic skulls, shiny tinsel and all sorts of junk, then shipping it to the nearly 1,000 Targets in the United States. It is simultaneously a dazzling testament to the power of capitalism and human ingenuity, as well a thoroughly depressing statement of holy crap we are so screwed.
It’s also just another reminder that we are, as voracious consumers, still famously detached from the true source of our beloved stuff in nearly all we devour, from iPods to meatballs, T-shirts to coffee cups. The Green movement aside, we still give little thought to where those truckloads of goods come from and just what resources were used/abused in the making of it all, not to mention how our actions, purchases, decisions fit into a larger schema, how these tiny plastic spiders essentially connect me with the world. Amazing.
Well yeah, and don’t think that the people who labor on the assembly lines just disappear when the season is over. What goes around, comes around. America is a nation of workers who searched for an opportunity in the global market. All of us who are not Native American are descendants of immigrants, or descendants of those who were kidnapped from Africa to supply cheap labor. And, incredibly, Halloween is made in America. A minor Celtic custom that meets a need for a little misrule in a Puritan culture.
The best thing that Halloween can do is to slip though the noose of commercialization that strangles everything that is original in American culture and be its anarchic self.
Halloween was brought here by Irish workers who just needed to vent after a year of scrubbing floors and walking the beat. And the Irish do know how to party till dawn and still make it to Mass on time.
The Celtic wheel of the year is based on astronomy, (not to be confused with astrology). For skeptics, (you Unitarians know who you are) it can be a set of guideposts along the way, so that our time does not get past us. The Narragansetts, who can make a fair claim to being the Real Americans, observed the change of seasons. There’s something to be said for deities who can be depended on to bring the light and the dark on schedule.
The Christian calendar is not indifferent to the cycles of nature. The ‘prosperity gospel’ may preach that you can get something from nothing, but our ancestors lived closer to the land. They had to sweat for everything they ate. So after the harvest, they were careful. A feast on the cross-quarter day of November 1st, and then Advent– a time of moderation. A glorious celebration at Christmas/Solstice. Then the food is running short. It’s Lent. Bless the sacrifice we must make past the Equinox until Easter/Eostre marks the time that you can get some green sprouts from the Earth again.
November 1st is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic calendar. All Saints Day. A fine time to remember all those who have passed sainted by none but the One who knows all. And wouldn’t it be funny if–
Some of the saints were people who spent twelve hours a day, seven days a week making plastic eyeballs for Halloween? Some of those who were certain that they had title to a condo in the gated community of the Elect– find themselves in the slammer. With an ankle bracelet and a parole officer whose first language is not English. But Officer Heraclito is not a bad guy if you can just get past his voice mail. Meanwhile, you spend eight hours a day stamping out plastic eyeballs for the amusement of the heavenly host, who will recycle them back to you– and if Heraclito doesn’t call you back the fiends will send you to the level where the recycling is sorted.
Is that a scary Halloween story or what? So thanks to Mark Morford for opening the crypt of mindless consumption. And here’s a public option for Halloween fun. Drive out to a local farm and buy some local cornstalks. This is Rhode Island. Stop whining. You could walk there. Or just pile up your yard waste. Or hang a sheet over your porch rail. Bill Donohue will not give you an Imprimatur, so it’s okay to be messy.
Buy a pumpkin and decorate it. If you’re too tired to carve– there’s cake icing. Put together a really weird home-made costume. It’s your chance to be creative.
Enjoy. If October 31st is clement, it’s a certainty that following days will be colder. The veil between the worlds is thin. Look across and wave.