Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Feast of All Hallows Eve

The children have seen them
In quiet places where the moss grows green
Colored shells
Jangle together
The wind is cold, the year is old,
The trees whisper together

And bent in the wind they lean.

—“Witches Hat,” Robin Williamson

Got to love Portland, a town after my own heart. When I went to Kaua’i in early September, it was beastly hot, like it could never be anything again but the top o’th’summer. And when I returned eight days later, autumn was in full swing, with leaves turning color, the sky bruise-purple, and rainrainrain……ah, so good to come home.

More importantly for my pagan soul, the night I returned – and this was September 17, mind you – I passed a porch with a jack-o-lantern on its top step. Yes, I mean a carved pumpkin with a burning candle in it, leering at me madly. And all over the neighborhood were homes already festooned with Halloween regalia: strings of orange lights, spooky construction paper cut-outs taped to windows.

Leaving PCS this evening, it thrilled me to feel the excited atmosphere of the downtown – traffic conspicuously absent, people rushing around, some in costume, even. The sense of festivity in the air. And in Irvington, where I live, black-clad kids rushing from door to door, the smell of wood fires and candle wax and burning pumpkin in the air.

No trick or treat for me, though. Coming home to a dark house that we kept that way all evening, I proceeded to celebrate in my own way. Nothing too wild; my days as card-tearing, broomstick-riding, cauldron-stirring witch are dormant, for the time being. But I still observe that hour of meditation, when I visit with Those Who Must Be Remembered. My much-missed grandparents, Irene and Joe. My high school buddy Mike Prosek, who died of lymphatic cancer shortly after we graduated. Randy West, of Storefront fame, the first person I knew (of many to come) to die of AIDS.

The whole impetus for Hallowe’en, you know, is that it’s the night of the year when the veil between the spirit world and ours is the thinnest. If you’re ever going to make contact with someone who has passed on before, this is the time to attempt it. For years I performed a Dumb Supper on this night, an achingly beautiful ritual in which you prepare a meal – in complete silence – for you and the missed one, and you eat together in wordless communion. For me, sometimes this coming together is simply sensed; other times it is movingly palpable. And healing.

It makes exquisite sense to me that the ancient Irish considered Samhain (that’s Halloween to you) the end of the old year and the start of the new one.

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