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From Spooky To Holy

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Carol Bossard

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“I like the fall --- the mist and all.  I like the night owl’s lonely call --- and wailing sound of wind around….”*

Especially do I like those things if we have a cozy fire in the wood stove and a c up of hot chocolate in hand.  We are well into October and Halloween is approaching.  If you don’t like Halloween, how about “All-Soul’s Night” and “All- Saint’s Day” instead?  Festivals marking the end of the growing season seemed also to have evoked the memory of those who’ve gone on.  Our Halloween comes from the Celtic Samhain (pronounced Sa-ween); a spooky harvest tribute and time when the veil between this world and the afterworld was thought to be very thin, so thin there was passage between.  Both All Soul’s Night and All Saint’s Day are Christian holidays, designed to transform those pre-Christian festivals from spooky to holy.

Youngsters (and adults too) have fun pretending and dressing up in costumes.  We’ve always had a dress-up hamper available for kids.  Just a few weeks ago, I received fun photos from a long-time friend; the two of us, at around age 11 or 12, were dressed up in way-too-old-for-us clothing, and looking as sophisticated as only an 11 or 12-year-old can, which isn’t very!  I don’t, however, recall going out for Halloween.  We lived three miles from town and walking up and down my road at night wouldn’t have been permitted.  When our boys were young, I sewed fun costumes that later became pajamas or were put into the costume box for another time, and we had Halloween parties in place of trick or treating.  I remember making a Super Man outfit, complete with cape, and another time, something out of silver velveteen --- maybe the Tin Man?  Our home in Livingston Manor was perfect for Halloween parties.  Its split-level attic, with gables, became a wonderfully eerie, but fun, Halloween maze.   In my late years, though, I probably prefer the idea of All-Soul’s Night and All-Saint’s Day.   These have a mystique that connects me with past generations; the many people who came before.  There is a hymn entitled, “For All The Saints”.: “….from earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s furthest coast, through gates of pearl, streams in the countless host, singing……”**  I like that visual and I’m grateful for all those who have helped me become me.

And speaking of people in my life, we recently lost a very good friend.  Sally had been dealing with one or another variety of cancer for decades.  She met this challenge with courage, trust in the physician who treated her and the surety that she would be on earth, with us and with her family as long as she needed to be.  We collaborated in teaching Sunday school for many years.  She was active in the community --- organizing a pre-school before one was available, starting the community soccer program ---- working in the school library and being available to kids as a listening ear. For much of this last year, she would have agreed with this statement by Agatha Christie: “I like living.  I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, raked with worry, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”  But in the last few weeks, she also felt quite ready to be called out of this life to living in life eternal.   She was a shining example for how to uncomplainingly and courageously face unwelcome changes without fear, with humor and with trust in God.  It will take time, though, before we, her friends, stop expecting her to walk in the door with her knitting and cheery smile.

Not all of us find “cheery” to be an easy emotion to maintain.  In autumn, as the darkness grows and the temperatures fall, for some people, a tendency to depression also grows and spirits fall.  Unfortunately, there is no one diagnosable cause for depression and while there are practices and medications that may lessen depression, there is no guaranteed cure.  Doctors are unable to totally agree on either cause or treatment and both can be very personal/individual.  Having dealt with this malady myself, I know well how debilitating it can be, even though my experiences were nowhere as severe as those of many others.  Depression can run the gamut from being a glob of gloom, to isolation, to being suicidal.  I found this thought by Gabrielle Roth*** to be something to consider. “In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited or depressed, they would ask one of four questions:  When did you stop dancing?  When did you stop singing?  When did you stop being enchanted by stories?  When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?”  Good questions!  When did I begin feeling this way?  What was going on in my life then?  What would it take to find joy in my day?  I have found therapy to be very useful but it also helps to do a little personal sleuthing within.  What I read, the music I’m listening to, how much TV news I watch and whether or not I’m getting out and about, all can impact my moods when despondency and depression sneak in.  This may only be good advice for moderate depression or maybe only applicable to me.   We all respond differently and certainly those in deep, unrelenting darkness and despair need intervention and help from professionals NOW, just as one would with a heart attack or stroke.

I try to plan ahead for possibilities.  This is not necessarily a virtue since it also means I like to be in firm control of my life, which of course, I’m not, nor should be.  But we are as we are!  So, just as we rural-dwellers get wood cut for our stoves before cold weather comes, knowing the probability for low spirits also demands a plan prior to the need.  For this reason, I have what is called a “sunshine” light.  I have books at hand that take me to faraway places, tell me stories of people so compelling that I am diverted from my own troubles, re-route my mind to gardens and cozy kitchens.  Some will be new books and some will be well-read oldies.  I also sort my CDs for music that fits my moods; uplifting music (Sandi Patti, Celtic Thunder or Josh Groban), dancing music (Andre Rieu) and music that makes me laugh like the Chad Mitchell Trio’s rendition of “Lizzie Borden” or Priscilla Herdman’s “Waltzing With Bears.”  It is also good to keep moving.  Bone-Builders may return after a long COVID hiatus.  Exercise alone is boring!   But exercising with a group is kind of fun, and it does provide socialization.   Fresh air is another tonic; being in it, for any reason at all, energizes the whole person.  So, daily chores like feeding birds and outside cats are a blessing that I don’t always appreciate, but that generally works wonders for my psyche.

Growing things has a dual benefit; watching plants blossom and hands in the soil.  This nearly always helps lift my low spirits.  Even though the gardens are ready for winter I still find excuses for walking around them and thinking of spring.  Bulbs of daffodils and tulips are tucked in for blooming in April ---- something to anticipate.  Planted in with the bulbs are moth balls to discourage the nasty, voracious voles.  A three-dollar tulip bulb is a 5-star dessert as far as they are concerned, so the thought of a vole biting down on a moth ball makes me smile.  By January the memories of this past, dry, uninspired summer will have faded and I’ll be as susceptible as usual to the plant and seed catalogs bringing an hour or so of delight.  It is one of the healing qualities of the human spirit --- to find joy after discouragement and disappointment.  And meanwhile, let’s absorb October, before the weather report says----- instead of lake-effect rain showers, there’ll be “lake-effect snow showers”.   We did get a frost last night, so…………….!!

There are many stories floating around Halloween, in the history of different cultures.  There was one Celtic custom of rolling lighted wheels down-hill to frighten away evil spirits.   Also, early Celtic Jack-o-Lanterns were actually turnips and rutabagas, hollowed out and filled with lighted tallow --- to protect one from evil spirits (not to mention wandering thieves) if out and about at night.   In many Asian countries there is The Hungry Ghost Festival among the Buddhist-Taoist people.  In Romania, there’s Dracula Day.  Nepal celebrates with a parade for Gai Jatra --- a festival for those who have lost loved ones that year.  And in Mexico, there is the Day of the Dead.  Humans seem to need these occasions to mark transitions wherever they live.  It is a way of turning difficult times into holy ones.  So, lighten up this Halloween and allow a shiver or two at moving shadows in the Halloween landscape.  And be grateful for that long line of saints from the past, who made you who you are.

“Tonight is the night when dead leaves fly like witches on switches across the sky, when elf and sprite flit through the night on a moony sheen.  Tonight is the night when leaves make a sound like a gnome in his home under the ground, when spooks and trolls creep out of holes mossy and green.  Tonight is the night when pumpkins stare through leaves and eaves everywhere, wien ghoul and ghost and goblin host dance round their queen.  It’s Halloween!  Harry Behn****

Carol may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net.

 

*Dixie Willson’s poem “The Mist And All”.   Dixie Willson was an American screen-writer, author of children’s book and short stories as well as a poet.  1890-1974.

**”For All The Saints” ---words by William W. How, 1823-1897.

***Gabrielle Roth--- American dancer, musician and author.  1941-2012.

****Harry Behn---American screen writer and children’s author, poet.    1898-1973

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