Those who know me know how much I love this time of year. It’s a season full of magic and transformation. The harvest happens, an abundance of fruits and vegetables are picked, wheat and oats are gathered, foods to nourish us through the long winter. Leaves turn red, orange and yellow, brilliant in all of their glory and then shrivel and fall from the trees as they prepare for their deep winter’s nap. The air becomes cold and crisp. Frost teases our windows and roofs in the mornings and turns dying lawns into sparkling landscapes.
The ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain is the inspiration for modern-day Halloween. The holiday celebrated the end of the harvest and the beginning of the darkness of winter with bonfires and merriment. It was also believed to be the time when the veil between the physical and the spiritual worlds grew thin and both benevolent and malevolent spirits could pass over to wreak havoc on whomever or wherever they had chosen to haunt. So besides dancing around the bonfires, the Celts dressed in costumes to scare off any wayward spirits and send them back to the ether they came from.
As with many human rituals, the history of Halloween is lost to all except the modern celebrants of Samhain although much of the beliefs have endured. In the harvest month, we decorate our homes and businesses, we dress up for fun, throw Halloween parties, pass out treats to strange children in costumes at our front doors, indulge in scary movies, eat lots of chocolate and pumpkin treats and generally celebrate the dark side of the veil.
It will come as no surprise to my tribe that my favorite Halloween incarnation is the witch. I’ve always loved stories and myths and witch lore in general ever since I can remember. It was so cool that they could cast spells for both good and evil, had lots of deep earth wisdom and at times could even ride the jet stream on a lowly broomstick. But the witch has been misunderstood for centuries. Women who were healers and who understood the power and properties of plants were often accused of being witches. Many of these women (and some men as well) were put to death because it was believed they must have consorted with the devil to have such knowledge when really they had communed with God and nature. It was hard for those in power to believe that just maybe these women knew what they were doing and they never took the time to find out.
Fear of the unknown is the worst kind of fear. Imagination can run rampant. Fear of the unknown has resulted in burnings, lynchings, hangings and a myriad of other tortures performed in the name of one thing or another throughout the centuries. They are done to assuage the fear but also to control the power the person feared exhibits. This kind of fear sparks irrational behaviors and beliefs. Fear of immigrants, fear of different religious groups, fear of those with different skin colors or of those who speak in different tongues usually results in misconceptions, rumors, false beliefs, knee jerk reactions and a serious case of close-mindedness. This kind of fear is extremely divisive and downright dangerous. It seems easier to express fear and loathing then it is to try to get to know the person who is different. It’s not the witches we should fear, it’s fear of the witches that holds the real danger.
Recently I read an article by a woman who considers herself a modern-day witch. She writes that women were considered witches because they were strong, independent and empowered to live their own lives and follow their own paths and therefore were threatening to what was considered the status quo for women. I can understand that perhaps in older, more unenlightened times but sadly, even today when women are in positions of power or stand their ground, they are often at the very least considered hysterical and emotional and at worst called witch or a word similar.
On this auspicious day, we revel in celebrating Samhain in the guise of Halloween. Images of witches are everywhere along with ghosts, vampires, superheroes, sports heroes and many other clever costumes. Tomorrow we will put away our decorations and costumes and settle in for the dark winter ahead. But I can’t be sure the season of the witch will truly go away. That fear of the unknown can’t be put aside so easily and these days it seems so prevalent. Steely Dan sang, “I foresee terrible trouble”, in their song “Dirty Work” and I foresee that too if we don’t reach out the hand of understanding. I would love to find a spell to put the ills of the world right. It would be wonderful to wave a magic wand and assuage all those irrational fears. That maybe by some powerful sorcery we could actually live in peace and harmony. Imagine. That would be a truly magical thing.