Halloween has lost much of its spiritual and historical significance derived from Celtic and Druidic festivals and celebrations of the harvest season. Today, Halloween, originally known as “All Hallows’ Eve,” has become a candy fest of costumes and a night of mischievous deeds for those who don’t provide sweets. Handing out candy or coins, as was done in past centuries, was meant to appease the contractive dark forces that become more prevalent as the days of summer light give way to the darker days of the winter solstice.
It was believed that on October 31st the boundary between the living and the dead dissolved and the dead could revisit what we call ‘the real world’ and wreak havoc on the crops.
The light of the jack-o’-lantern, dating back 2,000 years from Ireland was meant to illuminate the path of the eternal journey of the soul in life as well as after death. The namesake of the “Jack-o’-lantern” is a historical figure named Jack, who was a miserly man, said to have tricked the devil many times and thus, was condemned to roam the earth between the worlds of the living and the dead.
Costumes and masks were worn to scare off any evil spirits. Skeletons were symbolic of the ancestral lineage and were ceremoniously put in windows as another way to discourage evil spirits from entering one’s home and one’s life. Scarecrows were even celebrated as symbolic of the holiday’s ancient agricultural roots. After all, the scarecrows were to frighten away anything that could damage and destroy the crops.
In China, it was customary to place a pair of demoniac-looking, grotesque figures known as “Fu Dogs” at the entrance of one’s home, to ward off evil spirits.
In New Zealand, the Mauri culture would try to intimidate an offending army by scaring off the “bad,” by sticking the tongue out of the mouth, and crossing and rolling the eyes up into the head to look as frightening as possible. This was meant to scare off mischievous spirits as well as approaching enemy forces.
In the Celtic and Druid cultures, October 31st is considered to be a turning point where the ancestral lineage can be honored and invoked as a protection and blessing for the coming days of darkness. The costumes and jack-o’-lanterns were meant to scare off the dark spirits as the earth plunges closer towards the shortest and darkest days of the year.
In India, throughout the year a statue of Ganesha, the elephant God of good fortune is placed at the portals of a home. Ganesha is the son of Lord Shiva and is known as the Lord of the Underworld as well as Lord of Thresholds, and is invoked when embarking upon new phases of everyday life as well as one’s spiritual life.
Jack-o’-lanterns with happy, sad or ferocious faces also stand guard at the entrance of one’s home to prevent the invisible spirits of darkness and sorrow from entering the gateway of the home where the family dwells.
Costumes of skeletons, ghosts, ghouls, devils, witches, vampires and more recently…zombies, are meant to ward off the “evil” spirits. These ghoul-like forms are also found in Hindu mythology in the form of Lord Shiva’s legions of ghosts, goblins, skeletons, etc. that are symbolic of the forces of darkness. Shiva represents equanimity, where one lives beyond polarities of darkness and light, good and evil, between the living and the ancestral spirits of the dead.
Shiva is sometimes pictured with a third eye in the middle of his forehead (sometimes vertical) showing one eye is open but the other two eyes are closed. This symbolizes turning inwards while the third eye is open and aware of the ways of the outer world. This form depicts an integrated state of ‘Oneness,’ seeing only the Divine whether it is in the internal or external world. It holds the integration of all opposites in the world of darkness and light, the heavens as well as the nether worlds.
This time of year can remind us to light the candles to our ancestors, helping to guide them on their journey. It is a time to hold the inner light regardless of any outer elements of darkness. It is symbolic of a time to re-evaluate and even transcend our concepts of good or evil, rights and wrongs, just and unjust. It is a wonderful time to lift above the downward pull of our life, like Lord Shiva who lives on the highest peaks of the Himalayas, in balanced equanimity and serene repose.
My youngest granddaughter who is now seven years old is like a little fairy spirit. Her room is bright, sparkly and beautiful, with reminders of a world of unicorns, and fairytales where life is an endless dance of joy and happiness. It is like entering another world that reflects her amazing presence of being. She was born on Christmas Eve and given the name of Isabella Rose Angel, since she entered into the family of Angels.
Halloween is her favorite holiday. We all expected her to want to wear a costume of an angel, or a fairy spirit, but for years she only wanted to be a witch. She dreamed all year of being able to wear a witch’s costume on Halloween. It surprised her family and all who knew her until we learned that the word ‘witch’ comes from the Old English ‘wicce’ meaning wise woman. She truly is wise like an old soul in a little body. Her choice of costume truly did reflect the wisdom already visible in her nature. I wonder, if we as adults were to select our costumes, what would that choice reveal about ourselves and the choices we make within our lives?
As we offer candy to those spirits who knock on our door this year, it is a timely reminder to think of those in your life who have passed. It is also a time to send them appreciation, love, gratitude and blessings. We can even light a candle to enlighten their way along their journey. May this ‘All Hallow’s Eve’ protect and bless you on your journey through this life and beyond.