Saturday, October 30, 2010

Acknowledgment

It's about time I acknowledged that Halloween's coming tomorrow. Better late than never.

I like this holiday because of its roots in the Celtic holiday of Samhain (the Wikipedia article is well-researched). We've strayed from those origins, but there's still something pagan about dressing up as someone you're not and running around in the dark, begging for treats while threatening to play tricks if you don't get them.

Around my neighborhood, styrofoam grave stones fill the yards, ghosts dangle from trees and skeletons rise out of grassy front lawns. Horrid goblins hang from the neck above doorways, spiders crawl along rooftops and certain doors, when opened, emit screams.

I wonder how parents explain all this death to their children. My first thought is this is a good way to introduce them to it. Death is fun! It's only scary in a Boo! sort of way. Maybe the subject of death doesn't come up, at least not with the littlest ones. Maybe it's all just candy and costumes.

But of course Halloween is about death. That's what the Celts celebrated at Samhain--the end of autumn, the approaching winter, the symbolic death creeping over the land. It's a fine time, at season's change, to note that we walk in a world others once walked, and to acknowledge that in some ways they still do.

We live in the homes they built, we absorb the art they created, we learn, over and over again, how their actions shaped our lives. If we're lucky we get to see the ruins they left behind in Rome, in Paris, or in Altadena. We live among the dead and this is a good thing. This weekend we acknowledge and celebrate them.

24 comments:

Kim said...

Love your thoughts, so well expressed. Lincoln once asked someone, "Do you ever find yourself talking to the dead?" To which many of us could reply, "Why, yes, I do. Quite frequently, now that you mention it." Wave on wave of life, and so much gratitude to those who have gone before, upon whose shoulders we stand. Super post, Petrea.
-Kim

pasadenapio said...

Happy All Hallows Eve in advance, Petrea!

Shell Sherree said...

Wonderful, Petrea. Happy Halloween to you. My wv is pepea!

J+P said...

The ratio of dead to living people is about 30:1. As our dominion over their world is not earned, it's fitting that at least once a year, we go with uneasy tread.

Angel bright
Life an' death
Git off th' road
Don't suck m'breath!

Speedway said...

There are Indian mounds in Marietta, Ohio, one of which is part of a city park. My friend and I once visited there, accompanied by his sister and her husband. Children were running up and down the mound, playing soccer at its base, while a woman pushing a stroller walked her baby down the sidewalk. A typical daily scene, except I felt we were accompanied by the spirits of the people who'd built the mound;as we carried on our business, they walked up from the river along the Sacra Via, to meet their leaders at the mound.

When I told Carl about it, his sister gave me, then him, an odd glance, but he knew what I meant because he felt it, too. Wherever we went on our boat, we both envisioned those who'd been there before us and felt connected to our past. I could not touch the cold, wet side of an old river lock wall with out thinking there was another boat in the chamber with us, maybe an old packet delivering wares and people to small towns along the river.

Petrea said...

Wave on wave of life, as Kim says. I'm surprised we don't feel every day what Speedway in Marietta. It's a beautiful kind of eerie. Here, all I have to do is imagine away the modern trappings to see the world as it used to be, and let its "bright angels" repopulate it.
--pepea

Lori Webster said...

I love that picture, Petrea! Happy Halloween to you!

altadenahiker said...

Strength in numbers. Death is something we'll ultimately face alone, so there's something comforting about facing the concept in the company of others.

Nice, moody photo.

Bellis said...

I love the word you used on South Pasadena Patch - palimpsest. That's what we're living on. The traces of previous occupants are all around us.

Bill Bryson in his book "The Home" tells us that English churches often look as though they've sunk into their surroundings. They haven't - the ground around them has risen because of the thousands of bodies buried there over hundreds of years. No wonder I'll never walk past a churchyard at midnight on Hallowe'en.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

"that we walk in a world others once walked, and to acknowledge that in some ways they still do."

I like that. I'm going as the "before" Station Fire. All those Tiny Trees I collect

Petrea said...

Thanks, Lori.

Well put, Hiker.

Bellis, it was in an English church where I first realized how much we live among the dead. The English embrace this concept so much I don't think they're even aware of it. The dead are buried in the walls and floors of the churches. Their monuments are everywhere, their achievements are lived in and used every day. I love England for that. France, too. If/when I get the chance to travel more, I hope to add more countries to that list.

Petrea said...

Oh good, PA. Those souls bear remembering.

Jane Rollins said...

I honor the dead by studying genealogy and sharing the old family stories. On Halloween, I honor the chocolate.

-K- said...

I've never thought of Halloween as a sort of celebration in the face of the impending doom of winter.

But I like it. A lot.

Steve Scauzillo said...

Great shot and thoughtful comments, Petrea. I'm always like too spent to write so much. You used photoshop on that photo? (I'm asking because I just got a copy and i'm starting to learn it myself!)

Petrea said...

Jane, the chocolate must be honored. In fact, that goes back to ancient ritual, too, just on a different part of a planet (Mexico).

As much as California's winter can be thought of as impending doom, K, there you have it.

Steve, thanks. No, not Photoshop, just iPhoto. I haven't graduated yet.

Susan Campisi said...

I've been too busy to take much notice of Halloween but this post got me to slow down and reflect on the spirit (and spirits) of the holiday. Lovely and spooky journey into its origins.

Melanie Neslo said...

Oh Petrea! wonderful post!

Latino Heritage said...

Thanks for this. I am reminded that one day soon we should talk about Dia de los muertos. It too, is a time for reflecting on those who have passed and what they meant to us.

Petrea said...

Thanks. I love the kids and their costumes and the whole crazy thing of it, but if none of that existed I'd still enjoy Halloween for the way it opens the door to the underworld and lets us peek.

TheChieftess said...

Isn't All Hallows Eve the night where the veil between our worlds is thin, and almost permeable??? I've always liked the concept of a veil between the physical world and the world beyond...

Petrea said...

That is it, Chieftess. The ancients symbolized this by lighting bonfires and walking among/between them.

Speedway said...

Ya know, for a while I was contemplating a series of drawings and paintings about stories I'd learned about people and events along the Muskingum River (which enters into the Ohio River at Marietta), a few of which dealt with spirits. I thought about making a kind of "forest" of the mound builders, all on veils. I wanted to bring home that feeling of walking along with the spirits in our daily routines. Maybe one day...

Petrea said...

I like it, Speedway.