Wednesday, October 28, 2009
On All Hallows Eve
Samhain is fast approaching. All Hallow’s eve, the feast that heralds the “dark-half”of the year. The bright season of summer has died, and we mourn as we face the approaching winter.
The autumn sun sets in streaks of gold and violet. Clouds trimmed in charcoal gray fall like a heavy curtain on the day. Herds of small, frightened creatures streak across the road in front of your car, stopping your heart for a second until you realize... they're only dead leaves whipped into a panic by the moaning wind. Clouds of blackbirds amass, streaming southward in undulating flight. Vines of bittersweet festoon bare branches with their garlands of red and yellow. Shadow beings move in and out of the treeline at the edges of the fields. The dying vegetation, the cinnamon smell of decaying leaves, and the bare tree branches like dead fingers, suggest that perhaps the author, Ray Bradbury was right: “Something wicked this way comes!”
Christian tradition marks All Saints Day, then a few days later, All Souls, a day of remembrance of those who have passed from this world. The harvest is in, the growing season ended, the leaves have died and fallen, leaving the trees bare. Long thought of as the season of death in many cultures, for the Celtic people, it marked the end of the grass, thus, the end of the grazing time, and so, the beginning of the slaughter. The people made great fires called bone-fires (bonfires) and burned the bones of the cattle on them. It is the harbinger of the Celtic New Year, the end and the beginning.
This is the time when the veil that separates the worlds is drawn back, and the inhabitants of the spirit plane and the faerie realm might move freely between them.
Once, long ago, I was a young girl balancing on the tightrope between the worlds of child and adult. I was almost too old for trick–or-treat; just old enough to be let out on Halloween night for a hour or two without adult supervision.
Giddy with freedom, I ran to meet two friends in the big field at the end of our street. On this All Hallow’s Eve, it represented a scary, yet safe enough place to greet whatever spirits might roam the night, as free as I was.
This field was a big part of my childhood. From preschool days, to high school, I wandered through it, my knees brushed by the amber grass. It was the staging area for neighborhood games of war, freeze tag and red rover. I also liked to sit there alone sometimes, thinking and watching the clouds form familiar shapes in the sky.
Tonight my two friends and I would go there to challenge whatever spirits might rise up to prowl the night.
Karyn and Pam were already there waiting for me in the darkness as I ran through the vacant lot and burst into the field. We passed around a cigarette, thrilling to the fact that we were almost grown, and out with no adults on the darkest night of the year, a night when evil might be lurking all around us. We spent some time gossiping as young teens will, and laughing loudly at our own jokes while the stars came out, and the night breeze ruffled the long grass around us. We plotted our route around the nearby housing development. Candy was for babies, but we would roam the neighborhood anyway, checking out the costumes and looking for our school mates.
Suddenly, there was a sound a few dozen yards away at the edge of the woods. Someone or something was moving through the leaves and into the field. I was suddenly frightened, not only of ghosts, but of some person with bad intentions. My parents had hammered it into me that there were adults that would harm a child, if they got the chance.
"It's nothing," said Karyn,"probably just some kids..." As I watched, the grass started to move, slowly at first, then faster, as if something large and low to the ground was moving up the hill, in our direction!
I was confused at first, because although I could make out the dim horizon, the shapes of the trees and the long blades of grass moving, nothing appeared to be moving them. There was a whispery sound as the tufts of grass shook and swayed. It was as if some invisible person was walking quickly through them, straight toward us! One of my friends gasped and that was all it took. The three of us ran screaming from the field and didn't stop until we were about a quarter of a mile away, back on the relative safety of the dark street.
"What WAS that?" Pam asked incredulously as we stopped and tried to catch our breath.
As I think back on it, I guess it could have been a big raccoon or opossum making it's way up the hill, hidden by the grass. But I prefer to think that perhaps it was a visitor from a different reality; a Samhain spirit or an Elfin traveler that passed through the thin veil into the dimension of living humans on that dark and shadowy Halloween night.
So light your jack-o-lanterns to keep the evil spirits at bay, and guide the friendly ones home...it's almost All Hallows Eve.