GP Taylor: Halloween and lifting the lid on mysteries of life and death

Farmer Charlie Eckley checks his fields of pumpkins ahead of Halloween.
Farmer Charlie Eckley checks his fields of pumpkins ahead of Halloween.
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I HAVE to say that I now love Halloween. There is always a great sense of heightening excitement as the leaves start to turn and fall. Autumn brings with it an amazing sense of completion.

Even though many of us are disconnected from the land and only see vegetables in supermarkets, harvest time seems to be ingrained in our very psyche. It is as if the earth yearns as it gives birth to its wonderful abundance.

As the days shorten and the nights draw in, we are soon in the season of Halloween. Before I go any further, I have to say that in recent years I have had a radical change of heart in regards to this ancient festival. At one time I believed it was a dangerous date that allowed people to see the occult as an alternative to Christianity.

Thankfully, having researched the subject of modern day faith, I think that Halloween is an important festival for a society that has lost touch with the divine. We in the West are disconnected to the cycle of life and death. We live in our sanitised communities where the spiritual is often ignored and end of life rituals are feared.

It is because of this that festivals such as Halloween have become so important. They allow the whole of society to take part in a communal activity without feeling they are different. Sadly, the Church has lost its supernatural authority. The mystery of God and the pageant of sacramentalism the Church once had is at times in danger of being lost. It is no longer seen as the go to place for spiritual help. Even its attempts to hijack the pagan festival of Samhain and replace it with All Saints and All Souls have failed.

The Church can be viewed by some as a foreboding and prescriptive place, divided over issues such as gay marriage and the role of women. It is no longer seen to have the answers to the questions of the world.

Halloween gives people the chance to encounter the spiritual side of their lives. In Britain, we don’t do death very well. It is a subject that we shy away from and talk about in hushed tones. However, at Halloween, we are all allowed to think about the big issues of life and death.

All the talk about ghosts and spirits at Halloween helps us come to terms with what life and death is all about. It introduces children to the fact that all life ends in death. An October festival of the dead is something that is common in all cultures. The popularity of this festival show that there is a real need. Death is a taboo subject. Halloween allows us to talk about it safely.

The festival isn’t just about dressing up and carving turnip lanterns. It’s not just something that is fun for children; adults seem to love it as well.

Halloween hands down from generation to generation traditions and customs. Apple bobbing, witches, telling ghost stories and even dressing up go back centuries. They are all an important part of our culture. In their own way each one of them allows us to try and reach out to the sacred. These customs take us from our normal day to day existence and bring to us the possibility that there may just be an after life and that the stories of ghosts might just have a ring of truth to them.

Halloween or Samhain, as it is often called, is a festival that is growing in importance. It is a Pagan celebration and marks the Feast of the Dead. Many Pagans also celebrate it as the old Celtic New Year. The veil between us and the Otherworld is believed to be at its thinnest. Spirits of the dead could most readily mingle with the living.

Later, the festival was adopted by Christians, they celebrated it as All Hallows’ Eve, followed by All Saints Day, though it still retained elements of remembering and honouring the dead. It is so sad that those in the Church
sought to kill anyone who practised
the old ways of religion. Many a wise healer was put to death accused of witchcraft. Interestingly the Witchcraft Act of 1735 wasn’t repealed until 1951.

It is a shame that all those murdered for their faith could not be given a posthumous pardon as an act of contrition for the savagery committed towards them.

I no longer feel that Halloween is something negative. It is an amazing opportunity for everyone to have fun and also engage with the possibility that death is not the end to life.

It is a powerful connection to the passing of the seasons and the circle of life and one that everyone should be able to enjoy.

GP Taylor is a writer and broadcaster and can be followed @GPTaylorauthor.