Our Little Naivety
The word Halloween evolved from an old Scottish term, All Hallows’ Eve, but the origins of the celebration pre-date Christianity. More than likely, it is a syncretism—a melding of the Christian All Saints Eve and the Pagan Samhain.
Samhain was a Gaelic harvest festival at mid-point between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. It marked the beginning of death’s season—winter. Life was precarious in those days and surviving the misty dread of winter was a legitimate fear. Death was more personal then. They washed their dead within their homes. They buried the soiled bed cloths in their fields. They touched death.
“Death is one of those smells you never forget—an odor that loiters in the chamber of your throat and haunts your hollow soul. It is a pungent, insidious thing that rouses your deepest fear. Once you know the stirring horror of that reek, you are forever changed. There is no turning back from that awakening.” —The Poppy Field Diary
On my wanderings in the developing world I’ve seen human bodies abandoned in the streets, floating bloated in rivers and lying alongside lonely stretches of highway. Though I have never been caught in a battle, I have seen it’s aftermath and I have heard the distant staccato of nightfire. In parts of the world, death is still personal.
Death has a certain odor. It’s quite different from the scent of those sanitized flower arrangements we encounter in sterile funeral homes. The scent of death is startling, fearful, awe-inspiring, sobering.
Our Halloween is such curious thing. For the children—a laughing romp through a cool suburban night and afterwards, hot cocoa; for the adolescents—mischief; for singles—raucous parties; for young mothers—a Pinterest inspired fall wreath and pumpkins on the porch.
It’s OK, I suppose, but like most of our rituals, it’s lackluster. By this Halloween 2014, we will have lost perhaps 10,000 to Ebola, 260,000 to the war in Syria and 150,000 to the drug war in Mexico. Conflicts continue in Southern Sudan, Iraq, Somalia, Ukraine, and Palestine—on and on it goes. In those hot spots bodies are not quickly whisked away. Those folk don’t celebrate with cute little rituals that mock death. They don’t celebrate at all. But they think about it—a lot!
Carey Richard is the author of The Poppy Field Diary available on Kindle or paperback.