What separates Halloween from most of our holidays and observances is the wildly varied views on what it means and why (or if) it is important at all.

 

By Kellie Schorr

“I see skies of blue
And clouds of white
The bright blessed day
The dark sacred night
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world”

 

As a child, Halloween meant two things to me: Costumes and Candy.

I was ambivalent about costumes. I was a cowboy one year, a clown the next, and then spent three years in a row being a Snoopy Astronaut until I just could not make that mask fit anymore. Then, in what would have been the most active years in my trick or treat career, my family lived in Langdon, North Dakota, where it didn’t matter what your costume was, it was going to be covered by a parka anyway.

By the time my family moved to a climate where people could actually see how you were dressed, I was considered too old for such things and took my place at the door handing out the candy. At that, I was legendary.

I would coo and clap for little ghosts and Ghostbusters, smile at princess ballerinas, and even appreciate adults who dressed up to take their kids to the door instead of standing down the sidewalk screaming, “Say thank you!”

True Confession: My treats were conditional, and some bias may have been involved. Carebears and cutesy things got a “Smarties” and teenage boys who looked like they just used their sister’s eye liner on their face got those nasty butterscotch candies only my mother liked. Anyone dressed as Batman (aged 3 months to 90 years) got a full handful of goodies, and other comic characters or aliens got extra as well. The top candy earner every year, though, were the witches.

Since I was small, I have always been entranced by witches.

Monsters and Meaning

In college I met folks who identified spiritually as witches and I became versed in the craft, and the people for whom it was a practice. Halloween turned from spooky movie night in Candyland to a what I imagine when Louis Armstrong intones “the dark sacred night.”

For many it is a time when the veil between worlds grows thin and we can reach to the other side with love, solidarity or curiosity.  For others, it represents an opportunity to let our inner demons (and delights) become an outer presence for just one night. Either way, from a Buddhist perspective, it gives us yet another chance to create a more awakened and accepting relationship with our own impermanence.

In his book, Haunted, literary scholar Dr. Leo Braudy explores how the monsters and ghouls so prevalent in our fiction and mind’s eye represent our fears and how we deal with them.  He breaks them down into four categories:

  • The Monster from Nature – From “Nessy” of Lock Ness, to the creatures inhabiting swamps, forests, radioactive badlands and the werewolves of a moonlight night, these monsters represent our relationship with the unpredictable and uncontrollable natural challenges around us. Hurricanes, perfect storms, hypothermia, or heat stroke are part of the world in which we live.  These monsters can teach us to surrender our ideas of control.
  • The Created Monster – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, zombies transformed by disease into mindless wandering shells who can never be satisfied (not unlike the Hungry Ghosts of the six realms), and evil cyborgs all bring to mind sense of helplessness and disappointment at the things we created with our own will, only to lose power to them in the long run. These monsters can help us understand karma (the actions that come from our actions).
  • The Monster from Within – What’s the one thing we hear in every serial killer documentary? “He looked so normal.” These monsters represent the seeds of danger caused from an internal darkness/brokenness. Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, evil clowns, and most angry ghosts embody this fear. These monsters can be a gift to remind us that samara and nirvana exist non-dually. When there is darkness there is also light.  Before you were broken, you were whole.  What better way to reach out to Buddha nature?
  • The Empowered of Old – Vampires take their curse and make it a blood feast that gives them immortality. Witches are empowered beings who work and worship with nature in such a way they bless, curse, heal, and commune with all manner of beings. These are two of the most historically loved, and vilified, ideas because they challenge the position of institutional religion, particularly Christianity, as the sole hope for salvation and instead celebrate other means of personal and natural power. What better reminders that we are connected not only with each other, but all phenomena? What a great awakening.

What separates Halloween from most of our holidays and observances is the wildly varied views on what it means and why (or if) it is important at all.

This time last year I witnessed a vibrant Facebook argument. A Christian mother (with large-scale support) was making the case that the US should simply move the celebration of Halloween to the last Saturday of October, so it wouldn’t fall on a school night. Practicing witches shocked our rural conservative community by informing them Halloween was, in fact, a religious holiday and its placement was sacred and profound. As you can imagine, it was a vocal debate ending with the entire thread being deleted and more than one person in Facebook jail.

What is Halloween to you? For me, it’s been a little of everything. It started as a candy apple bridge from glorious fall to thankful mid-winter, segued through costume hijinks at work and howlin’ good parties, to the space in takes now—a time to reflect, honor, and open myself to the vast lessons of this dark sacred night.

 

  • What a Wonderful World lyrics © BMG Rights Management, Concord Music Publishing LLC, Songtrust Ave, Soundreef Ltd   Songwriters: Bob Thiele / George Douglas / George Weiss

 

Photo: Pixabay

 

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