Friday, October 15, 2010
Samhain Sunset (The First Halloween)
"Even in Autumn, you are not safe. Stay indoors, attend your hearths. Try to keep the night at bay by the telling of your tongue. Remember your kin, honor your ancestors. For at this time the dead begin to stir, riding upon hallowed and familiar roads, galloping through villages and wastes, flying through the forests of the mind. Such raids are reminders that the past is not a dead thing, but may return, like a hunter, to follow us for a time."
It's interesting to sit and ponder what the first Halloween must have been like. I've read about the origins of Halloween and just how long ago it began. (Halloween is 1,000 years older than Christmas.) I've learned how many of the traditions we celebrate today derive from ancient customs that held a more serious purpose back then. Halloween was born in a time when man had no explanation for the mysteries of world around him. Very little of our surroundings made sense and without the enlightening virtues of science, man was at the mercy of the dark shadows of superstition and the unknown.
It's fun to imagine the rituals and the social elements of the earliest Halloween, but my mind always brings me back to a scene that I have always felt best exemplifies the mood of such a spooky time.
I envision a young man on top of a hill. Behind him somewhere off in the growing darkness is a small village. From where he stands he cannot see it but he can hear the distant barking of dogs and the occasional laughter. The faint sounds of his village make him feel even more alone. In front of him lies a rolling wilderness. One day the forests below him will become a patchwork of fields and pastures but in his time nature still holds dominance over the affairs of men. In the distance, the sun has just set behind a line of black hills. The night is chilly and a thick fog settles in the valleys. This evening marks the end of the summer and the beginning of the season of death. The leaves have fallen, the crops have been harvested, the animals in the forest have grown quite. The future is a cold darkness.
The darkness, like a pack of hungry wolves, is creeping towards him. With it manifests the memories and tales of strange creatures and spirits that favor the night and fear the day. This night of all nights, the dead are permitted to return to spend an evening amongst the living. The young man stands near a bonfire prepared to scare away the spirits of evil and beacon those of his ancestors, although the thought of any spirits approaching at all sends a shiver down his spine. His job is to maintain the flame until the sun rises in the morning. In doing so, he will keep his people safe from the darkness.