Harvest and Halloween Rites

Oct 30, 2007

We're just about to put the last of the grapes to bed. It was a great year for us. The successes far outweighed the disappointments. We usually have some form of harvest/Halloween dinner to celebrate, and after a few drinks, I try to convince winemaker Eric Glomski to tell a little story. It's taken me a few years to get him to write it down, but here it is for all to enjoy:


The Ancient Pagan Rites of Halloween

By Eric Glomski

"Long ago, across vast cultural and political space, Halloween traveled and evolved from a deep, meaningful, multi-day ritual that blended spiritual and agrarian realities.

The spiritual lives of ancient pagans clearly developed alongside their struggles to coax a living from the earth. Day and night, summer and winter, and warm and cold forged dichotomies that lay inexorably alongside the ultimate relationship between life and death.

In pre-industrial times, as summer drew to a close and winter was ushered in through the autumnal equinox, agrarian peoples were faced with the realities of the harvest year. Had they stored enough crops for the winter? Was there enough fuel wood to stave off the bite of the damp north winds? If not, in certain years, many would find themselves begging door-to-door seeking help. If they were not rewarded with compassion in the form of food stores, tricks (and possibly vandalism) would sometimes be carried out against the unkind. (Our trick-or-treating is a vestige of this desperate act.)

At the same time, behind this physical reality lay the backdrop of the wild, pagan, mystical world. This time of year marked the point where all the Earth’s powers of creation were waning at the end of the harvest year. Like the transition between diurnal and nocturnal, the great annual twilight lifted the veil and blurred the lines between the living and the dead.

The holy people of this time, the Druids, knew that these three days had a special quality about them. As the veil lifted, journeys could be made in safety to the “other side” by those who were prepared. The Druid rites, therefore, were concerned with making contact with the spirits of the departed, who were seen as sources of guidance rather than as sources of dread. The dark (today the “new”) moon, the time when no moon could be seen in the sky, was the phase that ruled this time, as it symbolized a time during which mortal sight needed to be obscured in order for the Druids to see into the other worlds.

Druids gathered at a central holy site to kindle a huge bonfire, a central spiritual light to help them to see and to ward off fear and evil spirits. Large torches were then taken to each of the connected clans, and elders dispersed small fires to households to provide similar illumination and protection (our jack-o-lanterns of today).

Like many of the holidays westerners celebrate today, much of Halloween’s previous meaning has been blended and co-opted by Christianity and capitalism or is simply symptomatic of sheer cultural degradation."

Cheers to that. Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat. Or else.

Holidays / Celebrations Halloween

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