Why We Still Need Halloween, Rev. Arthur G. Severance

Start Date

In an English cemetery we find this last thoughtful epitaph:

 "Remember man, as you walk by,
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so shall you be.
Remember this and follow me."

To which someone replied by writing on the tombstone:
"To follow you I'll not consent . . . Until I know which way you went."

   Ambrose   Bierce, the great 19th century cynic, who was a Unitarian  
by the way wrote the The Enlarged Devil's Dictionary in 1906, with  
these definitions-
    ?Religion: A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to ignorance  
the nature of the unknowable.
      Irreligion: The principal one of the great faiths of the world.
      Saint: A dead sinner revised and edited."

   All appropriate  for Halloween, o All Saint?s Day,  All Soul?s Day,   
all holidays falling around the same time- October 31, Nov 1, and Nov  
2. and all  relating to the mystery of life and death and the changing  
of the seasons as well as the harvest- all interrelated and, I will  
argue, still needed today, even in our supposedly advanced modern  
technical age, perhaps even more so! This sacred time of year we  
gather here for perhaps the same reason since time began to  
understand, yea even worship, the difference between the mystery of  
life and the even greater mystery of death when it comes comes to one  
of our family. We call this time by many names, and we think many  
different religions, but I think they are all about the same thing. S  
amhain, the ancient Celtic feast of the dead, dating as far back as  
5th century BCE (Before the Common Era). In northern european cultures  
this was harvest time, the end of the year, if you will, just before  
the deathly shroud of winter covers the land, especially the cemeteries.
   The ancient Celts believed that on Oct. 31, all who had died over the  
past year assembled to choose the body of the person or animal they  
would possess for the next 12 months; and to frighten these roving  
souls, the Ancient Celts dressed as demons, witches, and hobgoblins.  
Druid priests would light huge bonfires to mark the end of summer, the  
harvest, as well as to frighten away the spirits and honor the Sun God.

   Indeed, we can find the meaning for probably every one of today?s Halloween
symbols or celebration that will be probably be hundreds maybe  
thousands of years old! We have unconsciously kept this holiday alive  
though the all reasons for it  may have been lost in the mists of  
ancient pagan history covered over by the church as it tried to  
suppress the religion of the country, which is what the word, pagan  
meant.
   I want to raise the deep question of why we still celebrate Halloween  
in this day and age. Is there  a part of us that still needs to? Is  
there some kind of primal need for our children to still dress in  
costumes and go from door to door collecting sweets? Could there  
possible by a spiritual need for costume parties this time of year?  
Why are the conservative churches so against it?

   Don?t you think it?s interesting that this strange holiday, and  
you?ll have to admit that it is  a strange holiday to keep alive in  
the 21st century in the most  powerful and technologically advanced  
country in the world, at least we used to be, this Halloween holiday  
that we still celebrate in schools claiming that it?s a secular  
holiday, at least it?s not  Christian holiday!  Indeed, in Texas,when  
we lived there, many of the conservative churches convinced their  
folks not to celebrate it because it was a pagan and satanic  holiday  
and even managed to get  some schools to stop having halloween parties.

   Yet, I will argue that we still need it and that is precisely why we  
stall celebrate it! We need everything from the sense of play, the  
idea of  creating a costume for ourselves, a character for ourselves,  
yes, whether it be silly or serious and I don?t mean to psycho  
analyze, but to play to give free rein to ourselves in a safe  
environment. The evil sprits we attempt to drive away are the primal  
fears of childhood- and what are they- monsters, death, witches,  
graveyards, skeletons, zombies, vampire,s pirates,
all of the scary costumes and symbols, while the cute costumes  
represent the beauty side of childhood, of course. We dress up as the  
shadow side and go as the opposite of what our parents want us to be.  
Oh the possibilities are endless, and then there are the popular  
cultural characters, of course which may have little deeper meaning  
than the latest TV show, movie, or book. As, I say, watch out for  
overanalyzing!

   This time of year as the seasons change the leaves fall from the  
trees and winter is near, the  harvest is in and it's getting colder.  
That chill in the air, the frost is on the pumpkins and yes, death is  
palpably close by. As I?ve said before, we cannot help but be changed  
as well by the turning of the seasons and it is no coincident that  
religions have their seasonal holy days.

   Halloween continues to be a way of helping us all deal with death as  
well as remembering our ancestors, our family and the hard fact that  
death is part of life. The symbols of halloween are made easier to  
?swallow? if you will, by the sweet candy we collect that is after  
all, the ?bribe? that children have always required!

    I have such wonderful memories of growing up in that small NH town  
where my mother would create such creative Halloween costumes for my  
older sister and I. We would walk all over town trick or treating and  
knew everyone; each neighbor would give us their unique candy or apple  
or such and would try to guess which neighbor child we were. I can  
only imagine what an experience it must have been for the adults to  
watch the children grow as the Halloweens passed. What a sense of  
community it engendered.
   And when my children came along, Cathie and  I created the costumes  
and the memories that stay with us and our daughters. Both Cathie?s   
and my parents are now gone from us, yet they remain in our memories  
of Halloween.

   Even the haunted houses are a way of creating a kind of controlled  
scariness, like the way some people enjoy horror movies, the scarier  
and bloodier the better! Halloween is a way of desensitizing us,  
little by little every year to the frightening parts of death even or  
especially as children, though  we never completely outgrow our fear,  
of course. while also helping us still keep a sense of play and joy in  
life.  That?s part of why it?s still  so important and is still needed  
among the other reasons I?ve mentioned.

   Every Fall we are reminded of the circle of life by the breathtaking  
beauty of the changing of the colors of the leaves, yet it is also the  
announcement that winter can?t be far away.     Every Fall I am reminded  
of Falls gone by. I am connected back by each year I can remember to  
events and to people and family of the  past. Halloweens gone by.  
Halloween Intergenerational services over the last 20 years or so.
Costumes worn by my children, by Cathie, by me as an adult and then as  
a child. Halloween parties. Beloved relatives now gone. yes, the  
ancestors.  As I get older, and especially as my children get older,  
the years go by much quicker, and I perform more  memorial services  
for beloved church members. I get news of former members of churches I  
have served who have died. Fall turns into winter.

   And I am glad that I have had Halloween, that there has been a  
sweetness to life, a joy, a playfulness. I am comforted by the love  
that surrounds me by family and friends and the knowledge of the  
circle of life that somehow this mystery has been going on for a long,  
long, time and will continue to go on after my body form has long  
gone. My spirit has been warmed by the worship of this religious  
ritual and community I have found and co-created here with you. We all  
have this opportunity though we all have different needs and will find  
different ways of expressing and fulfilling them.

   Country/Folk Singer Songwriters   Robin and Lucinda Williams ,on  
their CD , Deeper Waters, have a  wonderful song, called, Saving Me a  
Place  which sounds like Unitarian Universalist Gospel Music to me   
-that talk about death and dying but not about heaven and hell and  
salvation and such, but still seems spiritual and meaningful-

The list of loved ones who have gone every year gets longer
And everyday that I  live on my ties to them grow stronger
I long  for family and friends to see some lost long face
But I know at my journey?s end, they are Saving Me a Place
At a table bright with candlelight and linens edged with lace
The ones so dear from my time down here are Saving Me a Place

One by one I?ll fall into the arms of all assembled
When these parting days are through my joy filled heart will tremble
The voices I so well know will greet me at the gates
In that House of Glad Hellos they are Saving Me a Place
 It will be once more as it was before in my childhood days
The ones so dear from my time down here are Saving Me a Place

Till then I?ll listen for their dear whispers in the rustling wind
And hold them in my memory until we meet again
When I?m laid beneath the sand and gone without a trace
I?ll be in that happy land where they are Saving Me a Place
We?ll play old songs and sing along in carefree serenade
The ones so dear from my time down here are Saving Me a Place.



May this the spirit of life and love be our guide. May we love and  
help one one another while we  walk together in beloved  community,  
reaching out to work for social justice in the wider world.

Peace,Love, Shalom,Salaam, Blessed Be,Namaste, Abrazo a Todos,Vaya con su Dios


Reading

from the poet, Mary Oliver in her book, American Primitive.


In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Event type
Worship Service