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
?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
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
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
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
from the poet, Mary Oliver in her book, American Primitive.
In Blackwater Woods
Look, the trees
their own bodies
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
the long tapers
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
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.