Tag Archives: Halloween

Death Becomes You

The signs of the changing season are many and plentiful: there is a new crispness in the air, the days grow shorter, the leaves begin to fall, pumpkin spice flavoring has been injected into every consumable, and the yearly barrage of educational outreach posts from the Pagan community are making the rounds.

I used to do a fair bit of that myself.  The confluence of Pop-Culture Halloween and Pagan Samhain makes for a pretty tempting public relations opportunity.  Watch as we slide a little truth in there between your fun-sized Snickers and your yearly viewing of The Great Pumpkin.

I gave it up though, because mostly people don’t want to be bothered with it.

And of those who do show some interest, trying to explain Celtic Ancestor Night traditions to someone who’s cultural understanding of death is rooted in Western Christianity is a serious undertaking.

There’s just no easy way in.

Except that is for Dia de Muertos.

The growing popularity in the States, of the Mexican ‘Day of the Dead’ has, on several recent occasions, given me something a little more tangible to point to.

But still, the conversations tend to go something like this…,

Me: “It’s like ‘The Day of the Dead’ but without the Sugar Skulls.”

Them: “Huh?!”

So, it seemed like the best thing to do was to just give up again, when suddenly this…,

The Book of Life

The Book of Life.

It came out in 2014, and I’ve just now watched it.

How did I miss this movie?!

It is without doubt, the best representation of a modern cultural rite of honoring the dead, that I have seen on film.  The movie is cute and funny, even while treating the subject with a particular reverence, and most importantly, it is rich and beautiful to look at.

In a time when the rotting flesh and gnashing teeth of the zombie has become a year round staple of popular culture, it is nothing short of miraculous to see the dead depicted as beings of both whimsy and grace, who care for their living descendants as fervently as we should care for them.

Do not be fooled by the corruption of the grave.

That is not death.

Death is not something that happens to us, it is something we become, and in so doing, we carry away all that is beautiful within us into that next realm.  How could what we find there be anything other than glorious to behold?

Watch the movie.  Smile and laugh at the story, even as you catch a momentary glimpse of a truth beyond our mortal reach.  Do that, and maybe you’ll understand the things we do.

We dress the graves to honor them.

We kindle the fires to light their way home.

We share with them offerings of food and drink.

We remember them to each other in the stories that we tell.

And we pray that we will be remembered when we have passed beyond the vail.

Do not fear the grave.  Death becomes you.

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Filed under Culture, Death, Holidays, Religion, Traditions

October Stories: The Fields of the Dead

The weeds, so late in the season, had been reduced to clumps of tall spindly stalks.  They reached almost to our knees as we stalked our prey across the field, tawny spikelets rasping together in the cooling October breeze.

We fanned out slowly.  Each taking a few large steps forward and then sweeping one leg forward and across in a low arc, the crunch of tall grass bending and breaking underfoot, while we scanned the ground before us for any sign.

Another few steps.

Another sweep of the leg.

And again, widening our distance.

And again.

And there!  A flash of white between grayish-green blades of grass.  My hand thrust downward, looking for purchase, for something hard and rough wedged into the earth.  And then the grip and pull against a resistance from roots above and soil below.

A few moments spent shaking the dirt away before I can properly see what I’ve found.

“Got one,” I shout to the others, “I think it’s a shoulder bone!”

“Good, now look for the rest.  We’ll keep going.”

Smiling at the club-like form in my hand, I give it a couple more good shakes, dirt flying from a thousand hollow pockmarks which seem to line one flattened edge, and then I give it a gentle toss into the low grass at the edge of the field.

I make that sweeping motion with my foot again, and then again, until I see more white peeping up from below.  More bones to gather, weathered and stained, from the hungry earth.

She does not easily yield that which she has been given.

***

Throughout my high-school years my parents and I lived next to a small cattle ranch.  Its glory days long since passed, the property was held by two elderly ladies, mother and daughter, who kept their small herd more out of habit than anything else.

I fed the cattle and my father sometimes pitched in when the owners needed him for fence repairs or brush removal.

There were never more that a couple dozen head wandering the fields in those days, and there was more than ample space for them to roam and graze.  As I recall, there was only one small field closed off to them: the grassy crown of a wide hill, hidden back behind the main house and the barn, surrounded by trees and left to seed.

We called it the bone yard.

From time to time, one of the herd would die, usually of age, and the owners would hire someone to throw a chain around its neck and drag it off with a tractor, into that lonesome circle.

There the bodies were transformed, by scavengers and time, into a loose collection of bones, picked clean and scattered across the area of flattened grass where the carcass once lay.

Still more time would pass and the bones, bleached by sun and rain, would begin their slow progress into the earth.

Or maybe they where dragged downward.

Certainly the roots seemed loath to give them up.

***

And those old bones might have vanished into the ground forever, had my father not volunteered to run the P.T.O Spook-House at my High School’s fall carnival.

Halloween in a small towns of Texas, populated as they tend to be, by the more evangelical flavors of the Christian faithful, can be a complex bit of business.

Oh the people do chatter about paganism and devil worship, and everyone is doing it, and everyone knows that everyone else is doing it, and they all pretend that they are doing something else entirely.

It’s very much the way they deal with sex, except that sometimes there are costumes involved…,

…so, I guess it’s exactly the same.

Halloween is therefore rebranded as a “Harvest Festival” or a “Fall Carnival”, which in an astonishing coincidence, includes costumes, bobbing for apples, a scavenger hunt, and a spook-house.

Oh, and a cake-walk!

And I can tell you, having participated in both, that nothing so closely resembles a poorly managed Neo-Pagan rite, than a cake-walk in small town Texas.  Particularly when the participants are trying ever so desperately to avoid the appearance that they might be involved in a dance of any description.

And that might make a good topic for another day…,

…but I was trying to explain why we were out in a field gathering animal bones.

That’s no great mystery really.

If you live in the country and are looking for props to decorate a spook-house, why pour good money into a bunch of cheaply made plastic crap, when there are entire skeletons in some neighbors field that can be dressed up in spiderwebs and a blacklight.

Because bones., skeletons…, the dead…, these things are frightening.

Or so I am given to understand.

***

A lot of time has passed since that day spent with family, harvesting cow bones under an October sky.  And in that time I have often been drawn to the fields of the dead.

In recent years have walked across hills dotted with dolmen and crouched in the heart of mighty passage tombs.  These are the necropoli, the cities of the dead, built by our prehistoric ancestors to house and honor the dead.

In my college days I spent a lot of time in the special collections section of the University library.  There I found old property survey maps that showed every graveyard in a five county area around my home.

Many of these I visited, when I could find them at all; so many have become forgotten, resembling little more than a weed-choked jumble of markers, the names and dates long worn away.  Still others were in surprisingly good condition, considering their remote locations.

I walked these places by day, looking at the names, the dates, words love and loss and hope etched in stone and left to us – to remember, or to forget.

Old Grave

On rare occasions, when the whim took me, I would visit at night.  And I’ll confess that on more than one of these nocturnal visits, I brought a date.

There is something primal and powerful about wandering among the graves with only the moon and a flashlight to guide you.  I do not recall ever experiencing the supernatural dread which people attach to these places, but the feeling of nervous excitement they generate is, happily, both contagious and easily directed toward other ends.

In my experience, however, the dead do not linger in the places where we lay their bones, but are far more occupied with that point in space where their existence slipped from this world into that other realm which parallels our own.

Perhaps those shades would spend more time there if the living were more frequent visitors by day…,

…or night.

***

I drive through my neighborhood and I see yards decorated with plastic skeletons and faux grave stones.  We erect pretend graveyards on the lawn to inspire seasonal fear, and we avoid actual graveyards like death itself lingered there.

Movie Skeletons

Is this what people are worried about, that the dead are going to suddenly spring up like skeleton warriors from the Hydra’s Teeth in an old Ray Harryhausen movie?

Did you know that in the 19th Century, cemeteries were treated like parks?  People strolled the paths between the stones, they picnicked on the wide green lawns within sight of the markers of family and friends.

In the early days of the Roman Republic, the dead were buried in the homes of their family, where they could be properly honored and cared for by those who loved them most in life.

We think of ourselves as an advanced culture, sophisticated in ways that the ancients could never hope to understand.  And yet as we have advanced, we have drawn ourselves further and further from the fields of the dead.  Empty bones have become objects of dread and ancient feast days must be rebranded so as not to offend those with delicate sensibilities.

Say what you will about the dead, the living are just weird!

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Filed under Culture, Death, Holidays, Modern Life, Religion, Spiritual Journey, Traditions

The Sixth Day of the Moon

I don’t want what you are about to read, to give you the wrong impression of me.

The simple fact is that I love Halloween.  I love every single waxy-candy-corn-polyester-spider-web-plastic-bat-cheap-sound-effect-paper-skeleton-fog-machine-gooey-candy-booze-soaked-thriller-zombie-great-pumpkin-watching moment of it.

And so, you’d think that it would be easy…,

Because it is common knowledge that this time of the year, more than any other, has held on to so many old traditions and associations, it should, therefore, be the easiest time of the year to be Pagan.

Which is not to say that we stop being Pagan during the rest of the year.  We are what we are, and do not change religious status as matters of convenience…, (well come to think of it, I suppose that some of us do, but that’s another topic altogether).

But as conventional wisdom would have it, it should be easy to be a Witch or a Druid in these waning days of October, because everyone is just a tad pagan come Halloween.  Tis the season of dress-up and pretend, ghosts and goblins, tales of hauntings told around a fire, and the incessant cackle of that animatronic crone which the neighbors (who look at you funny all the rest of the year) have propped up on their front porch, standing guard over a bowl of candy shaped like a cauldron with a bloody human hand thrust out of it.

It’s okay to be different from everyone else, because this is that special time of year when everyone is trying to be a little different.  And if you are lucky enough to be ‘the pagan’ in your social group, well that has its own very special benefits…,

“Hey, (‘nudge-nudge’ goes the elbow) I read an article in a magazine I bet you would have liked.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah, it was all about the REAL origins of Halloween (their head does that ‘wise nod’ thing).  I can loan it to you if you’d like?”

“Ummm, I’m good, thanks.”

And it’s not as if we can be upset about it, because we know that they love us and they just want to know us better, and to feel included in a part of our lives that they really don’t understand very well.  Society has told them that Halloween is their best opportunity to gain that deeper understanding, and to truly share something with us.

Because, for the Pagan, every day is Halloween.  Right?!

Ugh.

No.

Stop.

If you are a Christian reading this, I beg you, stop trying to understand us through the lens of Halloween.  Imagine, for a moment, trying to bring your gospel to the natives of some far away land, who’s only previous exposure to your religious tradition comes from repeated viewings of that 1969 animated Frosty the Snowman special, as narrated by Jimmy Durante.  Same difference, trust me.

And my fellow Pagans of every stripe, I beg you with equal fervor, to stop trying to educate people about our traditions by doing that same tired old compare/contrast between Samhain and Halloween.  Honestly, 99% of your audience stopped listening the moment they figured out Jack Skellington wasn’t going to make an appearance.

Halloween is not an educational opportunity – it’s a party – so just enjoy it.

And, if I may dole out one more piece of advice: don’t allow your spiritual practice to get caught up in the orange and the black.  Halloween is not an accommodation that the world makes for us, and neither should our Samhain be an accommodation for the rest of society.

So then, what am ‘I’ doing for Halloween?

Sixth Day Harvest

This year I’ll be taking a break from handing out candy to all the little ghoulies, and will instead be having a long overdue dinner with a dear friend and her new gentleman.

And what about Samhain?

This year, I’ll be participating in an ancient rite which I have studied for years and yet never experienced first hand.

“The druids…, hold nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and a tree on which it is growing, provided it is a hard-timbered oak. Mistletoe is rare and when found it is gathered with great ceremony, and particularly on the sixth day of the moon. Hailing the moon in a native word that means ‘healing all things,’ they prepare a ritual sacrifice and banquet beneath a tree…, A priest arrayed in white vestments climbs the tree and, with a golden sickle, cuts down the mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak…,

—Pliney the Elder, 1st Century CE

The Sixth day of the Moon, being the sixth day since the moon was reborn from darkness, and that point when it is entering the midpoint of its transition from New to Full, a time of balance between darkness and light, falls (to the best of my calculations) in the early evening on Thursday, October 30th.

I usually do not celebrate Samhain so early, but an opportunity like this is rare, and this year, more than most, I feel the need to make a change in my usual habits.

Oh, I will still feast, and honor the gods and the dead with the sacrifice of meat and drink.  I will build a great fire for them, and I will pass bodily through the flame that burns in two worlds.  And when I am done, I will take the mistletoe leaves I have gathered, which my ancestors called Uileiceadh – the cure all, and hang them to dry.

And when Imbolc dawns, come February, I will welcome the spring with a hot cup of Mistletoe Tea – a new tradition for a new year.

A blessed Samhain and a Happy Halloween to you all.

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This Season of Fear

Fear is a Superpower

“Let me tell you about scared.  Your heart is beating so hard I can feel it through your hands.  There’s so much blood and oxygen pumping through your brain it’s like rocket fuel.  Right now you could run faster and you can fight harder.  You can jump higher than ever in your life and you are so alert it’s like you can slow down time.”

What’s wrong with scared?  Scared is a superpower, your superpower!  There is danger in this room.  And guess what?  It’s you.”

—The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), “Listen,” Doctor Who

We are a society in love with fear.

We crave it.  We spend hard earned money for the chance to experience it, if even for a moment, and in doing so we prop up a billion dollar industry dedicated to delivering it to us in easily digested packages.  And as we move into the final weeks of October, that industry is in full gear, churning out slasher flicks, haunted houses, horror fiction and ghoulish costumes, all designed to sate our need for a good scare, and to whet our appetite for more.

But why?

Why do we want to be frightened?  Why are we willing to go to such great lengths to lose our nerve?

Think back on those lines from Doctor Who, which I quoted at the beginning of this post.  Fear makes our blood race, makes us stronger, alters our perception of the world around us.  Fear is a drug – totally legal and, given the industry that has grown up around it, highly addictive.

We want to feel afraid because we enjoy the rush we feel when the boogyman jumps out at us from the darkness.

And I’m not standing here saying that there is, by necessity, anything wrong with that.

I myself, enjoy a good scare – from time to time.

All things in moderation, after all.

I’m just not so sure that, for society at large, ‘moderation’ is on the menu these days.

Look at the way certain media outlets, and WAY too many regular people, are simply pissing themselves over the scourge of Ebola, which even now rides roughshod across the United States like Pestilence upon his White Horse, killing fewer people to date than an average drive-by shooting.

We are, by far, the safest, most comfortable, best cared for and educated society, that this world has ever seen, and we are, by all indications, frightened of absolutely everything.

And the only reason which I can find for it, the only reason that makes any sense, is that, missing that essential component of danger which our more ancient ancestors lived with on a constant basis, our bodies crave fear in concentrated doses in order to compensate.  Unfortunately, like the drunk who cannot afford another round of the “good stuff” and must take his ease in a bottle of cheap cough suppressant, we find ourselves fishing about for something to keep us nervous until the next big scare comes along.

The ancients, I suspect, did not have this problem.  While the conventional image many people hold, is one of frightened savages clinging to each other in the dark as lightning crashed above and hungry wolves prowled outside the light of the camp fire, there has never been any real evidence to support this view.

Our ancestors seem to have been a people, deeply rooted in the rhythms of the natural world.  They hunted, and were hunted, they lived and worked and died and I rather suspect, hadn’t the time (or need) for the sort of fear we revel in.

Oh sure, there are stories of kings who were frightened into violent action by the appearance of a rogue star in the sky.  But consider for a moment, it is the royalty in these stories, the most comfortable members of their society, who are driven mad with fear.  Certainly there have been uprisings, inquisitions, executions and mass suicides, which were driven by unreasoning fear.  But these things seem far more common in later ages, when security and comfort were in greater supply.

The days leading up to Samhain have always been understood to include an thinning of the borders between the lands of the living and the dead, but it is only in later centuries that this season has been met with, first religious dread, and more recently with a strangely commoditized variety of fear.

Under the Bed

And so, where is the harm?

If just the thought of a hand snaking out from under your bed to grab your ankle, makes you shiver – what harm?

If there really is some deficiency of experience that is satisfied by repeated doses of pre-packaged fear, isn’t that just what the doctor ordered?

Perhaps.

But I’ve been thinking more and more about that quote from Doctor Who that I used to start this whole thing off.  It’s been gnawing at me for a while now, and I wasn’t sure why until I started to write this post.

“What’s wrong with scared?  Scared is a superpower, your superpower!  There is danger in this room.  And guess what?  It’s you.”

The real danger may not be in the thing that makes us afraid, but what WE do once the fear really sets in.  The casual drug user may be fun at a party, but an addict is a very real danger to both himself and others.

Perhaps we have grown too comfortable for our own safety.  Or is it that we are too safe for our own comfort?  Either way, what we really need may be a world which is less safe, and sure, and comfortable, than the one to which we have grown accustomed.

Above all, we are terrified of change.  We don’t want to lose the things we have gained for ourselves.  Yet, what if the only answer, the only escape from this season of fear, was to let go of our creature comforts and actually live in the world again, rather than despite it, as we currently do.

Are you afraid?

Good.

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Dead Man’s Party

Dead Man's Party, Skeleton Toy, Halloween

I am exhausted.

My girlfriend and I have been working on our yearly costumes almost non-stop, for the last several days.  We enjoy attending an annual costume party that takes place on the Saturday before Halloween.  Many, if not most, of the attendees put a great deal of work into their costumes, and in response we have really pushed ourselves to be more creative in our endeavors.

The theme of this years party was “recycling an old costume” and we decided to take that theme to heart by revamping a couple of old store-bought numbers from a few years back.  We had made the perfect Halloween cliché, me in my black crushed-velvet wizards cloak, replete with golden stars and moons and her in a natty witches outfit sporting a black-dyed cheesecloth hat.  Never had more dreadful apparel slid from the confines of a cheap vinyl bag.

Horrors!

So, seeking redemption for costuming sins past, Donna began revamping her witch ensemble, and I began the work of transforming yesterday’s off-brand wizard into a somewhat more compelling Necromancer.

Mostly, I thought, this would prove an excellent opportunity to try my hand at building my own costume props by casting foam in silicone molds.

Yeah, I’ve been watching far too much Face Off.
(I WANT that studio!)

Making costume props from silicone molds.

A quick series of photos showing the progress of one of my costume props
from initial clay sculpture, to silicone mold, to final painted foam.

And what have I learned?

Well, for one thing, silicone is damned expensive.

Also, good mold making and being in a rush are two things that DO NOT go well together;  subtle detail in modeling clay will disappear by the time you get to the finished foam piece;  cast the foam in the shape you want, and do not assume you’ll be able to bend it much after the fact;  budget twice as much time as you think you really need;  budget three times as much money as you think you will need – did I mention that silicone is expensive?

The most important thing of all is having everything well planned out in advance.

These lessons were all learned the hard way.

We didn’t make the party.

All that work and expense — for nothing.

Except, of course, for the experience — lessons learned, knowledge gained.
(and we have emergency backup costumes for next year, in case this happens again)

There are those who might wonder why I put so much effort into something so frivolous.

Among my fellow Pagans, there are many who prefer to embrace the serious, spiritual aspects of Samhain while ignoring, or even pooh-poohing, Halloween in all it’s kitschy, secular glory.

What a bunch of freaking spoilsports.

Samhain, my friends, was not meant to be a purely sombre occasion!

It’s a party.  Specifically, it’s a dead man’s party.  It’s something we do for them, to draw them back, to celebrate them and to earn their protection and guidance.

It’s a dead man’s party.
Who could ask for more?
Everybody’s comin’, leave your body at the door,
Leave your body and soul at the door…,

I believe that the dead, having found their way once more among the living, are drawn by boisterous energy and lively activity.  The fire light and cheerful voices draw them in from the cold far better than any dreary, silent ‘dumb-supper’ ever could.

So yeah, we may have missed the costume party, but the main event is still a few days off and there are still decorations to put up and trick-or-treaters to prepare for.

Heck, maybe I’ll wear the costume while handing out candy.  That will give the little ones something to remember.

And then, on the next day, while millions of children are still coming down from their sugar induced high, the real celebration begins.  We will awaken the night with bonfire, and feast, and stories, and offerings to ancestors and gods alike.

Don’t be afraid of what you can’t see
Don’t run away it’s only me…,

—All lyrics by Danny Elfman

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Ghost Stories

We are haunted, all of us.

In a few weeks time, we who honor the old ways will celebrate the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain.  As the sun sets on October 31st, the dead will walk among us.  We will light fires and make sacrifice in their honor.  We will ask for their protection, their guidance, and the benefit of their wisdom.  We will invite them into our homes, set a place for them at dinner, and share with them the tales of years gone by as well as our hopes for the future.

Our myths and memories and ambitions, they are ghost stories, every one.

The ancient traditions tell us that the way is opened on November 1st, for the ancestors to enter into the land of the living.  The celebration of the final harvest marked the beginning of the darkest season of the year.  The air was cold, the trees barren, and the fields empty.  The world of the living and that of the dead overlapped and intermingled, not for a single night, but until the warmth of Spring returned.

In our modern culture we have whittled these powerful old beliefs down into a single night of costumed ghouls and gremlins.  For one night a year we pass out candy, bob for apples, and decorate our yards with carved pumpkins and fake tombstones.  And then all the orange and black gets shoved into boxes hidden somewhere in the garage or attic.  We stash it all away for another year.  We forget.

We forget the dead.

We forget them, though they walk among us, sharing our world, our lives, our memories.

The stories that we tell are ghost stories.

How could they be otherwise, when we are the ghosts?

Childhood, Halloween, Nostalgia, Tiger Costume

We are haunted, all of us.

I was the boy in the tiger-striped pajamas.

He is gone now, of course, but he lives on as a ghost inside of me.  I hear stories of him at family gatherings but he no longer exists in any tangible form.  You can’t really see him, or touch him, and he will not hear your voice, but still, he is there nonetheless.

He is a collection of stories.  He is the ghost of a boy, faded and fleeting, who haunts the body and mind a man who is now more than twice the age his father was, when this photo was taken.

And speaking of my father…, how strange to see him so young.

And my mother…, what WAS she wearing?!

Looking at this photo I see a young family in the early chapters of their own story.

Those people are long gone.  Mother, father, son, they have been replaced by other people living very different lives from those three in the holiday photo.

They are ghosts now, knocking around in the bodies of their older selves.  Look close enough and you may catch a glimpse of them.  Perhaps you’ll hear them rattling their chains, or moaning warnings into the wind.

And what else are ghosts good for?

Now here’s the sudden twist that every well told ghost story requires.

If we are haunted by the spirits of our younger selves, are they not haunted by us?

The little boy in the tiger stripes, his father and mother, facing both the camera and a future which they cannot know, but which is etched already upon their youthful faces.  I look at these phantoms and I can already see so much there, written in their eyes.  I cry out to them.  I want to warn them, but they just sit there, staring at me, haunted.

So, maybe it’s useless.

It may be that the chains that link us to our destines run both ways, and just as we are bound, we bind others to our fate.  The dead walk among us.  We light fires and make sacrifice in their honor.  We ask for their protection, their guidance, and the benefit of their wisdom.  We invite them into our homes, set a place for them at dinner, and share with them the tales of years gone by as well as our hopes for the future.

And perhaps, they do the same for us in turn, neither hearing the other.  Each haunted, us by the past and them, by the future, and the wheel just grinding on forever.

Or…,

Maybe the people in the picture have some small wisdom for us still.  Maybe we can learn from them, from their victories and heartaches, and change our own fates for the better.  If we could just take the time to listen for the voices in the wind.  If we could still ourselves enough to feel the tugging of the chains.  We must learn from the past, we must listen to the future.

We must remember that all the stories we tell, our myths and memories and ambitions…,

…they are ghost stories, every one.

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Filed under Death, Family, Holidays, Religion, Spiritual Journey, Traditions

Out of Season

Okay, lets see…,

Bananas, Grapes, Celery, Carrots, (radishes? mmmm, yeah) Radishes, Cantelope, (next aisle) Grated and (oooh, munster’s on sale) Block Cheese, Pepperoni, (next aisle) Crackers, Tortillas, Rice,  (next aisle, am I out of honey? peanut butter? what about pasta sauce?  ummm…,) Pasta Sauce, (next aisle….,

What — is — THIS!?

This photo was taken on August 12th, fully 12-weeks before Halloween.

This photo was taken on August 12th, fully 12-weeks before Halloween.

There is halloween candy as far as the eye can see in my local grocery and it’s only AUGUST!

— taking a deep breath….       ….and release —

What I am not going to do is rant about how retailers always put out holiday merchandise far too early.  Although such diatribes are a time-honored tradition, I have come to feel that they miss the point.  Appearances to the contrary, the problem here is not just one of crass consumerism.

The problem is us.

We have become a people of the moment.  We want ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ happens to be, and we want it now.  We don’t like to be kept waiting.  We don’t want to make sacrifices or to go without.  We are owed.  We are entitled.

I see it daily: grown men and women throwing tantrums like the most petulant of children because they had to wait for someone to help them, or because they couldn’t get exactly what they wanted, when they wanted it.

The collective will of the people demands an immediacy of experience, and the universe, through technology, industry and consumerism, has bowed to that desire.

Bowed, I think, almost to the point of breaking.

In shaping the universe to our whim, we have built a society that sees no value in delayed gratification.

I have begun to wonder, if the exploration of the distance between wanting a thing and the having of it, does not have a central role in our ethical underpinnings.  Does the steady decrease in the space between ‘want’ and ‘have’ equate to some species of moral decay?

I have several friends and acquaintances who are (and it pains me to say this) thieves.  They do not break into peoples homes or pick their pockets on the street.  Instead they spend their evenings downloading bootleg copies of movies and TV shows.  The rational I hear from them is that they don’t want to wait until the movie is released on video to watch it, or, they don’t want to wait until they can afford to buy it.

They want it and the space between wanting the thing and saving the money to buy it was too great for them.  If possession is just a few keystrokes away, why should they have to wait?

Never mind that they dishonor themselves in the process.  Never mind that by doing what they do, they encourage the industry to raise the prices of its content for everyone else.  “If you were smart,” my friends tell me, “you’d steal it too.”

Take another look at my grocery list above.

Our grandparents could likely remember a time when they might go shopping and only find a few of the fruits and vegetables listed, because those were the only ones that were currently ‘in-season’.  These days we find it hard to fathom such a world.  We have become so used to having every sort of produce we might want, available to us any time we want, day or night, Summer or Winter, that we forget that fruits and vegetables can only be harvested at certain times of the year.  Most of what we are buying is shipped and flown in from all over the world.  The cost, in global pollution generated, to keep tomatoes and oranges on the grocery shelves 24/7/365 is frightening to comprehend.

NRDC Chart

Is it worth it?

I won’t deny that it’s nice to be able to pick up some apples whenever I want them.  How much better would they taste, how much more sweet would they be, if I had to wait until the fall when they are actually in-season?

I would argue that there is often a great value in waiting.

That value may be personal, as in that first burst of taste you experience as your teeth pierce the viridescent skin of a Granny Smith for the first time in months.  Or the value could extend far beyond one’s self, to a reduction of your carbon footprint, or even the promotion of a more selfless means of interacting with the world.

Our ancestors, I think, knew the value in waiting.

The coming celebration, which the Celts called Samhain and modern society has transformed into Halloween, was a celebration of the final harvest of the year.  In a manner of speaking, every day that passed after Lughnasadh, every day spent toiling in the fields, or herding the flocks from the high to the lowlands, every moment of building and storing and preserving that went on in preparation of the coming winter, was working toward Samhain.  The celebration itself was as much about the wait as it was the final culmination of community efforts towards a common goal.

What possible significance can a celebration based of waiting and preparation have in a society so focused on Instant Gratification?  More than once I have heard from those of my fellow Pagans, born and raised in urban environments, that the traditional holy days, based as they are on an agricultural cycle, have little meaning to them.

In our quest for ever greater convenience we have stripped away our sense of time and place, and in doing so, we have endangered even our spiritual connection to the natural world.

It is up to us to win that connection back, to say ‘NO’ to a culture that claims that we can have whatever we want, whenever we want it, at someone else’s expense.

We can choose to live our lives ‘In Season’, knowing our limits and accepting that those things which are out of our reach will come to us in their own proper time and place.  Or we can take the easier road and continue to live like locusts, consuming whatever is put in front of us with never a thought as to where it came from or who was harmed in getting it here.

The supermarket suppliers are counting on us to take the easy road.  Rest assured they have cases of orange and black wrapped candy sitting in their stockrooms, waiting to replace what’s already sitting on the shelves.  They’re counting on you to eat the first few bags yourself, long before Halloween comes round.  They know you’ll be back to buy more…, and more.

And why shouldn’t you indulge yourself now.

What is the value in waiting?

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Filed under Culture, Holidays, Modern Life