“Man thinks they are each alone in this world. It is not true.
You are all connected. One act can one day affect all.”
Halloween is just around the corner, that long awaited “Trick or Treat” day made famous by candy and costume companies, appealing to our love for sugar, fantasy, disguise and dressing up as famous or obscure characters, past or present, from a variety of genres including, literature, film, art, music or television.
While there are many traditions familiar in American Culture regarding the October 31 celebration of Halloween, the day is also shared with a church holiday, known as “All Saints’ Day,” formerly known as “All Martyrs’ Day.” Honored in the cycle of feasts and remembrances in the liturgical calendar of the church, the day is recognized by Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Catholic, Roman Rite and Protestant denominations.
The name of the observed feast day in the church, is believed to have been changed from “All Martyrs Day” to “All Saints’ Day” under the reign of Byzantine Emperor, Leo VI “the Wise” (866-911) after the death of his devout wife. Wanting to honor her, King Leo built a church to be dedicated to her. When dedicating the church to his wife was denied by church authority, the King decided to dedicate it to “All Saints”, so that whenever the feast was celebrated, his wife would be honored. As a result of King Leo’s decision, the feast day of "All Martyrs’ Day” was universally expanded to become known as “All Saints’ Day”.
Historically, the observance of Halloween is believed to be rooted in Roman, Celtic and Irish folklore traditions, dating back to the 12th and 13th century, where harvest celebrations honored the goddess of fruit and seed. Since the celebrations took place at the end of the growing season and the darker half of the year, superstitions of fairies and spirits of the dead entering the world was commonly feared, due to the perceived thinned boundary between the physical world and “other” world at this time of year.
For the sake of protection, bonfires were lit, believing that smoke and ashes held divine power to cleanse and keep the devil at bay. And for the sake of showing respect for the departed, it was common to set a place at the table or by the fire to offer welcome to a returning soul.
Later, in the 16th century, the practice of impersonating a departed soul with disguise or costume began in Scotland and Wales. Performed on behalf of the departed, impersonating a soul and visiting a house to sing songs or recite verses in exchange for food, was believed to provide protection for the individual.
As we can see from history, current western cultural observance of what we know as “Halloween” could be generally described as an amalgamation of cultural customs and folklore practices over a time frame of more than a thousand years.
But what about our own “Halloween” experiences – those scary stories of our lives, where we felt ourselves standing on the brink of a threshold or a thin place between the physical and spiritual world, in a confrontation with what we feared, and then found that holding the feared space with gentleness opened the door to our own transformation? The following story is about a man who experienced just that situation.
His name was Cleveland Heep. A kind and caring man who, at one time, had been a practicing physician. Now he managed an apartment complex. The tragic death of his wife and children left him with a painful void, traumatizing him to the degree that he was unable to maintain his career. The additional subsumed severe anxiety disorder, along with uncontrollable stuttering, made communication difficult, exacerbating the tension in his body. It could be said, he was at a threshold of life, standing in the thin place between the physical world and the spiritual – the place where confrontation meets transformation.
One night, while checking the grounds of the pool area before retiring to bed, he noticed a wave in the pool. Checking it out, he finds nothing and continues his rounds. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he sees a young woman in the pool gasping for air. Diving into the water, Cleveland rescues her. Pulling her naked body from the water, he takes her to his apartment. After providing clothes and allowing her to rest, he asks about her name and where she is from.
The lady tells him her name is Story, and she is a Narf – from the Blue World. She is here on a particular assignment, one that must be completed before returning home. The completion of the assignment is dependent on receiving help from a group of 10 named helpers, Cleveland being one, who themselves must find their individual gifts in order to assist Story in returning home. Story’s ability to go back home is additionally thwarted by a mythological, wolf-like character called a “Scrunt,” who seeks to harm her.
Cleveland eventually begins to realize his role as the healer in Story’s assignment, with her help. She tells Cleveland she knows about the tragic loss of his family, his tremendous love for them and his grief for not being able to save them. She also knows the experience has left him feeling alone, and on the brink of his own threshold. As she speaks to Cleveland, her tenderness allows him to his accept his grief and hold it gently, bringing him face to face with transforming healing.
Based on the 2006 film by M. Knight Shyamalan, Lady in the Water, the movie reminds us of the value of story. While we each have our own story, we also are all performing together on the same stage of life, playing supportive roles we didn’t even know we had, in the stories of others around us.
Halloween: It’s about festivals, about history, about culture, about traditions and folklore. But it’s also about more than those things:
- It’s about the honoring of life – the harvest seasons as well as the thin spaces.
- It’s about story – yours, mine, ours.
- It's about honoring our own story and each other’s as well as the bigger story of life.
- It’s about maybe, being here to help each other find the gifts in our story, while also helping to defend each other from Scrunts, so we can all return home safely.
And to me, all of that is about more than history, more than culture, more than tradition, more than folklore. It’s about the magic – in each and every one of us.
For the Support of Your Life
For the Many Sides of Life
Photo credit: Denver Halloween Costume Ball