“Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” Albert King… and others.
As many of us already know, the word Halloween is an English language contraction of the Christian “All-Hallows Eve.” Hallowed meaning holy, as in, “Our Father, hallowed be thy name.”
But the roots of the holiness of Halloween lie deeper than we usually suspect, and predate the arrival of Christianity in Europe by at least two thousand years, probably even longer. The ancient Celts who inhabited Ireland, Wales, Scotland and the Isle of Man marked Samhain, or “Summer’s End,” with a celebration of fire and feasting. In October, the gifts of Summer– wheat, hay, potatoes, pears and apples– had been harvested, but each day the Sun sank lower, dimmer, toward the edge of the southern horizon. The dark half of the year was becoming stronger. Nights grew longer and colder and the first fingers of Winter began to pry open the gates that would unleash storms and snow and ice and the fear that perhaps the Sun and its power would not return to the North.
During the bright, Summer half of the year, now fading to its end, a thin veil separated this world– Ourworld– from the Otherworld. But on the night of Samhain the veil shredded. The dead, who had left this world, and all the ghosts and goblins, fairies and other hidden souls found themselves able to wander freely out into the night to mingle with the rest of us, those of us still alive.
Our Celtic ancestors wore masks to protect themselves from the fearsome creatures of the Otherworld who might otherwise harm them. In the painting, it’s early Autumn. Samhain has not yet arrived, and none of the three figures wears a mask. (Cats, being naturally inscrutable, have no need to disguise themselves anyway.) This cat is not even black, let alone sinister, only curious as it watches two lovers embrace.
None of the three seem to notice the twilight and a new moon rising. Everything is changing: the leaves turn from green to gold, trees sprout from a pool of water, their trunks are becoming door posts. The floor will soon become a river and by Samhain, the room will have turned into a forest and the first snows of Winter will have fallen on the hills across the bay.
The festival of Samhain celebrates the end of the Celtic year. Life, the wisest and most fearless lover of all, accepts with joy the caress of her twin sister. They, and I, wish a joyous New Year to everyone, Celt or not..