Hallowe’en – Beyond Ghosts and Gouls

Did you ever wonder if there was more to Hallowe’en and it’s festivities then Ghosts, Gouls and trick or treat?

As part of two events “Pumpkin Pamper Party”, during the evenings of  pampering, beauty facial masks and massage, we explored the meanings behind Hallowe’en and some of the traditions associated with the festival and this time of year.  This included history of masks, how the change of season effects us and what it meant for our ancestors, along with some interesting curiosities associated with nature and trees.  The information has been pulled from various sources and experience, sources accredited.

Festival Masks

Masks for festive occasions are still commonly used today. Absurd, grotesque, or superficially horrible, festival masks are usually conducive to good-natured license, release from inhibitions, and ribaldry. These include the “Halloween” (England), “Mardi Gras” (France), or “masked ball” variety. The disguise is assumed to create a momentary, amusing character, often resulting in humorous confusions, or to achieve anonymity for the joker or ribald reveller. Throughout contemporary Europe and Latin America, masks are associated with folk festivals, especially those generated by seasonal changes or marking the beginning and end of the year. Among the most famous of the folk masks are the masks worn to symbolize the driving away of winter in parts of Austria and Switzerland. In Mexico and Guatemala, annual folk festivals employ masks for storytelling and caricature, such as for the “Dance of the Old Men” and the “Dance of the Moors” and the “Christians”. The Eskimo make masks with comic or satiric features that are worn at festivals of merrymaking, as do the members of the” Ibos” tribe of Nigeria.History of Masks

The Wearing of Masks

The mask is an object worn over or in front of the face to hide the identity of a person and by its own features to establish another being. This essential characteristic of hiding and revealing personalities or moods is common to all masks. As cultural objects they have been used throughout the world in all periods and have been as varied in appearance as in their use and symbolism.

Masks have been designed in innumerable varieties, from the simplest of crude “False Faces” held by a handle to complete head coverings with ingenious movable parts and hidden faces. Among the substances utilized are woods, metals, shells, fibbers, ivory, clay, horn, stone, feathers, leather, furs, paper, cloth, and cornhusks. With few exceptions, the morphological elements of the mask derive from natural forms. Masks with human features are classified as anthropomorphic and those with animal characteristics as theriomorphic. Masks usually represent supernatural beings, ancestors, and fanciful or imagined figures, and can also be portraits

There could be mentioned many examples from different civilizations where a variety of masks were used for social and religious reasons through centuries.  Including theatrical, to conceal identity, death mask, ritual mask, hunting mask.

Masks have played an important part in magical-religious rites to prevent and to cure disease. In some cultures, the masked members of secret societies could drive disease demons from entire villages and tribes. The best known of these groups was the “False Face Society” of the North American Iroquois Indians. These professional healers performed violent pantomimes to exorcise the dreaded “Gahadogoka gogosa” (demons who plagued the Iroquois). They wore grimacing, twisted masks with long wigs of horsehair. Metallic inserts were used around the eyes to catch the light of the campfire and the moon, emphasizing the grotesqueness of the mask. Other masks for protection from disease include the measle masks worn by Chinese children and the cholera masks worn during epidemics by the Chinese and Burmese. The disease mask is developed among the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), where 19 distinct “rakasa”, or disease devil masks, have been devised. These masks are of ferocious aspect, fanged, and with startling eyes. Gaudily coloured and sometimes having articulating jaws, they present a dragon-like appearance.

The wearer of a mask is considered to be in direct association with the spirit force of the mask and is consequently exposed to personal danger of being affected by it. For his protection, the wearer is required to follow certain sanctioned procedures in his use of the mask. He plays the role of an actor in cooperation or collaboration with the mask. Without his performing dance and posturing routines, which are often accompanied with music, the mask would remain a representation without a full life force. After putting on the mask, the wearer undergoes a psychic change and as in a trance assumes the spirit character depicted by the mask.

Source: http://www.kmop.gr/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=6&Itemid=0&lang=en

Significance of this time of year

Longer nights and therefore darker days, the light giving way to the dark.  Many ancient philosophies, including Chinese, they did not look at dark as bad and light as good, it was simply recognising the need for both, the role of both the balance of Yin and Yang.   Just like the need for male and female.  More darkness does of course, particularly pre-electricity, meant more confusion, shadow time.  Also dream time and therefore also sensed as a time that the “veil between this world and the next becomes thin”.  Hence the association with ghosts and gouls.  It has been shown in some studies that Pineal Gland has ability due to its function as neurohormone secretor has and ability to  receive and send subtle energy electromagnetic waves.  It is associated with the “third eye” and ability to receive information on a very subtle and possibly spiritual level.  It needs the dark to rejuvenate.   (It can be disrupted with our modern and electromagnetic world, effecting sleep patterns and production of melatonin).   So as it gets darker perhaps it is not so surprising that  traditionally this has been a time for celebrating and remembering and reconnecting with one’s ancestors.  History has shown that in the past much more reverence was given towards the ancestors as this was seen as they were seen to hold wisdom that the younger generations could learn from.  Even today, often when people trace their ancestry it provides context to their lives and sometimes even healing of emotional confusion.

Celts celebrated this time as Samhain, gaelic word, time where cattle were brought down from the high ground, even slaughtered for the winter.  It was seen as a time where “the boundaries” were removed between this world and the spirit world and would also allow the usual societal rules to break down for 3 days.  There would be huge festivities along side the ancestral honouring.  The ancestors would be invited to site at the feast table.  Partying, chaos, and even potential wife taking went on.  Apparently it was allowed that a couple could get together during this time without the permission of the tribe, if they lived and remained together for a year, the following year they could be married if they wished to then continue to remain together.  With the Celtic New Year starting 1st November, the start of winter.

The Christian calendar still echos of these times, as the first of November is celebrated as all Souls Day or All Saints Day where soulful prayer is sent to departed souls, either those in purgatory or give thanks to those “triumphant souls”.  Recognising a link between people in this world and the next.

The Ancients also saw the medicine in plants and trees around us, just as we today extract active ingredients from them for medicines and food today.  They also though respected their seasonality and the symbolism that went with them.  One part of this is the Tree Ogham.  Each month or time of the year has a tree whose symbolism, or “medicine” is particular to that time.  For the end of October – November it is the time of the Broom.  All parts of it have been used for medicinal purposes and it is a diurectic, also good for circulation and heart problems.  An intoxicating drink can be made from it and was in olden times which also induced hallucinations, it’s suggested that perhaps this is why the Witch flies on a Broom Stick!  But it’s the Blackthorn that’s really associated with Hallowe’en or Samhuin.  It is the “dark” version of it’s spring companion the Hawthorn, which is about growth and fertility, this one is about death and the old crone.  It comes to life in the dead of winter giving hope with it’s blossoms or spring to come.  The berries are of course Sloes.   Great for juice making and of course sloe gin. It is said to bring out the darker side of our characters and any one in olden days found with sticks of it or pricks from it were often burnt as a witch.  Which is perhaps a shame as the leaves and fruits are full of vitamin C just what one needs this time of year and is used to treat bladder, kidney and stomach disorders.

Message Beyond Gouls and Ghosts

  • Time for reflection on what we have; or can learn from those who have gone before us.  Respect for them.
  • Challenges us not to think just about dark – bad, light – good.  But see the balance of nature and how one balances the other.  Important in our very YANG world to remember the importance, and feel the benefit of a bit more YIN in our lives.  One example of this is how Nature provides fruits and leaves and vegetables full of the nutrients needed for the coming season.
  • Great time to finish off things or shed, let go of “stuff” that no longer serves us and will not carry us well through the winter and so we can transform for a successful new year.