A Time to Remember / A Time to Prepare
The days are decidedly shorter and darker, and even a bright and sunny day is just—well—not that sunny as a long summer's day is. As the sun reaches not even half-way above the horizon, the quality of light that reaches us here is different than it is in summer. Here in Vermont, as it is in northern areas throughout the world, it is without a doubt that point in time where we transition to the annual period of cold and dark. Winter. The restorative season.
So what does Halloween have to do with this transition to the winter months? In the past, as days shortened and the cold ushered in, resources dwindled and preparing for the winter months was tantamount to survival. Halloween—not in its current incarnation—appeared in the earliest astronomical calendar systems—calendars which provided a method for recording one’s position within the cyclical seasons. If you weren't prepared, you might not make it to spring.
Halloween cannot be observed directly in-terms of astronomy, but it does mark the half-way point of autumn, falling directly between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice. To mark this point, a calendar system is needed. And while it may seem like a simple mathematical point between two dates, Halloween did—and does—represent much more than just a point between two dates: Halloween is the last reminder that we have to prepare, mentally and materially, for the upcoming winter months and all that they entail.
Our modern Halloween celebrations are most likely rooted in Celtic harvest festivals (some disagree), in particular the Gaelic festival of Samhain. Later, the Christian church appropriated these pagan traditions (as it did with many, many indigenous religious and spiritual belief systems and holidays). In more recent history, Halloween is celebrated on the eve of the the Christian holiday of All Hallows Day (Halloween is a contraction of the words All Hallows’ Evening). All Hallows Day—or Halloween—is the beginning of the three day long observance of Allhallowtide, a time of remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and others that have departed.
Today, the celebration of Dia de Muertos (celebrated throughout Mexico and other areas) may most closely resemble Allhallowtide. Dia de Muertos is a three day long holiday, starting on October 31st, where the festivities focus on gathering with friends and family, praying and remember those that have died and passed, supporting their spiritual joined and—of course—keeping their memories alive and paying respect and homage.
Our distant ancestors didn’t have the luxuries of today to aid them through a long winter: No supermarkets, no electric lighting, no furnace in the basement keeping the house warm. They couldn't buy a winter jacket from Amazon. It is difficult to really embody the understanding that today we are only separated from these times by a handful of generations. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that electricity became common in homes in urban areas (and even longer in rural areas) throughout the US. That’s the same decade my grandparents were born—and not all of them were born in urban areas.
With all of the luxuries we enjoy—and all of the luxuries which keep us alienated from the natural world we live in and the natural world which guided the lives of our ancestors—it is easy to forget to acknowledge this point in the year where we are on the cusp of the cold months. In fact, we can forget to acknowledge how we are still governed not just by the manufactured world we live within but of the natural world that lives within us. The lessons of the winter months still live within our very DNA, and—as such—let us take Halloween as the reminder it once stood for: A time to prepare, mentally and materially, for the upcoming winter months and all that they entail.
Last Halloween (2016) we sent out our Witches' Qi Elixir: Eleven Cauldron Flavors blog. This was a play on the classic Rehmannia Six Formula (Liuwei Dihuang Wan)—a deeply restorative formula for the Kidney, Spleen, and Liver Qi. It's a formula that helps us store resources for a long winter. The blog was part informative and it was part fun. After all, humor is a potent medicine. It's a fun blog post, and we even—accidentally and unintentioanlly— convinced more than a couple customers that we were coming out with this formula (it's a fine formula, after all).
So however you choose to celebrate this half-way point between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice, whether that be with cheap candy and plastic jack-o-lanterns or in celebration and assistance of the spiritual journeys of our passed loved ones, let us all take a moment of gratitude and respect for our ancestors, for the changing of the seasons, and for the way the seasons still live within us and the way those seasons still govern our experiences, our health.