Samhain, flowers in my hair and why Halloween no longer creeps me out

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Column: Good Gravy! A look at permaculture by Tasiyagnunpa Livermont

In 1991, at 9-years-old the autumn and winter we spent in Arizona with an aunt, I found a beautiful gift ready for me one day.

The flowers were real, fresh and beautiful and arranged in a wreath with green ribbons down the back.

A tomboy usually, I thought I had never seen something so beautiful and something so pretty, my kind of pretty, just for me.

Then I realized it was something of a bribe for me to do what most other 9-year-old’s would gladly do–dress up and attend their school’s Halloween festival (complete with a haunted house), eat lots of candy and have fun.

I hated Halloween as a child and going out after dark on Halloween was something I fought against doing.

Maybe because I grew up in the 80s and 90s, when you heard about cats and other critters being hurt or tortured on Halloween (I love animals). We were taught to check over our candy in case someone tried to poison us. Supposedly, the dead, and certainly those still alive but with a bent towards evil, walked again on this night.

Who in their right mind would think this day was fun?!

For some reason my family, my older cousin especially, thought  that I was going to miss out on something if I didn’t attend this school event. I believe that this community in Camp Verde, Arizona, held this in lieu of kids trick or treating, though I’m not sure.

I had agreed to attend under one condition–that I got to dress like Mother Nature, a suggestion my mother had made. By God and all that was sacred, if I had to go out on this night of death, I was going to epitomize the force of LIFE!

So, donning a crown of flowers on my head that my cousin had so thoughtfully ordered from a flower shop, with my hair curled and flowing down my shoulders and letting my mother and aunt wrap me in a sheet toga-style to channel some version of Gaia and bringing with me my favorite, stuffed racoon friend, Sunset, I was off.
I don’t remember much more of the evening, just that I kept a wide berth around that haunted house. The wreath I hung to dry by my bed.

While autumn is always a welcome season to me, Halloween has been a blight.

I’m not sure when my feelings began to change regarding Halloween and the traditions that surround it, including All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day and Samhain, a pre-Christian  holiday my Irish and Welsh ancestors knew well as the day the veil between this world and the other was at the thinnest–the halfway mark between autumn equinox and winter solstice.

As a Christian, because Jesus is LIFE, I thought for a long time it was my duty to disdain and even fight against Halloween. As a charismatic evangelical, there were years where I refused to let my kids recognize Halloween and the school they attended recognized the fears of many other Christians with feelings such as mine and held Harvest Festivals rather than Halloween Parties.

However, at some point, doesn’t letting a day that remembers death freak you out that bad seem a bit hypocritical for people who claim they follow the only ONE who ever conquered death itself?

So, at some point, after becoming a newbie Episcopalian and learning about the Christian holidays remembering the dead, as well as the appropriate magic and mystery that endues Samhain, I had one more piece, one more to do with permaculture, that helped me deal with this uncomfortable time of year.

Learning to compost and build soil gave me new perspectives.

Without loss or death, we can’t build soil. Without the leaves falling from the trees and annual plants dying each year at this time, soil becomes barren.
Without the magic and mystery of what our ancestors knew about the spirit worlds, whether in Ireland or the United Kingdom, or right here in the lands we walk today, we can’t imagine ourselves a world that is better and shinier and more valiant than the one we know today.

Without life’s push against death, we don’t know how to be brave or couragous, loyal or trustworthy, but yet, death doesn’t need to isolate nor freeze us to inaction.
I was really sick as a child and regularly struggled against death, and I’m sure that was part of my aversion to Halloween. When your every breath is treasured and fought for, death is real, in fact we had moved to Arizona at the advice of my doctor hoping I might live if I was moved to a drier climate, hoping my asthma was in part what they used to call ‘climatic.’

The thing about death, though, is that while we fight against it, we also must find our place in it.

Death is part of life, yet, we know that death can be indiscriminate, harsh, unfair and cruel.
Cows and calves dying in fields once full of sunshine and then choked with suffocating snow and winds. The children we lose before they are born or at birth or later. The lands facing loss due to flamboyant disregard for safety concerns of pipelines.

There is senseless death all around us, yet the Creator allows death and it isn’t all that bad, either.
After Samhain and November, there is a new set of holidays that remember light. On December 1, 2013, the Christian season of Advent begins, when we not only begin to prepare ourselves to receive the birth of Christ, but also when we remember he will in fact return to Earth and set things in perfect order.
You see, what Samhain and the other death-remembering days hint at is that we are not alone.

Advent guarantees it.

We make a big fuss about Christmas, which we should, and Easter, as we should, but Advent is also a special time when we prepare ourselves for that sacred future.
The Lord, Firstborn of Creation, our Elder Brother, will return again after his death and resurrection so long ago, so that not only are we not alone in death, but that light and resurrection is there for all who believe.

The Gardener will put death in its final place, composting all of this world into building the next, just like we do each year in our own gardens.

Halloween is just compost.