My old masques are lost somewhere in storage but something inside me still wants to dress up like Dracula for Halloween. All Souls Day and All Saints Day and Halloween, all special days from popular cultures at this time of the year, help me remember the underworld and the dead. The origins of these festivals cover a range of cultures from pre modern religion that combine threads of various holidays. When someone knocks on my door impersonating a robotic looking devil that person is projecting a fear already present in my culture. By impersonating the demons of evil I make them visible so that I can do something with them perhaps even re form them into objects of opportunity rather than enemies.
Many of my neighbours around the world believe that unless departed spirits are treated respectfully their spirits will haunt the living. All of us remember our loved ones who have died. In Viet Nam josh sticks are lit on special days and food is set out for the spirits of the dead especially the ancestors. According to one tradition the custom of “trick or treating” goes back to the middle ages when poor people begged for a donut like soul cake and if they received a cake they would agree to pray for departed souls. The prayer connection to “trick or treat” has not survived but its interconnection to another world of devils is alive at Halloween usually at our front doors.
All Souls Day is a time of great celebration especially in Latin Countries and the Philippines. A festival atmosphere not unlike a Mennonite relief sale pervades as families spend the day and often the night at the cemetery where the departed ones are buried. In the Philippines people bring food, flowers, and candles to be placed on the grave site. Tents are constructed for overnight stays.
The cemeteries are so crowded that people sleep on top of the grave sites. Children invent new games like collecting melted wax and compete to be the one who makes the biggest ball of wax for recycling back home to make candles. Family ties are strengthened. People who have not talked to each other for months or even years due to disputes are forced to converse at the door of the land of the dead. Politicians move among the people giving words of greeting and comfort and silently courting support.
In former times traditional priests sold prayers on behalf of departed souls who may be awaiting final entry into heaven. The religious significance of All Souls Day is being eroded by advanced market practices. Chain stores set up temporary outlets to push their products at the cemetery where there is steady traffic. All Souls Day and night is a time to wear good clothes. It is an occasion when returning overseas workers show off how well they are doing. Rich people build mausoleums, an extended crypt with amenities for living, at the cemeteries where they can stay in comfort for the entire celebration. Young people dance and karioke music competes (and usually wins) over the sound of prayers and passion music. Masked behind all the dancing, eating and festive activity is the experience of unbroken connection to the spirits of those who continue to make us who we are.
This year in the competition to wear the best Halloween costume that impersonates a modern devil I bet an award somewhere will go to the one who imitates a high finance “too big to fail” capitalist who just made off with a fantastic bonus. And if the devils work as a team which the top ones tend to do I bet they will find a way to shmooze with politicians. Like priests in long forgotten cultures they will raise money and garner power in places where the dead, whose good we celebrate, can’t talk about what bothers them and the living are cautious.
When Halloween is over some of us will go to church where we might be reminded that this is All Saints Day a time to remember the Saints including martyrs. Originally many Christian martyrs were executed because they refused to worship a Roman emperor, the symbolic head of the public religion of the day. Some came to Christian faith as soldiers. Their faith interrupted very promising careers and sometimes led to persecution and death. Beside these ancient martyrs this year we may choose to remember people like Tom Fox, the CPT worker (Christian Peacemaker Teams) who was taken hostage and killed in Iraq while trying to live out the way of nonviolent love.
This season, Halloween reminds me of the dilemma that all people of the book face at some point. If God is so good and perfect why is there so much evil and violence? By remembering my freedom and autonomy I am respected. I am allowed to get stuck with an obsession that one of those devils offers by tricking me for a treat. I am also allowed to make choices about who I am and where I want my weight and overweight to be felt.
The masks and elaborate masqueraders of the season remind me of the dangerous energy around me. I can do better. By remembering the Saints and Souls I am inspired not to be trapped, tricked or captured by the gambling energies of high finance, consumerism and the attendant armaments required for their protection. I don’t know if Dracula had all of this in mind when he inspired me to dress up for Halloween. If he comes to my door later this week I will thank him for reminding me of all this bad stuff around me and that I (and the people of the earth) have some important choices to make in the coming year.
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