Findlay Wilde is a mate of mine and when this Halloween guest blog is published we will probably be sitting close to each other in Westminster Hall listening to the debate on the future of driven grouse shooting. Or we might have gone to the pub…
Previous guest blogs by Findlay: Is the future in safe hands? (2012), Guests at Nature’s Table (2013), (Wishing you a Harry Christmas (2014), A minor encounter with Nature (2015) and Think 500 Years Ahead (2016).
The Nature of Halloween
The Wheel rolls more, and Autumn returns.
Cooler the rain; the Sun lower burns.
The colouring leaves presage the Year:
All things move into harvest’s sphere.
I vow to savour fruits first picked;
nor into grief shall I be tricked.
I vow to offer what once I spurned,
and face the Turning reassured.
Asleen O’Gaea, Celebrating the Seasons of Life.
The end of October is upon us and apparently there are very dark and mysterious times ahead, and I don’t mean Brexit.
The end of October spells the world’s biggest festival of nature. A lot of people don’t actually realise this, but ask them if they know what Halloween is and I’m sure they would scream back “of course I do”. But do they know the true celebration of what we now know as Halloween? And how did we get to today’s celebration of Halloween?
In truth nobody really knows absolutely the origins of Halloween, but today it is an absurd mixture of generational beliefs, complex religions, myths and folklore from across the world that have evolved over thousands of years. But with the passing of time and introduced religions, beliefs and myths we now have what it consists of in 2016; macabre costumes to wear, negative feelings towards certain animals, witches, ghosts, spooks, paraphernalia varying from various severed body parts to flashing eyeballs, psychedelic food and sweets that rot your teeth just by looking at them!
Our feelings about Halloween now are all about bad things and things that are believed to do you harm. Even our NGOs are at it using words like spooktacular, ghoulish, creepy crawlies and scary in their promotional material.
The only thing that today’s Halloween has in common with that of ancient times is that it was and still is a celebration. But then, it wasn’t a one day celebration of spooky stuff and evil, but a period of time celebrating the connection and balance of the natural world.
At this time of year we don’t really worry about the end of summer and the start of winter as we have energy in the form of central heating to keep us warm, artificial lights and a constant supply of food delivered at the click of a button. But our ancients were very much concerned with the onset of winter.
It was a natural thing for them to be very worried, as it is around this time of year that the Autumnal Equinox falls, the sun moves across the equator and our daylight fades as darkness takes over.
They knew that darkness meant the cold winter was arriving and this would bring death. The natural world was getting ready to die, plants would wither and die, animals would die, and trees became skeletons. Human death would be common place. Nature wasn’t seen as an enemy or evil though, it was respected, and they would celebrate this beginning of death as they understood the natural balance.
So festivals of nature would take place at the end of long harvests; the harvests being in preparation for the cold winter ahead. Meaningful places were decorated with apples, elderberries, rowan, nuts, grains, seeds, oak, ivy, holly, mugwort and angelica. Feasts would be had and skins of animals recently slaughtered would be worn alongside colourful leaves of yellows, reds, orange and purple.
But one thing is certain, our disconnection with nature slips further into darkness as we celebrate the modern version of Halloween. The UK does seem to go mad for Halloween and will spend in excess of £450 million pounds this year. I went into my local supermarket to see the store manager. He told me sales this year for Halloween across his chain of supermarkets would be up 20%, if not more, with pumpkins currently the best seller.
Of course it’s big business for retailers, with an estimated 10 million pumpkins grown and then ripened in climate controlled poly tunnels every year, worth around £6 million. But what my store manager hadn’t thought about, which was apparent by the horror on his face, was that most pumpkins are not eaten, even though they are a so called super food. They are simply dumped the day after Halloween with 18,000 tonnes being sent to landfill in 2014.
Never mind the cost of throwing them away and the gases they will release in landfill, but what about the initial costs of growing and transporting them, the land they take up? And then most are just discarded, a massive example of food waste.
The changing seasons are no longer important to us as we can’t see the panorama of naturalness or hear nature’s rhythms out there, as they are all muted by the artificial world we are moving towards. We can just simply “buy” Halloween nowadays from a shelf in a supermarket.
The only true evil about Halloween is our reckless consumption and celebration of consumerism.
So “HAPPY HALLOWEEN“! Enjoy the world’s biggest nature festival.