“legend says there is a seam / stitching darkness like a name.”
Tomorrow is Halloween. Why not get in the mood? I’ve never been much for costumes but I love the iconography and the old meanings of the holiday, the day of the year when this world and the next stand just next to each other, and small glimpses across the divide become easier.
I’ve been interested in watching Dia de los Muertos become more mainstream in the States, too! When I was home in California I reflected that it felt so much more authentic to the place, so I loved seeing skull sugar candies in supermarkets next to Halloween candy, and hearing about how families and schools celebrate it now. A holiday for celebrating ancestors, feeling the presence of the past, is a wonderful thing. It’s what this time of year is for me.
Here are some of the things that have been knocking around in my head this week as I think about the coming of Halloween.
. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe. I have a thing for the “archival fiction” genre, in which a scholar finds or searches for something magical in an archive, which brings the past alive. This book has all the ingredients of a great one, plus a rich potrayal of the city of Salem, MA and the main character’s family house, the nooks and crannies and overgrown garden doors of which become characters themselves. It is about witches and making peace between mothers and daughters across generations, and about the Second Sight, something I’ve been hearing many stories about since I got to Scotland. A perfect pick for Halloween reading.
. I’ve had a little ditty in my head all week. “One to come, one to stay, one to dance the macabray.” It worms into my resting mind, “all will dance the macabray…now let’s dance the macabray.” These snips of poem come from a chapter in Neil Gaiman’s A Graveyard Book. The chapter is self contained, a scene nestled inside a larger plot, so you don’t have to read the whole thing to find its magic. And happily you can watch Neil Gaiman read this chapter, titled “Danse Macabre,” on YouTube. It is a great bedtime story, no matter your age. You can accompany your listening — or your reading of Halloween poems — with Bela Fleck’s “Danse Macabre,” written for the story.
. When I was in San Francisco I picked up potions from Sister Spinster for myself and some of the important women in my life. I gave them each a different potion that I thought might meet a need in their lives. For myself, I picked Ghosts: “A vibrational remedy that allows us to see only truth. Sometimes our truths are dark, but we all can walk through shadow with grace; deciphering what we need to release so we can better do our work in the world.” I have had astonishingly vivid, memorable dreams since then.
. I love Studio Arhoj’s ghosts, which keep watch over my home from my mantel. Their ghost lamps are just the thing for Halloween.
. I have a sage bush in my backyard that just grows riotous. We prune it back and put bunches out on our front stoop at least once a year. In the fall I turn them into smudge sticks, wrapped tight in cotton twine. I heard a story the other night about a family who has an outdoor booth at a sacred stone in the Highlands, and every Samhain they take it apart and bring it inside. Halloween is a night of thresholds – between the home and the outside, as the trick or treaters go by, between this world and the next – so why not stand in your doorway with a candle, some dried herbs, a stick of incense, and mark the boundary?
. I can’t resist more Louise Glück. Here is her “All Hallows” (from poetryfoundation.org). I love thinking about “the barrenness of harvest or pestilence,” especially after reflecting on the abundance of September.