It’s a weird time of year, here in Aotearoa-NZ.
The last days of October and the beginning of November.
In the Southern Hemisphere it’s simultaneously spring and Hallowe’en.
We have kids dressed as ghosts and goblins, walking the streets in the evening sun, trick or treating.
We also have trees laden with apple blossom, and tomato seedlings ready to plant out in the garden. And birds building nests. And spring lambs frisking in the fields.
Last summer’s pumpkins were eaten months ago.
Just to make things even weirder, on November 5 we have Guy Fawkes Night. That’s a British thing, where we celebrate a terrorist who was apprehended in 1605, trying to blow up the British Houses of Parliament.
We celebrate Guy Fawkes in Aotearoa-NZ by exploding vast quantities of noisy, smelly fireworks (and a few pretty ones) in random and dangerous places. Despite the distress of pets, farm animals and humans with traumatized nervous systems.
This is the only week that fireworks can be sold in New Zealand. Many people stockpile for the rest of the year. They’re not supposed to do this, but it’s not enforced.
Yeah, seriously crazy.
Three reasons for Hallowe’en
In the Southern Hemisphere, this is the absolute wrong time of year for Hallowe’en/ Samhain/ Day of the Dead.
We “should” be celebrating spring this week!
But, three reasons for Hallowe’en:
- Hallowe’en is fun, especially the dressing up.
- It’s here to stay, no matter what anyone thinks. (We can’t eradicate it by spraying pesticide.)
- It’s a festival that celebrates and honours the dead. In our death defying, death-denying culture, this is important and worth noticing
My weird childhood
I come to the supernatural/ spiritual, the unseen, the weird and spooky, with lived experience that this can be real.
In my childhood in Papua New Guinea I had experiences that I can only describe as supernatural. I remember what it was like to be blown around by this stuff, not understanding what it was and not having anyone I could talk to about it.
Spooky isn’t necessarily fun or entertaining for me.
My secular scientist parents both, in different ways, believed that these things could be real, in some circumstances. But not for people like us.
I needed training in Defence Against the Dark Arts.
New Zealanders and Australians complain that Hallowe’en is from the USA; that it has illicitly migrated to our shores in the last 30 years.
Maybe so. But some Scottish people have told me it’s theirs.
I’ve experienced two very different Hallowe’ens in the USA, one in 1985 and another in 2014.
My mother, Sue, was born in the USA. But she was pretty un-American. We didn’t celebrate American holidays. No Thanksgiving either.
Actually, both my parents were pretty disillusioned and cynical about the rituals and celebrations of their cultures (US and British respectively). As a child, I found it pretty confusing. My parents didn’t behave like New Zealanders, but we weren’t British and we certainly weren’t American.
And, we spent a lot of time respectfully witnessing ceremonies and rituals that belonged to other cultures. Because my dad, Ralph Bulmer, was an anthropologist.
The bone collector’s daughter
The human skeletons of Hallowe’en didn’t hold much mystery for me.
Western archaeologists of the 20th century had a peculiar, kinky fascination for excavating human remains.
Fairly early in her career, my mother realised the monstrous cultural insensitivity/ racism of this practice. (How would you feel if someone 1. dug up your great-grandmother’s bones and 2. exhibited them in a museum?)
However, my brothers and I spent a lot of time hanging about in the dusty back rooms of museums, while our mother talked shop.
I could always feel the wrongness of the shelves of stored scalps, bones and other human body parts, prisoners of Western science.
Hallowe’en at Terre Haute
In 1985 I was in the USA. I was a lost soul, looking for a place that felt like home, but I didn’t find it. My step-grandmother, Grandma Mary’s cabin on Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho, came closest.
I spent the summer working in a hotel in Glacier National Park, Montana, and playing fiddle in the hotel bar. It was a wonderful season for me.
When the summer ended, I hitched a ride east with a friend, Terri, who I had met at the hotel.
After adventures in the Grand Canyon and Oklahoma City, and places in between, we showed up at her brother’s place in Terre Haute, Indiana, in time for Hallowe’en.
Terri’s brother was a senior staff member at the Terre Haute Federal Penitentiary. After getting security checked, we were allowed into the prison as visitors.
I remember the heavy, sad atmosphere, and the multi-storey rows of what looked like cages, along the walls of a big chamber. It was very silent. It’s the only prison I have visited so far.
I didn’t see any of the inmates. I think they may have been out at lunch.
In the evening, the low-security inmates organized a Hallowe’en Haunted House experience for the prison staff and their families, and I was included.
A series of rooms featuring grisly scenarios were presented with great relish. Murder scenes, beheadings etc.
Much later I learned that Terre Haute is where death sentences are carried out in the USA.
More life and death, 1985
That year I spent Christmas in Wales with my aunt Rosemary, my father’s sister, and her family.
My beloved aunt had just received a death sentence of a different kind. Terminal stomach cancer at the age of 50. The doctors weren’t going to tell her, but her husband, Ross, insisted.
Rosie actually lived really well for more than ten years before the cancer caught up with her. She died at age 63, too soon to meet her grandchildren.
Rosie was the main mother figure of my life, although I only saw her a handful of times. She always had time for me, when I showed up on her front porch with a backpack.
My own amazing, infuriating mother wasn’t what I’d describe as a good maternal role model. I realized this when I became a mother of two sons.
Rosie was there almost at my beginning. In 1961 she was working as a midwife for the Flying Doctor service in the Australian outback. (More life/ death.)
She arrived in Auckland to stay with my parents about the same time I did. But not long after that, she returned to England to accept a marriage proposal and have her own daughters, my cousins Ruth and Rachel.
Hallowe’en in Zion
My second US Hallowe’en experience was in 2014, in Zion Canyon, Utah.
It’s a place of jaw dropping beauty, majesty and awe. We have places with that kind of “feel” in New Zealand too. Numinous is one word for it. But we don’t have canyons.
I was taking part in a retreat hosted by my first life coach, Scout Wilkins, who’s also a wilderness guide.
In the afternoon we visited the Mormon settler ghost town at Grafton, down the road from Zion National Park. There were rows of empty cottages in the silent canyon. Scenes from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were filmed there.
Later, in the small community of Springdale, kids in monster costumes flitted around in the twilight like moths and bats, trick or treating.
The atmosphere was simultaneously otherworldly, gentle and playful.
Two seasons in one day
The deliberate, and necessary, chaos of the death festivals (Hallow’en, Samhain, All Hallows’ Eve, etc) can disrupt the vibrant new season growth energies of spring celebrations.
New Zealand writer Juliet Batten, author of Celebrating the Southern Seasons, and many other interesting books, proposes a creative solution to these seemingly incompatible celebrations.
One magical day, 31st October, that encompasses two seasons and two hemispheres.
The day starts with clusters of spring maidens laying flowers on doorsteps at dawn.
Then at dusk, gaggles of ghosts and goblins prowl the darkening streets with bags of tricks and treats.
Juliet writes: “Not just the Hallowe’en takeover, but space for flowers, maypoles, and maidens as well. Two hemispheres in one day, a kind of reconciliation.”
Embracing the multitudes
In permaculture there are usually multiple solutions to any problem.
In Aotearoa-NZ we’re already accustomed to dealing with multiple time zones and seasons, in the media, our economy and cultures.
This morning I was in a video call with a colleague in France. Our room encompassed 12 hours and more than 19,000km.
It doesn’t feel like a huge shift to embrace multiple celebrations, rather than having to choose between opposing forces.
I’m a life coach for mid-life women who know it’s time for their talents to be blooming, but all their energy is being taken up by family, work, community, and more.
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