Here we are in the United States, having another weekday Halloween experience. As much as I have absolute gratitude for my job and the manifold blessings it brings, I honestly wish I were at home now…daydreaming (in terms of the day’s planetary transits, the waxing Pisces Moon is squaring dour Saturn, making this an ideal day for daydreaming and otherwise not being “productive”), preparing for tonight’s great Samhain Sabbat ritual experience, greeting trick-or-treaters that may be diurnally marching around or pushed in strollers by their caregivers around my cul-de-sac…and just plain old nostalgically musing about the beloved Halloween experiences of my happy 1980s childhood. I wrote about the pleasures of Halloween nostalgia last year, and I find that once again, events in the here-and-now–even a frenzied morning commute into Chicago’s Loop that had my arms overburdened with Halloween treats to bring into the office and share with colleagues–invariably pluck the invisible strings of a mental tripwire, sending me smiling along for yet another journey down a pumpkin-laden Memory Lane.
Every May to October–Beltane to Samhain, if you will–I enjoy patronizing, en route to my office in the literal shadow of the Sears Tower, the Adams Street Farmers’ Market on the corner of Adams and Dearborn (locals will recognize it as Federal Plaza). From organic produce grown in central Illinois and Michigan to tasty Wisconsin gourmet cheeses from grass-fed cows, from baked goods supplied by local bakers to potted herbs and other plants grown hydroponically in the city, there are so many wonderful culinary delights to procure. I love directly supporting the people who help feed us and chatting with farmers is a joyful pastime as I go about the market; after all, my father comes from a long line of Serbian farmers in the Old World.
Today happens to be the last day of the season for the Adams Street Farmers’ Market and I approached my favorite vendors’ stalls with an air of melancholy. This 2017 season really seemed to fly by. It was an incredibly cold morning (36° F) and I had to adjust my gloves on my fingers after buying the day’s treats of a tray of homemade Halloween cupcakes and a gallon of freshly pressed apple cider. The farmers and I wished each other a Happy Halloween and a safe winter; I felt more than a little pang of sadness as I waved goodbye.
Given that I was already saddled with my laptop bag, my purse, and my lunch bag–my purse, naturally, being the heaviest of the three–I had a hard time carrying everything on the six-block walk from the market to my office. Mercifully, more than one fellow Chicagoan saw me struggling while juggling my various items in my hands about a block away from the market and I was offered the relief of helping hands to carry my treats. A tall and well-dressed African-American businessman, perhaps just a few years my senior, volunteered to carry my gallon of apple cider and a young Asian-American woman, seemingly in her twenties, said she’d carry my unwieldy tray of cupcakes for me. I was so taken aback with delightful surprise and gratitude that I almost started crying (I wound up offering them both cupcakes to express my thanks, but they declined, not wanting to deprive my coworkers of their share). To my joy, they were both headed to the same intersection where my office building stands so the three of us walked along and chatted amiably about… Halloween(!)–the cultural force that united us, despite our different backgrounds, in joy.
We talked about the phenomenon of trick-or-treating, which candies or treats we most liked to receive as children in our treat bags (for me it was Double-Bubble Bubble Gum and Charms Blow Pops, even though the flavor of the chewing gum in each literally barely lasts 2 minutes!), and our favorite costumes. The gentleman said that he remembered the “god-awful” costumes his mother would pick out for him and his brothers; they came in a box and had these hard plastic masks you could barely see out of or breathe through. However, he made it an emphatic point that that he did enjoy being Spider-Man as a fifth grader. I told him I absolutely remembered those boxed costume sets as well, and in the early 1980s, I absolutely loved my Strawberry Shortcake one. (Once I got to my desk, I had to Google an image of one and lo, the nostalgia that suffused every fiber of my being!)
In my Chicago Catholic grammar school and middle school, from first to fourth grade, we would be paraded by the Dominican nuns into the older children’s classrooms. The older kids were told by their teachers to stop what they were doing–pencils down!–so they could fully pay attention to our costumed parade. I remember trying to “go for the gross-out” when I was nine years old and I wanted to be a ghoul that had newly dug itself out of a grave and had finished eating its first human victim. I was the most ridiculous-looking thing, with my tattered white sheet (“A winding sheet,” I was quick to point out to people who couldn’t recognize a shroud), plastic fangs, fake blood (and more than a little barbecue sauce around my mouth), and pieces of prosthetic gore on my forehead and cheeks. I tried to look scary and I groaned and even limped my way past the older kids’ desks as we paraded, snake-like, aisle through aisle from one entrance of the classroom and exited out its opposite door. Kids chuckled, others pointed. It was a very fun parade that year.
One of my favorite toys to play with every day of the year was my Weebles Haunted House. I honestly credit that toy with providing one of my first visual markers of how I would self-identify, even as a small child, as a witch. There was a brunette witch Weeble and a glow-in-the-dark ghost. The plastic house they lived in was the epitome of Gothic horror and decrepitude, and I loved it and wished I could live in it myself. I devised all manner of adventures for the witch and her spectral friend to go on together and I firmly recall consciously thinking about how glorious it would be when I was dead someday, that I would have all kinds of powers denied to me by my current corporeality. The Afterlife was going to be so much fun!
One of my favorite things to do as an adult on Halloween, besides telling spooky stories to the young and the young at heart, is to peruse vintage Halloween images, the kind that used to grace the covers of greeting cards a century ago. I’m excited that certain retailers have recognized the appeal of these images, and it’s now possible to buy Halloween home decorative items that feature motifs exemplifying this early twentieth century charm. (HomeGoods, T.J. Maxx, and CostPlus World Market are good sources, I’ve found.)
Of course, there’s nothing like seeing replicas of the Halloween cards themselves. Thank the Gods for digital scanning! These are a couple of my favorites:
And so, as the workday crawls along, I smile with a childlike sense of wonder at Halloweens past and present. I can’t wait to get home to more fully anchor myself in this imagination-emancipating energetic current. While there is, naturally, a very serious aspect of the holiday for me as a witch in that its ritual activities are anchored around ancestor devotionals and tending the dead in general at this liminal time between the passing of an old year and the welcoming of the new (once again I will be leaving offerings at the paupers’ graveyard around the corner from my home), the playfulness that Halloween evokes for me is one that is rooted in innocence.
This is why I know that the only spirits that will deign to visit my home are good ones. It cannot be otherwise. Hail, our beloved and blessed dead!
Once again, per time-honored tradition, I will be placing a candle in my massive, orange pumpkin carved into a jack-o’-lantern that becomes a servitor I appoint to ward the household; his spirit reincarnates year after year. (But his name remains the same as Seamus; if you’re curious, he has a white pumpkin consort named Deirdre.) And as I light the candle I will say:
With this candle and by its light, I welcome ye spirits this Halloween night!
HAPPY HALLOWEEN AND A BLESSED SAMHAIN TO YOU AND YOUR ANCESTORS!