Boo! The spooky ritual of Halloween (that for many of us no doubt brings back beloved childhood memories) has roots deeply embedded in how humans relate to nature. I can hear some cynics now. For sure, many of the delights of Halloween have been commercialised by the candy and costume industries. To that I simply say, all the more reason to dig through the store bought spider webs to connect to the origins of the day – or rather, night.
Halloween customs originate from ancient times when humans created cultural rituals to better understand and find some security amidst the mysteries of the natural order of things. The Celtic festival of Sahmain, from which many of contemporary rituals originate (from jack o´lanterns or Linus and Sally waiting for The Great Pumpkin) literally means, the end of summer. Letting go of summer was a frightening time in ancient days. As we moved from the light of summer, to the darkness of winter, we didn´t know what storms lay ahead as the world went to sleep. Would we have enough food to see us through? Fuel to keep us warm? When would the spring return, and would we grow enough food in the coming year to sustain us? Suffice it to say, come Halloween, the demarcation between life and death seemd to blur.
As far back as ancient Babylon and Alexandria (that we know!), people held festivals around what we now call Halloween. It was customary in many ancient cultures to light candles and give offerings of food to welcome the spirit of relatives who had died, back into their homes as in this time when we saw much in that natural world die (or at least go to sleep) before they were reborn in spring, we mirrored that in our own rituals.
When you pause and think about it, we are still playing the same game every 31st of October when we greet ghosts and goblins at our door. They greet us with a question to which there is no answer: trick or treat? Who knows? We cannot see the future. And to appease the spirits and hope for the best, we offer them gifts of food (albeit generally of the chocolate variety these days!) After all, there are few certainties in life. But one of them is that the unexpected will indeed happen, and whether there are tricks or a treats, we need to do our best to ride the wave and learning from the mistakes and the successes of those who came before and the lessons that nature has to teach us is a great way to go with the flow.
To reconnect to the ancient more nature related Halloween customs, why not bring back an old fashioned Halloween ritual this year – bobbing for apples! Apple bobbing originated as a ritual humans used to physically demonstrate their acceptance of the transience of all things. It was a way to let go of fear of death and connecting to the world that beyond. Whoosh! Heavy stuff. But, not surprising as we have already explored how the apple has a symbol of life, death, temptation, wisdom and identity for humans for thousands of years.
Apple bobbing is simple stuff. Just get yourself a bucket, fill it with water and put a bunch of apples in it to float. Bobbers are asked to put their hands behind their backs as they lean forward and try to grab a floating apple with their jaw. Expect to get a bit wet! Expect to have a blast. A great way to decommercialise a bit of your Halloween.
Rituals are how we humans build habits that turn our intentions into action. Rituals are the means by which we demonstrate our values in the world. They can bring you a sense of security and optimism by actively fusing meaning and purpose. The icing on the cake is that, often, they are a whole lot of delicious fun! As we will explore throughout the Mindful Kitchen Story of Autumn, many of our fall rituals stem from a time when we humans were fluent in the language of nature. To build your nature related practice, we will be diving into the deeper meaning of rituals you likely already participate in, and also encourage you to build some simple new ways to connect to nature with every bite.