Many cultures believe Halloween is the one night of the year when the veil separating the physical and spiritual worlds is lifted. Since ancient times people have believed that, for a brief span of hours, the living and the dead could interact. The ancient Celts wore masks to avoid this interaction so the spirits could not drag them into Hell. And so began the tradition of finding the best costume in which to hide.
We modern humans like to believe we’ve moved beyond all that superstition. We wear the costumes for fun and watch horror movies with the intention of being scared. Scary movies are for entertainment; they don’t represent real life and the evildoer always ends up dead. It’s okay, we tell ourselves, he deserves death. Those who abhor Halloween based on religious beliefs are sidestepping their own fears. It’s often about finding some way to control an irrational fear of the unknown.
Yet, in reality, it’s the very direction each and every one of us is headed. We will all face that moment in time when our body becomes an empty shell left here to represent who we once were. If the death of a villain represents retribution, what does our own impending end represent? How is one death better than another? How do we rationalize the idea that we may possibly end up in the same place as the villain we detest?
In other societies, death does not represent an end to existence but a transformation to another dimension or an alternate life. On The Day of the Dead, celebrated November 1, it is a time to honor those who have passed on. It is a time to gather ancestors and have a wonderful celebration with the soul of the person who passed when memories must be sufficient through the rest of the year. Death becomes not something to fear, but something to celebrate. The world is decorated with skulls and bright colors to welcome the spirits.
Death is like any other unknown in life. We have two options: we can welcome the shift from one reality to a new one or we can fear it. The problem with fearing that transformation is that it’s going to happen regardless of our reaction to it.
Dylan Thomas wrote :
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
It was obviously written by a man desperate to avoid the loss of someone he deeply loved. Although his own death is debated, it has often been connected with an addiction to alcohol. I often find myself wondering if Thomas would have written a much different poem had he been able to find a way to embrace the unknowns in his life rather than fear them. Would he have found the need to drink himself to an early death? We will never know for certain, but I do know that at the end of someone’s life they rarely fear that moment of transition. Almost always they greet that moment with relief and a welcoming. What if we all looked at our own death with that knowledge? How much time and anxiety would we save while we’re here on earth if we simply dealt with the inevitability of our death first?
Not everyone is going to believe in the ability of the spirit world to meet the physical world, even for one night, and maybe that’s not what’s important. The essential question should be: What if that one last breath in this world became the culmination of years of loving life rather than fearing death?