Posts Tagged Samhain

All Saints’ Day

Halloween 2009 was terrible. And considering Halloween in Madison, Wisconsin, is often known as one of the best Halloween party towns in the country, well, you know I messed up. My costume was great, don’t get me wrong. I was Crazy Cat Lady with poofy hair and a tan jacket appliquéd with cats and butterflies. I tied a grand total of five stuffed cats on various body parts and topped off the look with orange sunglasses that matched orange capri pants tucked into knee-high yellow leather boots. So I looked great. Exactly as I was supposed to in order to properly channel the fugliness of a Cat Lady.

However, in Madison, females lean more toward Sexy Bee and Slutty Nun. So I just looked homeless rather than ready for a night on the town–a misfire I should have but did not anticipate.

Okay, an ugly costume wouldn’t have been a guaranteed death knell except for the tragic fact that I spent the night at a house party with much younger people, therefore looking especially homeless and untouchable. This one wasn’t totally my fault. I thought I would know more people at this particular party. Wrong. My group, which included college seniors, graduate students and me, a recent grad, ended up spending forever at a  party with lots of what turned out to be freshman and sophomore Sexy Bees and Dick in a Boxes. Worst of all, the house owners, who are actually nice guys who just happen to have a preppy web of acquaintances, opted for the cheapest beer available for their kegs. Milwaukee’s Best. Beast.

My Halloween spirit, which is usually insatiable, deflated faster than a bee sting after an EpiPen injection. I came home brooding about how to better channel the world of the dead before the weekend’s end, and since slumming with demons didn’t do it, I opted to head to church.

I live a couple of blocks from the historic First Unitarian Society, which has a historic meeting house designed by that Midwestern god Frank Lloyd Wright. Seriously, people in Wisconsin lose their minds over FLW stuff, so I’ve been aware of the Unitarian church for years, but as a good little Lutheran, I’d never been.

All Saints’ Day, which you may or may not know, is a Catholic holiday originally celebrated in May. The spring celebration was based on the ancient Roman Festival of the Lemures, which involved ceremonies to exorcise the malevolent spirits of the dead from homes. (Thank you, Wikipedia.)

The festival was tweaked to fit Christianity when Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon to the Virgin Mary and to all the saints during the festival in 609 or 610. Another pope, Gregory III, shifted All Saints’ Day to November during the 700s in order to piggyback on the Celtic harvest and spiritual festival of Samhain. This piggy backing was supposed to eventually result in the celebration of only All Saints’ Day, but Samhain persisted, evolving into All Hallow’s Eve, and of course, Halloween. (Wikipedia strikes again.)

All Saints’ Day, which commemorates all recognized saints and those who have made it through the Pearly Gates, has remained a relatively small-scale religious holiday. I’m not Catholic and a Catholic church is not within a couple of blocks, so First Unitarian Society became the church of choice for me to celebrate All Saints’ this morning.

Again, I was raised Lutheran, though I’ve totally lapsed both in practice and in some ways, beliefs. So the Unitarian Univeralist environment was really different for me–no crosses on the walls, no Bibles in the worship area. Instead, the minister and associate ministers just talked about death.

Heaven and the afterlife were not the emphases of the service. Instead, a minister spoke to children about how heaven may or may not exist and either way, it is unknowable. So perhaps the better thing to keep in mind when a pet or relative dies is how they become a part of the Earth, helping to make the flowers grow.

The de-emphasis on fate and God as a part of death and the added emphasis on personal agency in death (the UU denomination is the only to have openly advocated for death with dignity, according to today’s minister) and the return-to-nature idea is an interesting twist on today’s holiday. As the handy little pamphlet “Who We Are: Unitarian Universalists” says: “In the end religious authority lies not in a book, person, or institution, but in ourselves.” So today I’m my own saint, and I get to celebrate being right where I am on this planet rather than worry too much about the unknowable heaven.

It was relieving, after last night’s party fail, to have someone say more or less that it’s okay to opt out of another, much more cosmic, popularity contest. After all, St. Peter’s book is probably the ultimate guest list.

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