Samhain Nights

A brief look at Samhain and what it has become.

Samhain Nights

While many bask in the solar energy that dominates the months between the spring equinox and summer solstice, I have always felt far more comfortable as autumn turns the world rusty with hues of red and amber.

In truth, the longest days of the year hold nothing of the ripening beauty that others may find within their heat cracked embrace for me. Perhaps it is because foxes by nature do not hunt well in direct sunlight, but the promise of cooler nights give me far more comfort.

Interestingly, those late days of summer, while all booze and bees in the United Kingdom, actually have a far spookier side elsewhere in the world.

In Japan, for example, August brings the annual Obon Festival.

This lunar observance is still ostensibly Buddhist, but has extended into popular culture through various urban and folk legends.

Offerings of food are left by gravesides around this time, and lanterns lit to help guide ancestors' home. Ghost stories are exchanged by candlelight, cool shivers of primal fear helping dispel the cloying heat that pervades the night.

The Yūrei and Yōkai who haunt many East Asia countries are sometimes described as misty, moist entities trapped between states of being. Neither solid nor liquid, but something else, they are the perfect embodiment of the oppressive warmth which infests the end of summer.

While we perceive them as far less spiritual than the Japanese, Chinese culture keeps a strong ancestral connection that finds its outlet during August and September.

Ghost money is burnt outside of homes. Incense wafts on family altars and red lanterns are hung to honour those who have gone before.

It is interesting to note that these offerings are given pragmatically, as they consider spirits to be mischievous and downright troublesome if not placated.

While I am happy enough to have been brought up in the Western World, I often lament that we do not share the East Asian view of the afterlife.

Be it through pragmatism, scepticism or just lack of interest in things unseen, our society has locked the bizarre away behind the wooden doors of stately homes and broken windows of derelict asylums.

This is a misconception popular television shows such as Most Haunted or Ghost Adventures has cemented in the mind of armchair investigators, but nothing could be farther from the truth.

The dead are always with us - and sometimes they demand our attention whether or not we want to play.

This is especially evident around the end of October, when the veil thins. Perhaps the observances in Japan and China could be considered the first phase of a slide into the more supernaturally active half of the year, ending on October 31st, though it may just be a coincidence.

In Western civilizations, Halloween is our own Obon, albeit far less warm.

This candy striped and pumpkin carved October holiday is guaranteed to generate public interest in topics that myself, and other custodians of the weird, are known for.

Once a year British and American people, rabid and panic-stricken Conservative Christians aside, choose to see the world through a sarcastically magickal lens. They suspend disbelief just long enough to dress in silly costumes, and in doing so mock the dead out of fear for their own mortality.

Gallows humour, some would say, but denying the truth is dangerous.

This social acceptance is partly driven by corporate interests who invest much in the dark carnival that has sprung up around what was once Samhain.

Far from building upon the spiritual backbone of the holiday, they instead provide an endless string of haunted doll and found footage horror films that gleefully spray fake arterial gore across cinema screens some twenty feet high for all to see.

This is how the western world interfaces with their dead, marketing them as seasonal bogeymen as opposed to a constant fact of everyday life before forgetting about them as Christmas lurches gaudily into view.

No, in the West we do not travel to quietly lay offerings at gravesides on our Obon.

Neither do we burn ghost money to earn the continued acceptance of a spirit realm that must be appeased to stop it overlapping with the waking world.

The majority of us will dress as zombies and werewolves, witches and vampires, party like drunken fools and limp home in the early hours of November 1st holding the same ingrained disinterest in the bizarre that we had before.

But as any real magickian will tell you, the spirit world is ever present, and just because they are out of our thoughts does not mean we are beyond their sight.

Follow Gavin on Twitter @GFAuthor.

Gavin Fox’s Gravehound Press
<p>The digital home of Gavin Fox, author, chaote and necromancer.</p>
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