The eve of the feast of All Hallows. All Hallows Evening, Hallows Even, Hallows E’en, Hallow’e’en, Halloween. Traced through from the old long method of specifying a day, all the way up to the current term, as the equinox tips the balance from light half to dark half, looming Hallows begins to nudge the mind.
OK, back up a second here. Do I really know what a hallow is? (I seem to be chatting between chunks of my mind in this post. <shrug>)
The first several dictionaries only give the word hallow as a verb, meaning to make holy, to sanctify. I kept looking. Aha! An etymological dictionary also gives hallow as a noun, specifically obsolete with a single exception, “Halloween.” What does the noun hallow mean? Dictionary says, “a holy person, a saint.”
<I sing a song of the saints of god…>
Sheesh, ghost of my Episcopal childhood. That maybe applies! Looking at it from a Witch’s viewpoint, a hallow is someone deceased who is venerated—ancestors, or as we say at this season every year, our “beloved dead.”
So, Hallows. All Hallows. What do Witches do, think, celebrate at All Hallows?
<cue hokey redition of song Memories> “No, really, what?”
My grandmother died in 1979, close to the age of 83, and on the opposite side of the continent, a distance that was bridged but occasionally over the decades I knew her. A couple of trips back East as a child, a teen summer on the other coast, Grammy’s own travel to California—driving cross-country one summer in the 1950s, a month’s stay during high school, one last trip the summer after I graduated college. Still, it was years before I shed more than the odd tear over the loss. Literally. I turned right off one of the Valley’s monster thoroughfares on my drive home, and an attractive little old lady crossing the side street hustled as the Walk light changed to Wait, and tossed a smile at me in my Beetle driver’s seat. And I waved her across with a gesture of patience and return smile, but something of her look and cheerful eyes rang a memory bell, and for a couple of blocks I shed tears for the Grammy who bustled about, knitting and cooking, and sometimes teaching me both skills.
My “Uncle Daddy” died in 1996. It was a nickname he acquired during the summer my sister and I spent as part of his family, when “Uncle Donny” from us two and “Daddy” from his three merged into the accidental but elegant moniker. (Sis and I knew from a young age, ’cause we asked, if Mom died, we’d go live with him and Aunt Marian, so it seemed to fit.) Him, I was closer to. We got along, and especially after my college grad trip (a month in Connecticut in their house on the Sound that faced the island residence of Garry Trudeau and Jane Pauley, and a later week’s visit.) Still, when he died, I was astonished to find myself needing bereavement leave. Fortunately, my boss got it when I came in and couldn’t even explain about the Daddy part of the Uncle Daddy without a flood, and did not quibble that aunts and uncles were not covered under corporate leave policy.
I don’t remember exactly when I called the New Haven City Clerk to get a certified copy of my birth certificate, in pursuit of a passort. But that call taught me, viscerally, that there is such a thing as a New Haven accent. The woman who answered one layer of questions was indistinguishable in voice from my Grammy; and the call finished me off when the second human mirrored the tones of my Uncle Daddy. It was all I could to speak through the surprise tearburst.
So why all this melancholy? Because I’ve seen them since then.
Whoops, say what?
One way and another. Shaddup, you might learn something.
My uncle, the ever-exploratory people person, was his 200-plus year old Episcopalian parish’s lector (he read the lessons during services). However, I had occasion to know his curiosity came in all flavors. Y’see, on that college grad visit, when he collected me at the airport, he asked me a favor. There had been a bar in town (New Haven) that used be a known meat market, “The Snow Chicken.” And it had closed, been sold, and when it reopened under gay management, was now called “The Neuter Rooster.” He wanted to check it out, but was leery of going alone lest he be hit on and not know how to respond politely. I told him I was game, though he’d only be buying me sodas, and away we went. Not being a drinker, and being violently allergic to tobacco smoke, my ventures inside any bars were damned rare (it was the 1970s, tobacco companies were still testifying with straight faces to Congress that smoking was harmless and tobacco was not addictive).
My goodness, what a joint. Decor ran to early ice cave, with white-foamed sparkling stuff flowing like snow to form dividers behind and between booths and on the cavernous low ceiling, with the occasional line of tinsel “icicles” emphasizing the visual separation between booths. Populated sparsely with pristine white unclothed manikins of genderless features, the waitstaff uniform was similarly white. From the top down, French-cut t-shirts, tighty whities, crew socks, and white lace-up low-tops. I mean white! (In hindsight, I feel sure there was a touch of UV to the lighting that made all the white pop.) But the entry was actually the weirdest, with a small foyer that featured a floodlight, dais-placed, six-foot tall full color rooster…with a pair of outsize human breasts that might have equally well graced San Fran’s historic stripper “Carol Doty and her twin 45s”. One was confronted with that as soon as you got fully indoors, and then a right-angle turn and into the ice cave (which featured a pocket hanky dance floor with fully mirrored sphere above it.) No, this nice straight uncle didn’t run screaming for the exit. We made our way in, I took a barstool next to a manikin (to prevent anyone else using it, I’d had my share of eye-openers in my college years) and Uncle Don took the next, and we got a really good look at the uniform as the bartender served us. (I forgot to mention that the staff were also quite buff. Facial looks OK, but bodies that benefitted from the form-fitting uniforms. Of course, anyone today who knows the gay universe will say, “of course!” But I was a novice in those waters.) Had a couple of drinks, a little stray conversation with “Joanne,” who brought up the subject of how well her cross-dressing allowed her to “pass.” And a little more, businessman to businessman, between Uncle and the barkeep cause it was early afternoon and slow, slow, slow. We left after maybe half an hour, Uncle’s curiosity satisfied.
After Don’s death, which occurred in August a couple of decades after that visit, I recovered fairly briskly from the first shock of loss, and went about my life. September rolled along, and next thing I know, it’s Samhain, Hallows, and my coven is circling, with a special place at the west side of circle for individual remembrances of our beloved dead. I don’t recall what token I brought for him, but it was a fresh loss still. Never gonna challenge him over a Scrabble board again. He’s never gonna nuke a table full of us in a game of Hearts, laying down his hand after one trick or none, and announcing “the rest are mine.” (I’ll bet he killed at bridge.) He’s never gonna find a way to rib me gently, in his quiet way. And I don’t know how much he knew of Witchcraft, or Wicca, or occult matters generally, but he was invited to that circle. During, I thought he was there, after his name was called—but I rarely *see* things. (There’s a reason I call it my sniffer or my antennæ.) Until I all but heard him say out loud, in an ear I don’t have on my body, “Huh. Nice. Don’t know what all the [negativity] fuss is about.” And I perceived, don’t ask me how, that his curiosity about my spiritual practice had been satisfied. Just as he felt no need to return to the Neuter Rooster once scoped, he has never attended another of our Hallows circles—I guess he learned what he wished.
You heard something? That’s it?
Bah. And likewise humbug to you. You hadda be there.
Right. Listen, you said you’ve seen both of them since then. So, tell!
OK. I actually saw Grammy a few years before Uncle Daddy died. Did I mention that I don’t perceive psi phenomena on my visual circuits?
Yeah, you said that, in different words. Get on with it.
It’s quite simple. I was practicing as a solitary, so I took myself to a favorite regional park, and went for a long, meditative Samhain hike. Trails wove through bronzed oaks and berried madrones, alongside rivulet creeks into pockets of redwoods, and across the ridges between the creeks. A couple of hours in, as I was wending my way downhill again, the trail I followed forded a larger creek just below where it bubbled and pooled over the baby boulders that winter torrents had tumbled thence over the years. A windfall Doug fir lay along the trail, with a seat worn smooth by countless backsides inviting me to take a breather. I did, rapidly losing time gazing into the living cascade before me, where the subtly irregular flow of water over one boulder seemed to shimmer. And then, between heartbeat and heartbeat, I was looking at a lovely, striking, bicolored face just above the churning water—stern of line, gently smiling of countenance, midnight black on one side and shimmering white on the other. Completely unexpected, Hel, Norse goddess of the dead, chose to visit. It seemed entirely á propos for Her to do so, at the season when, as the traditional phrase has it, the veil between the worlds is thin. She had no words for me, and departed soon enough. And I continued on my waning hike, returning along a different loop of trail, and then, as I glanced over the open air before descending a last slope, I halted, looking at a full color vision that I recognized—and almost didn’t. In life, I never saw my grandmother in ’20s headband and flapper’s fringed sheath dress (I knew her always as an overweight woman clad in the inevitable rayon dresses that the “half sizes” of the 1960s condemned her to). But…that fading October afternoon, there she stood with air beneath her feet: plump though much thinner than my memory, happy and smiling, my grandmother’s face smoothed and blushing, her inner clock turned back to the age of 25. In fleeting thoughts, she greeted me, pleased to visit, joyous with her current intangible existence, and shared her blessing of the spiritual path I’d chosen. And then her attention was drawn over her shoulder where I saw naught, and my heart beat once more and she was gone.
There. I’ve told you. No smart remarks? No snarking?
That’s all. Just “no”?
No…and thank you for sharing.