Death is a part of nature.
Hordes of the undead and devilish swamped the streets of Colchester last night, watched over by parents and a highly visible police presence to prevent some of the excesses of Halloween trick or treating. For Britain Halloween remains the domain of children, dressing up, partying and visiting the appropriately decorated houses for candy and cake.
Halloween marked the start of winter, as I write this blog on the 1st November, it is the first day of winter in the UK. The Celts called Halloween by the name of Samhain, which was their new year, a time to rest after the harvest, and to remember deceased ancestors. It was Christianity which largely painted the false idea Halloween was devil worship.
As the children had their fun, dressing up and obtaining candy I considered how different their outlook is to the children of their Colchester Celtic ancestors. Imagine a gathering of the modern family, a seat is left empty for grandma, the mother places grandmas skull at the empty seat and food and drink for her, then everyone eats and drinks to celebrate their new year… would a modern child be terrified of such a scene, of facing a reminder of death? A Celtic ancestor child would not.
In Colchester Celtic communities were animistic, living a worldview where past, present and future were continuous; the ancestors were a part of the community, and children continued the same traditions and beliefs as the ancestors. Central to any community a Celtic shrine, where the bones of important ancestors were kept.
There were places in Colchester a deceased person would be exposed to the elements, away from the community, consumed by crows, to rot. After a period of time, parts of the body would be recovered such as skull, and distributed amongst family and friends, often transferred to the family or community shrine. The community cremated the rest of the body, and a feast held in its honour.
Death is a part of nature, and it is interesting to reflect on this aspect of nature on occasion as Halloween often does for me.