We are lucky to be privy to such a diverse group of different voices and as no exception, the Logan City Writers have agreed to submit a few words of their own in a group exploration into Spiritual Celebrations and Halloween. Keep your eyes peeled over the next few days while we publish them here.
If you’re in the area and would like to join us to discuss writing, publishing and our own projects, introduce yourself on MeetUp and join us!
Can Halloween be a spiritual celebration? By Dallas Berge
The (literally) ghoulish masks that confront me as I’m cajoled by the shops to buy a tacky costume, the kids that say “Trick or treat?” when they might as well say “We want our free sweets”… It’s that time of year, a time that I hate – Halloween. My gut reaction to this imported shopfest is one of distaste. Why should we participate in what appears to be an excuse to indulge in beliefs about ghosts and witches and a cynical ploy to make us buy large amounts of pumpkin?
Is there something else to Halloween that could be more meaningful? After all, it is possible to learn about something as a child and very much miss out on the whole, much more interesting story. Florence Nightingale, the only woman apart from Emmeline Pankhurst that I learnt about as a child, was presented to us kids as a nice kind lady who was a nurse during a war. It was only years later that I discovered she was one of the pioneers of Applied Mathematics. It was her systematic, extremely mathematical record-keeping and analysis which led to changes in the hygiene practices of hospitals. Our children may be encouraged to perform Halloween activities but they and we have every right to know more of the origins of Halloween and perhaps even create some traditions of our own.
The name is a contraction of ‘All Hallow’s Eve’; whether Halloween began as a purely Christian festival or whether its origins include Pagan beliefs, is disputed. Activities that are still practised today appear to support the latter. The trick-or-treaters who have little truck with me are actually mimicking the actions of distant forebears, who, in a tradition known in Celtic nations as ‘mumming’ or ‘guising’, would visit houses while in costume and recite verse or sing songs in exchange for food. I’d certainly be more interested in giving away sweets if the local children did either of these things, in fact if a child could recite an original poem I’d probably invite them in for dinner.
Another similar practice was the door-to-door visits of poor people (usually children), who, in exchange for ‘soul cakes’ would offer to pray for the souls of the dead. Soul cakes were then ‘offered’ to the dead. The connection to souls and the afterlife can also be seen in Mexico’s ‘Day of the Dead’ which despite its name takes place over three days, beginning on October 31st. Preparations begin in advance: in homes shrines for the dead are created and adorned with marigolds (flowers of the dead), specially-made ‘bread of the dead’ and other symbolic items, along with whatever the deceased enjoyed in life – if that was tequila, a bottle of tequila will be included. People also visit cemetaries to adorn the graves in a similar way and spend all night there.
Such remembrance lends itself to the development of a more contemplative observance of Halloween far removed from dressing up as zombies and watching horror movies. There is nothing to stop us from explaining the origins of Halloween to children and inviting them to create rituals of remembrance without losing the aspects of Halloween that appeal to them. And those who are of a Christian persuasion might wish to observe the tradition of abstaining from eating meat, if a trip to the local church might be more than children unaccustomed to church-going can tolerate without an argument first.
At the very least, while I might not be praying for souls, this year I’ll pray for a visit from poetry-reciting children who, for their efforts, will be rewarded with a pack of sausages or a few lamb chops, as the dog and I will be abstaining.
Witnessing God’s Will
(fragment from “The Chronicles of the Events Which Never Happened”) by Tatiana Efremova
The year 1861 became another horrific milestone in the life of Budarino, marking the year of serfs’ liberation. The Lord Almighty tested the Ural Cossacks once more, and his warning was truly monumental and meaningful. Yakov Guzikov prayed that that lesson would be remembered, told and re-told to the future generations.
The Cossacks came together to write another petition. Yakov’s son Fedot wasn’t home that summer; it was his turn to go with the border patrol. Brothers Denis and Yakov didn’t get involved, as was customary in their family. Yakov strongly opposed the petition at every opportunity but the Cossacks didn’t listen. The spark of mental unrest turned into a slow burning fire: the Cossacks persistently hoped to change things for the best by changing the atamans, by changing the rules, by changing the world… Yakov simply walked out of some gatherings where the petition was discussed as he was running out of arguments.
On the day of Saint Zosima the Soldier, Yakov could no longer avoid the confrontation. A group of Cossacks appealed to his authority as an Old Man to support the petition.
“You are too excitable and shallow minded, “ he told his fellow Cossacks, “you yourself tempt your creator. What has a father to do when the child seeks the attention of adults without remembering his minor station? The father has to belt the child to teach him a lesson. Was it a father’s cruelty which put a whip in his hand, or was it his child’s insolence? Don’t blame God when you are punished! Look at your deeds, listen to your words — you are asking for punishment! I can’t stop you from doing your deeds, but you won’t get my blessing.”
“Yakov, you are the only one who doesn’t want to sign. You and your brother are the only ones who are happy with the way things are.”
“Liar!” Yakov lost his temper, and instantly crossed himself and prayed for forgiveness. There was nothing to be upset about. They were silly, but well — maybe, he was also not as wise as he thought himself. He waited a moment, and then continued calmly:
“If everybody agreed with your petition you wouldn’t be here asking for my blessing. The Lord Almighty sees who is right and who is wrong. He will punish the wrong-doers and he will protect the right-doers.”
“Trust in God but lock your house before you leave for the market,” somebody responded. “Hope for God, but don’t be reliant.”
“These are the words of the Antichrist. These are the words of mistrust. Mark my words, you are marked by evil!”
Never before had he spoken against a man, let alone a Cossack. Never had he accused a man of being evil. Who was he to judge? Yakov rushed home in great distress, and the world was turning black around him. Only at the gate of his yard did he understand why everything seemed to be dark: a huge thunder cloud covered the sky suddenly. Yakov watched in horror. Was it God’s opinion of his impenitence? He squeezed his lestovka in his hand, dropped himself in front of the kiot and prayed, and prayed, and prayed.
A hair-raising noise exploded in his dug-out, the lampion flickered, the icons shook in the kiot and everything else shook around him. Yakov was shaking himself, and an invisible cotton suddenly plugged his ears. It felt as if the Judgement Day had arrived.
The fire was burning in Budarino. Lightning had hit a hay-shed in one of the central households. The fire flared instantly, the wind scattered the burning hay around — and in no time Budarino turned into an inferno. Fires were so common that the fire drills were compulsory in all Ural Cossack Army outposts. Everybody knew what to do when a haystack or a house caught fire but no fire drill could prepare for the whole outpost being alight. People ran around frantically, passing water buckets from the wells and the river, doing nothing to extinguish the fire and putting themselves in danger. Only a miracle could stop a disaster of such magnitude. But they didn’t see it…
Yakov kneeled right in the middle of the road between the burning houses and started praying. He prayed for a miracle. Somebody shouted at him for being in his way, somebody looked at him with surprise, still, people carried on with what they thought they had to do… He prayed for a miracle. He prayed for forgiveness. He didn’t promise anything, as he had no power over people. He begged for mercy. He started feverishly, but gradually he calmed down. The familiar words of ancient prayers flowed effortlessly in the face of the roaring fire. His skin was burning, he was suffocating, but praying was easy — and he prayed. He didn’t see that somebody else kneeled on the road behind him and started praying. Then somebody else. One by one people opened their eyes to their own helplessness and submitted to the power of the Almighty. The whole outpost begged for mercy.
Then the miracle happened.
The first heavy drops slapped Yakov on the face, cooling down his skin, clearing his lungs… Then the wet strings of rain whipped his face, his back, his outstretched arms. And finally, it started bucketing. A wall of water crashed down on the fields, on the river, on the praying people, on the burning Budarino.
When the rain was over Budarino was no more. Smoking trails from the remains of the charred outpost marked the clear sky. The devastation was horrendous: the whole centre of the outpost was burnt completely with all possessions, structures, live stock, granaries — everything destroyed! All houses around the centre had caught fire and were damaged. The fire stopped at the Guzikov’s fence. Not a single spark landed in their yard, not a single one!
The Lord Almighty expressed his opinion. Overnight Yakov became a living legend, the most revered Father whose word was the Truth.
Life went on.
 Budarino is one of the villages on the Ural River.
 Russian serfs were officially “liberated” in 1861. However, in reality, termination of slavery took much longer.
 The Ural Cossack Army was one of many Cossack Armies on the outskirts of the Russian Empire. The Ural Cossack Army was located north of the Caspian Sea.
 The Old Believers’ communities didn’t recognise the powers of the Russian Orthodox Church and used services of the local people, knowledgable in Christian literature and rituals. Such people were called Old Men.
 Lestovka is an Old Believer’s rosary, made of a string of counted beads and two triangular tail-ends with the Christian symbols on them.
 Kiot is an icon display compulsory for every Christian home.
Finding a group of writers that you’re comfortable enough to share your writing with, is hard to find. The few members of the Logan City Writer’s Group that have been meeting in Cafe Edge in Beenleigh have made me feel very welcome since I joined them last month. Please join us!
Or if you would love to contribute to Fringe, contact us – we are always looking for new voices!