Photograph Steven Leonti
October 31st means different things to different people. For the kids it is one of the highlights of the year, a chance to dress up, to misbehave and – just for one night – to be able to call the grown-ups to account. Trick or treat may be an American idea, but it is fast catching on in the UK, too.
Like so many modern day rituals, trick or treat has its roots way back in the mists of time. There are still parts of Britain where a dedicated Mischief Night is a regular date in the calendar. In others it has been subsumed into the more established Halloween celebrations. In some places, Mischief Night coincides with Halloween – hence trick or treat – and in others it doesn’t. Ancient rituals can be a bit like that. In Germany, mischief night is held in the spring time. In the US, it’s traditionally on October 30th. You can see how it might have spilled over to the 31st.
A deeper significance
But for more serious-minded folk, October 31st carries a very different set of associations. Not the least of those is that derived from the Christian celebration of the dead, and particularly saints (aka hallows in Old English). There are also those who contend that the connection with the afterlife and the spirit world pre-date any Christian adoption. There are, in fact, many who trace the celebration of the date to pagan Celtic and even Roman festivals. Whatever its origins, it seems there is something about the end of October that has held a special significance for people since time immemorial.
Maybe that is why the fixation of so many serious minded people on October 31st has nothing in common with the commercialisation of trick or treating and instead, a wholly serious minded sense of connection with the afterlife.
An alternative set of beliefs
Maybe it has something with the darkening night as autumn begins its turn to winter, or perhaps it is a deeply ingrained part of our collective consciousness but whatever the reason, the popularity of séances, medium readings and even druidic rituals peaks at this time of year. A medium reading can be a deeply affecting experience at any time. The added sense of occasion that October 31st brings with it may be an essential enlivening and invigorating part of that process.
Between the twin poles of childhood fantasy and a wholly adult spiritualism there is a blend of treatments and reactions to a date that invariably offers an excuse for some sort of a get together. Halloween parties, including gothic fancy dress and all manner of excess are now a staple of inner city bars and clubs.
Such frivolous and undeniably light hearted commemorations of the date are just one way that October 31st is retained as a notable date in the diary. For those of a more spiritual, sensitive and reflective temperament, and for those who do believe in the afterlife and the possibility of its connection with the world we inhabit day to day, it is a date that will always be far more profoundly significant. For those people, the idea of living with ghosts is not laughing matter.