With All Hallows Eve in sight, now is a good time to reflect on how so many different societies around the world, and throughout time, have had special holidays where people dress up in costumes and either parade around or have some kind of house visiting tradition—often with the idea that ancestor spirits or nature spirits joined in the festivities. Of course, due to local and historical variations and other particulars, these holidays may occur at different times of the year, and have different mythical associations.
For example, at Easter time in Sweden, little girls (and in some accounts, little boys) dress up as “Easter witches” and go from house to house begging for treats, (which they carry in a coffee pot). This is related to an old belief that the witches flew to “Blue Mountain” at Easter. I have seen photos of Swedish Easter decorations that have witches on broomsticks mixed in among the fluffy yellow chicks and painted eggs. This mixing of Easter decorations with what we consider Halloween decorations comes across as downright bizarre to an unsuspecting American.
But I digress. The point is, it seems less important that these different societies have a masking, house visiting, and parading tradition at a particular time of year, than that they have it at some time of the year. Ancient peoples recognized this as having a beneficial feng shui effect, because parading moves “chi” energy through the community, and house visiting brings the high energy benefits to individual homes. Having a group in high spirits adds to the energy flow, and even more energy is generated in societies where the maskers are expected to put on some kind of a performance at each house they visit. (As Gary Snyder says in “Practice of the Wild,” “Performance is currency in the Deep World’s gift economy.”) When householders reward the performers with little treats, it’s a fair exchange for the energy tonic they bring, and also affirms the importance of energy exchange and flow. Here in America, trick-or-treaters don’t put on a performance, though the ones who put more effort into their costumes are at least bringing more energy to the table that way, because they are putting on more of a spectacle.
I might add that by moving chi through the community, the ancients would have also seen this as benefiting the world of spirits, as well as the world of nature.
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