image: Wikimedia commons (link).
Hallowe'en (the "evening" or "even" or "e'en" prior to All Hallow's Day) is one of the most important holidays of the year.
Alvin Boyd Kuhn explores the significance of this important night in Hallowe'en: A Festival of Lost Meanings, which at only 33 pages (in the "archive online" e-book format) does not take very long to read and might be a worthwhile text to peruse and contemplate each year at this time.
In that short treatise, Kuhn writes:
But long established customs do not take their rise out of nothing, nor out of wayward random impulses. So we must ask: why the wild revel? Why the free fling in buffonery, in rough horseplay, in wanton, if limited, destructiveness, in the ludicrous and the grotesque? Why the freedom to indulge in sexual suggestiveness? Why the temporary let-down in moral restraint? Why the wearing of masks? What can be the hidden import of the general community turning out and acting like an untamed animal for one night in the year? Why the candle shining through the grinning features of a pumpkin, or the apple in a tub of water? 5
Kuhn argues that this night carries tremendous spiritual significance for our benefit and blessing in this incarnate life, but that we lose much of that benefit when we do not have any understanding of the ancient language of symbology through which the ancient wisdom intends to convey its message. He laments:
We continue to go through the outward forms of these rituals, almost totally oblivious of their meaning. So far from feeding the natural hunger of our collective psyche on the rich food of sublime import in these formalities which our spiritual health demands, we are near to starving them on the dead outer husks of former semantic constructions of sublime truth. The form survives, the meaning is lost. 6
Below are links to some previous posts from Hallowe'ens past:
On page 57 (in the original pagination) of his Hallowe'en: A Festival of Lost Meanings, Alvin Boyd Kuhn suggests that the symbology of the candle inside the pumpkin pictures our current condition in this incarnate life, with the candle representative of the divine spark of our spiritual nature descended into and flickering within the "vegetable gourd" of our physical nature.
He also argues that the wearing of masks and costumes on this night signifies the same thing -- and that the very reason this allegorization of incarnation is observed on the night of October 31 is that this night falls 40 days after the autumnal equinox (indicative of the annual descent into the "lower half" of the year, when hours of darkness outlast hours of daylight, and hence representative of the descent of the spiritual soul into the physical realm). The human child is within the mother's womb for forty weeks before birth: thus Kuhn argues that the 40 days prior to the celebration of the festival of incarnation (Hallowe'en) represents this period of "gestation" after the soul initially descends into the realm of matter (after which it is born into the world as a human baby in a physical body).
While Kuhn's essay tends to focus on the contrast between the physical nature and the spiritual nature, the topics he explores in this Hallowe'en essay can very easily be seen to be illuminating the ways in which the ancient myths and ancient traditions dramatize the critical topic of the recovery of the authentic self. Everything he says about the "lower self" (or even the "foolish aspect" of our nature) can clearly be seen to apply to the "egoic mind" which we create over time, beginning in early childhood -- and which separates us from our authentic self, our essential self.
And yet, like the candle burning deep inside the pumpkin, our authentic self is always present, though buried deep within the hard protective covering of the persona of the ego which we construct for ourselves.
How do we recover our connection to our authentic self? The ancient myths and inherited traditions stand ready to show us -- if we can just begin to listen to them in the language that they are speaking!