"In a remote province in Japan, there once live a poor couple who tended a small farm. They worked hard every day of their lives, and they resolved that their children would have a better life…"
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Halloween is a celebration of the End and the Beginning. In Celtic tradition the seasons are marked not by the astronomy of solstices and equinoxes, but by the “Quarter Days” of the calendar. Therefore, winter begins not on the December solstice, but rather on the first day of the winter quarter, November 1. This may not be “astronomically correct”, but it is more an accurate marker of the human condition. That is, by the beginning of November we have moved across the psychological threshold from light to dark. Our body clocks have noted the shortening of the days and we begin to slow down. We are falling into the little death of sleep — not a nightly sleep but a seasonal sleep.
Persons who have SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) exhibit these symptoms more acutely than everyone else. By November 1 many of them “hit the wall” — sleeping more, increased feelings of sadness, eating more, dulling of mental processes, slowing of bodily reflexes, etc. It is the end of activity and the beginning of hibernation — a kind of dying along with the leaves that have fallen to the ground. And so in Celtic traditions — especially the Scots tradition that is the source of Halloween in the modern world — images of darkness and death are dominant: Ghosts, gremlins, skulls, skeletons, witches, monsters, outlaws, etc.
But as folksinger Gordon Bok sings “The world is always turning towards the morning…” In the darkening there is a glimmer of new light, in dying there is the stirrings of new life. And so, I believe, the best scary stories for Haloween reveal a triumph of good over evil, light over darkness. And that is why this Japanese tale is one of my favorites for telling during this season. It is dark and scary, but it is also hopeful and promising.
The key is in the twofold-advice the old monk gives to the boy as he leaves the monastery. I won’t write about that here, but invite you to listen to my telling. And in following the advice, the boy moves towards the next turn in the seasonal cycle and cosmic wheel. Haloween is therefore the first movement of the New Year, the dawning of light, the coming of Spring.