By Samantha Stevens
For some of us, EVERY DAY IS HALLOWEEN!!! If you want to be unusual, dress up as a nurse, secretary, grocery clerk or bank teller this year. Gypsy, vampires and shaman wanna-bes are everywhere already!
Or you could get all Martha Stewart about it and practice the following festive rites, which find their origins in the British Isles and Europe for that "authentic" Halloween experience. The first thing you might want to do is convince your church pastor to ring the church bell all night to ward off evil spirits as was the custom in 4th century England. If you're feeling particularly ambitious you could also dig up your dead loved ones and dress them up in long robes as was the custom in 2nd century Naples. The cadavers would be placed in niches in stone church walls ready to be visited by relatives who were not appalled at all to see their familiar faces.
The second thing you want to do is build a big bonfire from barrels full of tar and dance around it with wild abandon. I guess the 21st century equivalent would be to gather with the other townsfolk around the local "tire fire." It was also the custom back then to gather every stick of spare wood you could find and throw it on the fire, despite the fact that winter was coming. The key word associated with Halloween back then was "foolhardy."
In Britain, in the 4th century, people would also visit the graves of their kinfolk and throw holy water or milk on the graves to "feed the dead." This custom later mutated into the practice of giving children or the poor money or a baked good called a "soul cake" in exchange for prayers for the souls of the dearly departed who were often thought to be stuck in purgatory. The ancient recipe for soul cakes is not unlike shortbread, so if you want to be authentic, give the little visitors some shortbread at the door. Watch them scream and run away as you bend over and gently ask them to pray for the soul of your dead uncle who is burning in the flames of hell!
In England in the 16th century, Halloween was also known as the "Night of Shaming" in which people dressed up as a mock government or court and allowed powerful figures, such as the mayor, or the Sheriff and sometimes the local wife-beater to be humiliated verbally or physically. So it's a good night to perform an intervention, have the boss over to dinner or practice some kind of S & M that takes the most arrogant person down a notch. At the end of these rituals, it was customary to throw the offending authoritarian into a body of water to cleanse them. So Halloween is the perfect night for a pool party.
By the way, the traditional Halloween supper to serve that night would be either something called "champ" (mashed potatoes with milk butter and leeks) or "colcannon" (mashed potatoes with cabbage.) It was also customary to read the leaves of the cooked cabbage or apple peelings to see if the first initial of a future husband or wife could be revealed. Sometimes rings or coins would be hidden in the mashed potatoes, possibly causing an uncomfortable trip to the barber later to have a cracked tooth pulled.
Fire and torches are also burned on Halloween to drive the demons and devils out, but if you want to be truly authentic, put your candle inside a hollow turnip. If you really want to be fashionable about it, carry this turnip with you door to door while bumming subway fare. Also recite, as the poor did back in Cheshire England, "My clothes are very ragged/My shoes are very thin/I've got a little pocket/ To put three pence in/ And I'll never come a souling/Until another year". Another way to connect with your ancestors would be to take your turnip lanterns at the hour of midnight and run all over the hills (the highway meridians) yelling "Spirits and demons Begone!".
A holiday very much associated with love and death, Halloween is also an important night to do divinations or portend omens. Want to dream of your future husband? Try placing a sprig of rosemary or a sixpence under your pillow that night. Worried about your health? Crack an egg into a glass of water. If the shape of shroud forms in the water, start shopping for a plot in a nice cemetery. (Ed. Note: or ask Samantha how to change your destiny via an email reading. Wondering if that lover of yours is faithful? Throw a couple of nuts into the fire. If the two nuts stay together in the flames, he is faithful. If they fly apart, so will the two of you.
Also if you want to be truly traditional, you can put away the broom and mop on Halloween. People in Ireland did not throw water or sweep the floor that night for fear of offending the imps and fairies. In fact, it is a very good night to lie on the couch and watch horror movies. If you really want to keep bad spirits away, turn on the television. Demons and spirits hate it. It is one way to keep bad energy away.