Halloween or Bealtaine – A Southern Hemispheric Dilemma

As the end of October quickly approaches, it heralds in “that time of the year” again when, despite it being the gateway to Summer here in the Southern Hemisphere where people should be heralding in the festival of life and light that is Bealtaine, the increasing commercialism of Halloween becomes more and more evident.

Every year I notice more “trick or treating” encouragements echoing what is largely perceived to be a American-styled “custom” – if only it was that well embraced. The other year I was even greeted to some local “little darlings” virtually camping out on my doorstep for me to come home from work wearing black bin liners as capes. What a total let down!!

The act of “guising”, the going from home to home for food and coins, has its earliest record coming from Scotland in 1895.  It was considered to be a form of “souling” where poor people, not only children, would sing and say prayers for the dead in return for cakes.  The masqueraders came in disguise and carried lanterns that made out of scooped out turnips or swedes.  From the homes that were visited, they received cakes, fruit and money.

During the course of time, things have changed.

The “tradition” of decorating one’s house frontage with artificial spider webs, plastic skeletons and the like originated in the United States in the 1950s.

The saying (threat) of “trick or treat” also stems from America where if a “treat” (usually sweets however now it is common for money to be requested) was not received, the unsuspecting homeowner would find themselves subjected to some form of “trick” – mischief performed on the homeowners or their property (and depending on what neighbourhood you lives it, this could be a rather worrying thought!)

Just to prove that I am an “ol’ stick in the mud”, I consider it is important that if folk traditions are to be embraced, that their mythos and history should be made aware of as well.  Further, that if we are to take on the “globalisation” of such ‘”traditions” then maybe we should extend that “globalisation” to where we actually live.

Residing in the Southern Hemisphere we naturally are at a disadvantage due to the majority of such traditions originating on the other side of the equator.  To some people, the “astral tide” of such traditions are strong enough for anyone to tap into regardless where they reside.  Whilst I don’t disagree with this thought, my point is why not create something that also reflects what is happening on OUR OWN physical space?

I personally do not celebrate Halloween in any shape or form.  When I acknowledge my ancestors and the dearly departed, this takes place at Samhain (at the end of April where I live).  Instead, I make the gateway to the Summer months, which is Bealtaine.  I will mark the increasing hours of sunlight (no thanks to daylight savings), the increasing abundance of fertility and energy (before the scorching temperatures arrive at Lughnasadh), and of course the sacred union of the God and Goddess (which the colours of the Maypole represent).

To all those who see this time of the year as an opportunity to “dress up”, I hope you have fun (I’m sure your dentist will be rubbing their hands with glee), and while you are painting your face green in honour of the stereotypical witch, maybe the following could be taken to heart.


The Halloween Wytch

Each year they parade her about … the traditional Halloween Wytch. Misshapen green face, stringy scraps of hair, and a toothless mouth beneath her disfigured nose. Gnarled, knobby fingers twisted into a claw, protracting from a bent and twisted torso that lurches about on wobbly legs.

Most think this abject image to be the creation of a prejudiced mind, or merely a Halloween caricature. I disagree. I believe this to be how witches were really seen.

Consider that most Wytches: were women, were abducted in the night, and smuggled into dungeons or prisons under the secrecy of darkness, to be presented by the light of day as a confessed witch.

Few, if any, saw a frightened, normal looking woman being dragged into a secret room filled with instruments of torture. To be questioned until she confessed to anything that was suggested to her, and to give names or whatever would stop the questions. Crowds saw the aberration denounced to the world as a self-proclaimed Wytch.

As the Wytch was paraded through the town, en route to be burned, hanged, drowned, stoned, or disposed of in various other forms of Christian love … all created to free and save her soul from her depraved body. The jeering crowds viewed the results of hours of torture. The face, bruised and broken by countless blows, bore a hue of sickly green. The once warm and loving smile gone. Replaced by a grimace of broken teeth and torn gums that leers beneath a battered, disfigured nose.

The disheveled hair conceals bleeding gaps of torn scalp from whence cruel hands had torn away the lovely tresses. Broken, twisted hands clutched the wagon for support. Fractured fingers locked like groping claws to steady her broken body. All semblance of humanity gone. This was truly a demon, a bride of Satan, a Wytch.

I revere this Halloween crone and hold her sacred above all. I honor her courage and listen to her warnings of the dark side of humanity.

Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night by Nichola Roger (Oxford University Press, 2002)