The wet, hot, heaviness in the air confused me at first, but I’m pretty sure I have it now: Our calendar has wandered far from the roots of our holidays. Halloween, the night when the veil is thin and spirits cross over with a certain ease, is a full week off. The world does not obey a strict Julian calendar. Hallmark does not have the power of life and death quite yet. I’ve seen gods, devils, and relatives in my dreams for the past two weeks. The past, the future, this world and others – all ride together as the world tips on its axis and plunges us into winter. I’ve had these dreams at this time of year for my entire life so far – just like the rest of my family – my mother in particular. It’s a standing joke that really isn’t terribly funny. After all, what sort of fool would believe in ghosts – and what fool who has seen them would doubt?
Most cultures recognize it. The days grow shorter. The air grows colder. A certain urgency grips your goings to and fro. It is time to batten the hatches and finish the work of summer. My Irish ancestors understood the annual departure of the sun as the descent of their warrior God into hell. No shrinking, fruit eating Persephone to be rescued – he went with sword drawn, undergoing the terrifying voyage alone each year on behalf of his people. They would pray for his success – hoping for his return with the sun in the spring.
Tonight is the night. Light a fire. Hold your family close. Set your intentions well. Be aware of your mind. Calm yourself and listen. In particular, do not wish for evil. I find that those who seek evil almost invariably find it. Take down that ghoul on your door and clean the fake blood from your fence.
For my part, I have invoked a powerful ancestral spirit this evening: I took the first fruits of the fall harvest and made borsch. Water, two onions, two stalks of celery, two cups of beets, a cup of carrots, a bay leaf, some miso, some salt. Simmer for two hours. Add another cup of shredded beets, a can of tomato paste, sugar, and vinegar and cook for 10 minutes. As it began to simmer, I thought of my mother, and her mother, and even my great grandmother – smelling the same smell at the same time of year. I like to think that they felt the same feeling and made the same soup for the same purpose.
I like to feel close to my ancestors. I love this time of year.
Serve with crusty bread and a strong wine, and raise a toast for the return of the sun, in six months or so.