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October 31, 2012
SECHELT, BC, Oct. 31,2012/ Troy Media/ – It was the first full moon in 46 years to shine on Halloween and I had to get a photo of it.
Late Wednesday evening on October 31, 2001, my son, my daughter and I were enjoying the spoils of a most memorable Halloween. We had taken part in some trick-or-treating antics collecting candy and we hosted our own little scary site for our neighbours to visit.
The evening was unusually mild and fog was building all around our lakeshore neighbourhood at the western tip of Lake Ontario. It would take a while for the moon to rise high enough to see it through the mist, so we ate candy and watched some scary programs of Halloween folklore to pass the time.
It began as All Hallows Eve to Christians, but long, long before it was the Samhain to early Celts of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, among others. While the Beltaine in May celebrated light, life and fertility, Samhain was the most significant day of the year – the day they held the festival of the dead.
The Samhain celebrated the dark, death and decay. It was well known to the Celts that darkness leads to light, from which come fortified new beginnings, hence its significance for future bountiful harvests.
One Celtic tradition was the feast of Samhain, which took place on November 1. The Celts would place objects belonging to loved ones who had died around the dinner table. A traditional meal of foods from the harvest were prepared and eaten while stories would be told about those who had departed. Their memory would be kept alive through story-telling over dinner, which also kept their family history alive.
I liked that idea. Almost five years had passed since my parents died and I had been looking for ways to keep the memory of them alive for my kids.
The Celts also believed that the veil between the living and the dead is most thin during the Samhain and that it was possible for the departed to cross the veil into the land of the living for a short time.
There would be a bone fire, known now as a bonfire, where they would burn the bones of slaughtered cattle and perform certain rituals out of respect for their dead and for the harvest. Then each household would light their own hearths from an ember of the fire, which would unite them as a community. This marked the new year for the Celts.
Food would be put out for anyone visiting from the ‘Otherworld’, while images would be carved onto turnips and lit with an ember to keep unwelcome, or bad, spirits away. Adults and children would dress in each other’s clothes and would be free to run about, play tricks on each other and visit houses while pretending to be spirits from the Otherworld. They would be given soul cakes as offerings.
The thing that really interested my teenaged children was that the folklore suggested that spirits could mingle with humans during the Samhain, using almost any form of living animal. Attempting to keep the spirit of Halloween alive but lend some common sense, I took the academic approach and said something like, ‘I don’t know . . . but I’m guessing that imagination has a lot to do with the celebration.’
I was about to eat my words.
I confidently announced that I was going to go outside to ‘shoot the moon.’ My kids chose to stay inside to watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
A visit from the Otherworld
The moon hung lazily in the sky, almost obliterated with mist, which gave it a surreal appearance. It was still mesmerizing, however, and I had to get a photograph of it.
I still had the cape of my witch costume on and it was just enough to keep me warm. It swirled around me as I prepped the camera for my night shot of the Halloween full moon.
My Minolta STsi maxxum camera was perched upon a small six-inch tripod – the only one I owned – and I was lying on the walkway trying to focus the shot I wanted of the moon, through the tree branches in front of my home.
I heard a noise from behind me. At first I thought one of my kids had come outside to help me. I said something like, ‘Hold on a sec,’ as I worked on getting my shot while lying on the ground, looking up the viewfinder of my camera.
I heard the noise again. Sensing impatience from my visitor, I looked up behind me, expecting to see the legs of my child standing there. No one was there. I heard the noise again and refocused on a pair of eyes, peering at me from within the bush next to my doorstep.
It was hard to see for sure. I should have been afraid but I wasn’t, so I dismissed the eyes as my imagination. Instead of running in hyper-crazy fear towards my front door, I just took one last look at the moon from my camera and I took my shot. And I took a few more, wishing I had a bigger tri-pod.
I was smiling at myself for the effort I was making, ‘I’m going to have this role of film developed as soon as I can!’ I thought to myself.
I heard the noise again – only this time it was louder – and I looked back towards the bush. The eyes were definitely there, slanted and piercing.
The area around me was filled with fog. Everything was dead quiet as I watched the eyes watch me as I stood up. I really felt, just for a moment, that time was suspended, that, somehow, I was standing in a fog within a veil between two worlds. Surprisingly, in that moment, I thought of my dad, who had been dead for almost five years.
I just said, ‘Hello.’ The eyes kept staring. I was beginning to wonder again if I was seeing things when suddenly the eyes moved into the light. There, standing before me, was a small possum. He stood in front of me, showing no sign of fear. He looked at my camera still on the ground aimed at the full moon.
We continued to look at each other, suspended in that moment. Then he just wandered off slowly, looking back every so often. He took his time stepping around the stones in my garden, then, after one last look at me, he disappeared into the shadows. The sound around me returned to normal as a car drove by.
I dashed inside to tell my kids about my other-worldly experience and, with no possum for proof, all they could do was laugh, first, because I had only just warned them about ‘the shock affect’ with regard to TV shows and not to let it get the best of their imagination, especially on Halloween, second, because only Papa would think to come back to visit us as a possum.
The next day my kids and I celebrated the feast of Samhain, eating a traditional meal that Nana always used to make at that time of year. A cottage-roll ham, scalloped potatoes with corn and peas, then apple pie and ice cream for dessert. We spent dinner talking about Papa and his garden, Nana and her undivided attention to her family. Memories surfaced that were long forgotten for each of us and, to us, they were alive again for a short time, over the Samhain.
I got my photo of the moon, drizzled in haze, hung through the branches of my tree. And every now and then, on a foggy Halloween night, I wonder about that veil.
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