Good Reads: Worlds of the living & dead | SierraSun.com

Good Reads: Worlds of the living & dead

Barbara Perlman-Whyman

Sierra Sun file photoTheatrical masks conjure up the mysteries of Halloween. Ample reading, audio and video resources are available at area libraries to deepen one's appreciation of the ethereal holiday.

From Ghoulies and Ghosties and long-leggety beasties, And things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us! Anonymous Cornish PrayerIts that time of the year again. As summer becomes a not-so-distant past, the colored leaves are all but gone and there is a clear nip in the air during the morning walk, suddenly we know winter is just around the corner. In the grocery stores the candy is sold in extra large bags, the pumpkins sit waiting to become carved heads or pumpkin pie, and racks of costumes fill the space where coolers and summer paraphernalia had been. It awakens the child in us to memories of days gone by and excites the children who anticipate this years experience. Yes, shortly it is Halloween (October 31) followed in some cultures by All Saints Day (November 1) and then by the Day of the Dead (November 2). I thought it would be good to repeat a column I wrote in 2005, briefly looking at the origin and meaning of these holidays and see how they have evolved.

Halloween dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts who lived over 2,000 years ago in what is presently Ireland, the United Kingdom and Northern France, celebrated their new year Nov. 1, marking the end of summer and the harvest, and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, often associated with human death. They believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. Therefore, on Oct. 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth to cause trouble, damage crops and seek living bodies to possess for the following year. This was their afterlife, or Panati. To commemorate the event, Druids (Celtic priests) built huge sacred bonfires where people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. The Celts wore costumes, typically of animal heads and skins, and had noisy parades to ward off the spirits. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.By A.D. 43, Romans had conquered the majority of the Celtic territory. In the first century A.D., Romans abandoned the sacrifice of humans in favor of burning effigies. Over the course of 400 years, the Romans ruled the Celtic lands. By the fifth century, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with Samhain. The first was Feralia, a day first celebrated on Feb. 21, the end of the Roman year, and then later changed to late October. It was a time when Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead, giving rest and peace to the departed. Participants made sacrifices in honor of the dead, offered up prayers for them, and made oblations to their gods for them. The second festival was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruits and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of bobbing for apples practiced today on Halloween.By 800 A.D. the influence of Christianity had spread to the Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV introduced All Saints Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs who had attained Beatific Vision, which was celebrated May 13. Later this date was changed to Nov. 1 by Pope Gregory III (although the Greek Orthodox Church observed it on the first Sunday after Pentecost and still does so). It is widely believed today that the Church was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-Hallows (hallow means to sanctify) or All-Hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints Day). It used to be considered one of the most solemn and significant observations of the Church year. Catholics were all required to attend Mass. The night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-Hallows Eve, and eventually Hallow Een (Dia de Todos Santos in Spanish).Around 1000 A.D. the church deemed Nov. 2 All Souls Day. This day came to be known as the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos in Spanish-speaking countries) and is an official holiday of the Catholic Church. This choice of holiday is attributed to St. Odilo, the fifth abbot of Cluny, a city in France famous for the Abbey. It was founded to honor all the faithful departed and along with the offerings and the Office of the Dead, there are three Requiem Masses that are said by the clergy to assist the souls from Purgatory to Heaven.Irish immigrants fleeing their countrys potato famine brought the custom of Halloween to America in the 1840s. Over the centuries, as people became less believing in the supernatural, the practices became more ritualized. However, people still enjoyed dressing up as hobgoblins, ghosts, and witches. This became increasingly more ceremonial. At that time, the favorite Halloween pranks in New England included tipping over outhouses and unhinging fence gates. The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have originated with a ninth century custom called souling. On Nov. 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for soul cakes, made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. At the time, it was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death and that prayers of strangers could expedite a souls passage to heaven.The Jack-o-lantern custom probably comes from Irish folklore. As the tale is told, a man named Jack, who was a notorious drunkard and trickster, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of a cross in the trees trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. He made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him again, he would permit him down the tree. According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to Heaven due to his evil ways, but he was also denied access to Hell because he had tricked Satan. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember to light his way. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer. The Irish originally used turnips as their Jacks lanterns, but when the immigrants came to America, they found that pumpkins were far more plentiful than turnips. So the Jack-o-lantern in America became a hollowed-out pumpkin, lit with an ember.

Here in America many people view Halloween as a time of innocent fun. Children love to dress up as their favorite characters and go door-to-door saying the infamous words Trick or Treat. Many adults love Halloween because it gives them a chance to let loose and be silly. Every year in the United States alone, millions of dollars are spent on Halloween. It is the second-highest grossing moneymaker outside of Christmas due to the promotion of Halloween by television moguls, the advertisers, and the blockbuster sales of movies and rentals at this time of the year. Everyone can see this is big business.

The holiday, however, is interpreted and celebrated quite differently just south of us, in Mexico. The following information on the All Souls Day, the Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos, is the result of research done by the Spanish 103-51 students at Sinclair Community College, Spring 1996.There the modern view of death derives in part from pre-Hispanic times. The Aztecs played an important role in the development of this tradition. Through their history this festival emerged as one of complexity and varied interpretations. The Aztecs believed that after a person died, his/her soul would pass through nine levels prior to their final destination, Mictlan-the place of the dead. According to their belief, a persons destiny was founded at birth and the soul of that person was dependent on the type of death rather than the type of life that person led. How a person died would determine to what region he or she would go. Once they arrived at their specific region, souls would await transformation or linger, awaiting the next destiny.The original celebration can be traced to many Mesoamerican native traditions, such as the festivals held during the Aztec month of Miccailhuitontli, ritually presided by the Lady of the Dead and dedicated to the children and the dead. In the Aztec calendar this fell at the end of the Georgian month of July and the beginning of August, but after the Spanish Conquest of 1521 with the fusion of Catholic attitudes and indigenous beliefs, the Spanish priests moved the date to coincide with the Christian holiday of All Hallows Eve. Many Catholic countries, worldwide, celebrate the holiday on this day but in Mexico it is now celebrated over two days, with a blend of ancient aboriginal and introduced Christian features. Traditionally the departed children are remembered during the first day of the festivity, the Day of the Little Angels, Dia de los Angelitos, and the adults are remembered on the second day.The holidays activities consist of families welcoming their dead back into their homes and visiting the graves of their close kin where they fix up the gravesite with flowers and picnic with other families and community members who gather there. The meals are sumptuous, consisting of spicy sauces, chocolate beverages, cookies, sugary confections in a variety of animal or skull shapes, and a special egg-batter bread (pan de muerto or bread of the dead).It is not a morbid occasion but rather a festive time. Popular are Calaveras, like an obituary, which are used as placards, not only for the dead but also for prominent living citizens. They are published in verse style in the local newspapers describing, in jovial or satirical tone, the character of the individual and the deeds he/she has done for the community.The tissue banner is a popular decoration during this time throughout Mexico. The traditional patterns in the rural villages include angels, birds, the chalice, and crosses, but never skeletons. The popular pattern in Mexico City however, represents skeletons in various activities. Colored banners are displayed on Oct. 31 when the angelitos arrive at 3 p.m. Then on Nov. 1, when the angelitos depart and the animas arrive, the colored banners are removed and the black and white ones are displayed.The celebrants believe that the souls of the dead return and are all around them. Gravesites and family altars in their homes are profusely decorated with ofrendas offerings such as beautifully arranged large, bright flowers and adorned with religious amulets, with things which remind the living of the departed such as an article of clothing or a photograph, and with food, cigarettes and alcoholic beverages. Incense is used and a candle placed for each dead soul. This interaction with both the living and the dead is an important social ritual recognizing the cycle of life and death that defines human existence.The Day of the Dead can range from being a very important cultural event with defined social and economic responsibilities (as in the Michoacan state) to being a religious observance featuring actual worship of the dead (as in Cuilapan, Oaxaca, an ancient capitol of the Zapotec people who venerate their ancestors). In general, the more urban the setting within Mexico, the less religious and cultural importance is retained, while the more rural and Indian the locality, the greater the religious and economic import of the holiday. Because of this, the observance is usually of greater social importance in southern Mexico than in the northern part of the country.

Now that we know something of the holidays, lets take time to enjoy them. Here is an extensive list of books for folks of all agesHalloween and Day of the Dead Books Available at the Incline Village Library:Pablo Remembers-The Fiesta of the Day of the Dead by George AnconaDay of the Dead by Kathryn LaskyHalloween and Scary Things Books Available at the Incline Library:Picture Books for Young Children:Video: Disney Sing-Along Happy Haunting with all the Disney Characters in the Haunted HouseNate the Great and the Halloween Hunt by Marjorie Weinman SharmatThe Show and Tell War and Other Stories about Adam Joshua by Jamie Lee SmithThat Terrible Halloween Night by James StevensonThe Magic Pumpkin by Bill MartinHalloween Party by Linda ShuteWhen the Goblins Came Knocking by Anna Grossnickle HinesThe Halloween House by Erica SilvermanSheep Trick of Treat by Nancy ShawWitches Holiday by Alice LowThe House of Boo by J. Patrick LewisA Know-Nothing Halloween by Michele SpirnScary Stories to Read When Its DarkPumpkin Moon by Tim PrestonMonster Mischief by Pamela JaneDappled Apples by Jan CarrThe Bones of Fred McFee by Eve BuntingBroom-mates by Margie PalatiniHappy Haunting, Amelia Bedelia by Herman Parish10 Trick-or-treaters: A Halloween Counting Book by Janet SchulmanChildren–1st and 2nd grade:Detective Mole and the Halloween Mystery by Robert M. QuackenbushHalloween! by Miriam NerloveHubnuckles by Emily HermanSpooky Series Books by Natalie Savage Carlson:Spooky and the Witchs GoatSpooky NightSpooky and the Ghost CatSpooky and the Wizard BatSpooky and the Bad Luck RavenChildren–2nd and 3rd grade:Scoop Snoops by Constance HiserThe Scary BookPoems and Short Stories by Joanne Cole and Stephanie CalmensonThe Adventures of the Bailey School Kids SeriesMrs. Jeepers Scariest Halloween Ever by Debbie Dadey and Marcia Thornton JonesPicnic at Mudsock Meadow by Patricia PalaccoWeird! The Complete Book of Halloween Words by Peter R. LimburgReal Mummies Dont BleedFriendly Tales for October Nights by Susan WhitcherThe Closet Gorilla by Frances Ward WellerThe Worst Best Halloween Ever by Barbara RobinsonPumpkins by Jacqueline FarmerMr. McFaddens Halloween by Rum GoddenMiss Flora McFlimseys Halloween by MarianaJuvenile–4th-6th grades:Goosebump Series by R.L.StineHide and ShriekWelcome to the Dead HouseThe BeastThe Beast 2″Whos Been Sleeping in My Grave?Monster BloodThe Ghost in the Lagoon by Natalie Savage CarlsonA Few Dying Words by Paula Gosling Nonfiction Children (Elementary and Middle School ages):Ghost, Witches and Things Like That by Roderick HuntBooks with content selected by anthropologist Helen Hoke:Ghosts and GhastliesWitches, Witches, WitchesUncanny Tales of Unearthly, Unexpected HorrorsHalloween Howls-Riddles that Are a Scream by Guilio MaestroJokes to Read in the Dark by Annie GusmanHalloween Howls-Spooky Sounds, Stories and Songs (book and audio disk) narrated by Pat DukeYoung Adults–Ages 13-17:Midnighters-The Secret Hour by Scott WesterfieldStrange things happen at midnight in the town of Bixby, Oklahoma. Time freezes, nobody moves. For one secret hour each night, the town belongs to the dark creatures that haunt the shadows. Only a small group of people knows about the secret hour—only they are free to move about the midnight time. These people call themselves the Midnighters and each of them has a different power that is strongest at midnight. This is all threatened when a new girl with an unmistakable midnight aura appears at Bixby High School.Trick or Trouble? By Irene CooperAt the end of the season at Camp Wildwood five seventh grade girls from Bunk 3 who have become close friends are sorry to see camp end. They decide that they should get together during the year around the holidays and name themselves the Holiday 5. They are all coming to town for a Halloween party butdoes this spell trouble?Be Afraid-Tales of Horror selected by Edo van BelkowDare to be Scared-Thirteen Short Stories by Robert D. San SouciWinters Tales: Stories and Observations for the Unusual by Jonathan WintersTeens and Adults:Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (also on DVD)Books by Edgar Allan Poe:Tales (Great Illustrated Classics)The Complete Tales of Mystery and ImaginationThe Narrative of Arthur Gorden PymThe Raven and Other PoemsThe Mammoth Book of Best New Horror edited by Stephen JonesThe 13 Best Horror Stories of All Time edited by Leslie PockellThe Years Best Fantasy and Horror edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri WendlingBooks and Stories by: Alfred Hitchcock Ray Bradbury John Collier Stephan KingWicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory MaguireThe Harry Potter Books by J.K.Rowling:The Sorcerers StoneThe Chamber of SecretsThe Prisoner of AzkabanThe Goblet of FireThe Order of the PhoenixThe Half-Blood PrinceHarry Potter and the Deadly Hallows Nonfiction:In the Incline Village library there can be found a variety of Halloween-related subjects in sections: 811.54, 790.1, and 793.7.M268An exceptional one is Bury the Dead-Tombs, Corpses, Mummies, Skeletons and Rituals by Christopher SloanCrafts/How to Books:Cleaver Costume Creating for Halloween by Suzanne SingletonEasy Costumes You Dont Have to Sew by Goldie Taub ChernoffCostumes for You to Make by Susan PurdyCostumes for Nursery TalesMy Very Own Halloween-A Book of Cooking and Crafts by Robin West And New Scary Books for Folks of All Ages (that might not yet be in the library ):Adults (non-fiction): Creation in Death by J. D. RothYoung Adult (ages 13-17): Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft ShelleyJuvenile (4th-6thgrade): Frankenstein by Phillip Pullman and Mary Wollstonecraft ShelleyChildren (2nd-3rd grade): Skelly the Skeleton Girl by Jimmy PickeringPre-School/Kindergarten (ages 3-6): Three Little Ghosties by Pippa GoodhartToddlers (ages 1-4): This is Not a Pumpkin by Bob StaakeLibrary Reminder of the Week:Come to a Halloween Party at the Incline Village Library on Tuesday October 23!! Dress up in your ghoulish or not-so-scary best for an hour of spooooky stories, tricks, and maybe even treats! This event is free and open to all ages (costumes are encouraged).Literary Birthdays This Week:October 19 John LeCarre (1931) Phillip Pullman (1946)October 20 – Arthur Rimbsud (1854)October 21 Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772) Ursula K. LeGuin (1929)October 22 Deepak Chopra (1946) Zadie Smith (1975) John Reed (1887) Barbara Perlman-Whyman’s good reads column can e viewed in the Sun on Fridays. To submit poetry, a book review of your own or what your book club is reading, e-mail bpwhyman@sbcglobal.net.