Sunday, November 1, 2015

In praise of and personal reflection on “It’s been a Long Time Coming”

“The Decadence of Halloween” from 1876 was a delight to read. The classic nostalgia of a wistful past along with the lament of a predicted future captures multiple meanings when the subject is Halloween. I would guess everyone over 30 expresses, at one time or another, the same regret that something has been lost. Life, unlike physics, is time-directional dependent. Your kids and your neighbors’ kids will never experience the “olden times” that you did. Their memories will be unique, but to predict the departure of the “glory of this once popular festival“, and that “its triumphs and rough jollities, festivals, and strange rites” will disappear is risking ridicule when your statements are discovered 150 years later. 

Perhaps the author did not fully understand the strength of life’s basic needs even while we conform to civilized society—the eternal conflict of the intellect of atheism versus the awe and alienation of life. We need the constructs of abstraction, our ordering of nature. We have to feel we understand, if only in part, what is going on. But we also need to dance naked on the hills of rural Scotland or Ireland where the “rough old games so peculiar to the [Halloween] festival” play out.

The Higgs field helps us model reality for better understanding, but we realize it is just a model that fits our mental image of reality. It is hardly more real than the field of ghosts and goblins. The one helps our understanding, the other helps our mystification. Both give us perspective.

Myk’s post also gives me a chance to relate a new personal perspective on Halloween. This was my first Halloween in my new home in my new neighborhood. While I’m in the city of Pittsburgh, my neighborhood is uniquely isolated by its cobblestone entrances, one on each end, to develop a personality of its own. There were hundreds of very small children (accompanied by parents) roaming the street. (only a very slight exaggeration) It is a trick ‘r treaters dream. As Michael can testify—he came up for Halloween—pounds of bag-challenging candy can be accumulated very quickly. The houses are close together, and the terrain is flat. Where it is not flat the homeowners come outside, down to their driveways to hand out candy to the children—no steps to walk. In fact many of the adults come out of their homes on both sides of the street. To fit in with the rest of the neighborhood, I spent the two hours of official Halloween on my front porch, chatting with kids and neighbors. The weather certainly helped, but I couldn’t help to periodically smile and laugh at the sight of little kids fantastically dressed walking among the homes and homeowners, also outside participating in this gathering. Perhaps this was the way Halloween was celebrated in Scotland in the early 1800’s.

1 comment:

Big Myk said...

Excellent piece. It pretty much sums up all we know and all we need to know. Certainly, we will always try to understand and put our stamp of order on the universe. But we know that we will never ultimately succeed. For, like the hydra, for every question answered only raises new questions. And so, recognizing this, we have curious marriage and funeral customs that strangely mix the pagan and the Christian.

Rudolf Otto said said this about what he called religious dread or awe: "It first begins to stir in the feeling of ‘something uncanny,’ ‘eerie,’ or ‘weird.’ . . . the distinction between such a ‘dread’ and natural fear is not simply one of degree and intensity. The awe or ‘dread’ may indeed be so overwhelmingly great that it seems to penetrate to the very marrow, making the man’s hair bristle and his limbs quake.” This is what Halloween is all about.