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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, October 30, 2008
    Hallowing Halloween

    Ronald Hutton's magisterial Stations of the Sun is very rewarding reading anytime, but perhaps particularly at this most primal time of year. The trickery, the darkness, the setting-of-fires, the remembrance of the dead: it's deeply ancient in these Isles and it's all still here.

    The Protestant Reformation outlawed much of the above, of course. But thankfully that didn't stop it happening. In the new liturgy of 1559 All Saints was retained, 'but as a day on which to commemorate saints as outstandingly godly human beings, not as semi-divine intercessors; the prayers for the dead were, of course, abolished once more.' Opposition to this was strong. Especially (writes Hutton) in the particularly-Catholic north of Lancashire. There, bonfires blazed on the hills along the Ribble Valley; in Whalley families would gather on the hills at midnight on the eve of All Saints', one holding a large bunch of burning straw at the end of a fork while the others, in a circle, prayed for their dead.

    How do we hallow halloween? Some people will protest anything that has a hint of darkness about it, in a fantasy that aspires to exist in a constant state of pure illumination. Seems to me healthier to affirm the lighting of fires as a protest against the inevitable onset of the dark, as a commemoration of the life our ancestors began for us and we continue.