Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Soldier and Death

As I said in my post, I am going to try to incorporate more stories and poems into my blog posts as a way to illustrate, rather than simply tell about, the turning of the wheel of the year. Some posts will include short stories or poems and some explination while others, like this one, will simply be a story.

This story is an old Russian tale I first heard through the Jim Henson's The Storyteller series. It caught my imagination and when I found a written version of the story I knew I would have to retell it as my Death Moon story. Here is my version, with links to the Jim Henson and Arthur Ransome versions at the bottom.

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The Soldier and Death

Once upon a time there was a soldier who had served his King well for 25 years and was finally free to go home. He gathered his cloak and his sword, kissed his companions good bye, and took three dry biscuits before setting off into the early winter morning.

He whistled an ancient tune as he traveled the high road past snowy fields and under grey skies. He walked and he whistled until he met a beggar along the road. The old man was dressed in patched and ragged clothes and begged for alms. The soldier had no money to his name but gave the old man one of his three dry biscuits.

“God keep you and Goddess bless” said the beggar.

“Goddess bless you as well, old man” said the soldier and he set off.

He whistled his ancient tune as he traveled the high road through wooded hills and marshy lands. He walked and he whistled until he met another beggar along the road. The old man was dressed in clothes even more patched and ragged than the first and was also begging for alms. The soldier had no money to give but handed the old man the second of his three dry biscuits.

“God keep you and Goddess bless” said the beggar.

“Goddess bless you as well, old man” said the soldier and he set off.

He whistled his ancient tune as he traveled the high road past fields of wooly sheep and shaggy cows. He walked and he whistled until he met a third beggar along the road. This old man was dressed in even more patched and ragged clothes than the other two. He looked so thin and weak he could hardly stand as he begged for alms. The soldier thought of his one remaining dry biscuit but decided that he was close to home and the old man needed it more than he did. He handed the beggar his third dry biscuit.

“God keep you and Goddess bless” said the beggar.

“Goddess bless you as well, old man” said the soldier.

“Is there anything you would like as thanks for your kindness?” the beggar asked.

“There is nothing you can give me beyond your blessings, friend” replied the soldier.

“Looks can be deceiving, young man. What would you like?”

The soldier thought back fondly on evenings spent with his companions wagering all they could think to wager playing cards. He asked the old man if he had any such thing as a pack of cards about him. The old man reached under his patched and ragged cloak and pulled out a small but beautiful deck and something else the soldier could not at first identify.
“Take these as thanks, and you will never lose no matter who you play against. And take this sack as well. If you come across any beast of fowl and want to have it just tell it to get into the sack and it will. Then you can do with it what you wish.”

“Thank you kindly and Goddess bless” said the soldier one more time before he set off again, whistling his ancient tune traveling down the high road.

After a night and a day of traveling the soldier found himself on the shore of a small glittering lake. He stopped to rest his feet and quench his thirst. As he lay back among the grass he noticed three wild geese paddling across the lake. “If only I could catch them,” he thought, “then I would not be hungry as I am now.” And then he remembered the sack the old man had given him. He stood up, held the sack open and cried “Hey, you, geese! See my sack? Get into it!”

The geese rushed quickly towards the sack and clambered over themselves to get into it. When all three were in the sack the soldier tied the top with two double knots, put the sack on his shoulder and set off again. His tune was a bit less lively due to the effort of carrying the three geese, but he traveled still along the high road past stacks of hay and fields of stubble.

Before night fall he found himself on the main street of a small but lovely town. He found a well kept inn and asked for the landlord.

“Sir,” said the soldier, “In my sack are three fat geese. I would like one roasted for my dinner. I’ll trade the other for a bottle of your finest wine and you can keep the third for your troubles.”

“Oh, aye,” cried the landlord and rushed off with the sack into the kitchens.

“Don’t forget to bring back the sack,” the soldier called after him.

In no time at all the soldier was tucking in to a wonderful dinner of goose roast in honey and cloves and washing it down with a bottle of fine red wine. He spent his evening dancing and laughing with other guests at the inn and finally laid his weary body down in a soft, warm bed upstairs.

In the morning the soldier woke up and looked out the window of the inn. On the hill above the town stood a beautiful palace all made of rose red stone with red tile roofs, a tower, walled gardens and beautifully carved wooden door posts and window frames. The odd thing was, that none of the windows had glass in them, and the gardens were clearly overgrown, and some of the roof tiles were broken or missing.

When the soldier went down for breakfast he asked the landlord about the palace.

“Oh, aye, that palace belongs to the Duke who rules these lands.” said the landlord. “It’s been empty these three years, though, because evil spirits have taken up living there. They say they are angry that the Duke didn’t pay proper respects to the stones and trees that made his palace. Every night the spirits come in and make such devilish noise, stomping and singing, hooting, hollering and playing cards. There’s no living there for decent folks.”

“Can no one clear them out?” asked the soldier.

“Easier said than done.” replied the landlord. “Brave men go in live and well in the evening and in the morning the Duke’s servants have to sweep the floors to pick up all the pieces of their bones.”

“I’ve served my King well for 25 years. Fire won’t burn a soldier and water won’t drown him. A single night in that palace won’t be the end of me.” And with that the soldier asked the landlord to point him in the direction of the Duke’s new home, wishes the landlord well and set off to talk to the Duke.

“Your majesty,” said the soldier after giving the Duke a proper bow and salute, “will you give me leave to spend one night in your empty palace?”

“No man has survived a night in that palace since the evil spirits have taken up residence. I hate to see the end of such a fine man as yourself,” replied the Duke.

“I’ve served my King well for 25 years. Fire won’t burn a soldier and water won’t drown him. A single night in that palace won’t be the end of me,” Said the soldier.

“Well, if that be so then God keep you and Goddess bless,” the Duke said, “Spend the night there if you’ve set your heart on it.”

The soldier entered the palace, whistling his ancient tune, cards in his pocket, sack on his back. He whistled and sang his way through all the empty rooms admiring the beautiful rose colored stone and admiring the carved wooden beams. He lit a small fire in large room, and sat down at the table to wait for the spirits, shuffling his cards and whistling his tune the whole night through.

At 12 o’clock sharp he heard such a noise as the soldier had never heard. Yelling and screaming, dancing and singing, drums and fiddles, hooting, hollering, stomping and yowling. The room filled with the devilish little spirits, with long fingers and toes on the ends of their long arms and legs, wispy white hair floating above their pale faces and sneering mouths filled with sharp pointed teeth.

“You, soldier,” one cried, “What are you doing here? There’s no living here for decent folks”

“What a nice tune he has” another cried. “And lovely cards” yet another cried. “And such a decent soul” a third remarked.

“Deal out the cards, we’ll take them all from you, and then we will tear you to pieces and eat you up!” the first screamed again.

The soldier laughed. “Be sure you know who is eating who. What do you have to wager against my tune, my cards and my soul.”

“We have 40 barrels of gold, we do” cried one of the spirits.

“Bring them here and let’s play a game” said the soldier.

No sooner than he had said it had forty of the spirits dragged forty barrels of gold into the room. The soldier shuffled his cards and dealt them out to the spirits pushing and shoving for room on the benches around the table. They played a game and the soldier won. They played again, and the soldier won again. A third game they played and a third time the soldier won.

So it went on all night with the spirits using all their cunning to cheat and lie but the soldier winning game after game. The gold moved from one end of the room to the other until the whole 40 barrels were stacked up behind the soldier’s chair. When the spirits realized they had no more money to lose they cried out with such a clamor. They yelled and they howled, they screamed and they screeched.

“Tear him to pieces! Eat him up” they cried.

“Be sure you know who is eating who,” said the soldier as he pulled out his sack. “Do you know what this is?”

“A sack.” One of the spirits replied.

“If it is a sack, then get in it!” called the soldier. With a rushing and a whistling all the spirits flew into the sack, clambering over each other to get into it. When they were all in the soldier tied up the sack with two double knots and threw the sack on the ground. He kicked it and tossed it around, punching it and beating it until the spirits cried out for mercy.

“Do you promise to leave this palace and never come back?” asked the soldier.

“Yes, yes, we promise!” cried the spirits.

And with that the soldier untied the sack and let the spirits fly out. And fly out they did! They tripped over each other to get away from that soldier and his sack. The soldier, however, caught the last spirit as it left the sack and held it by the leg. The spirit hung, gibbering and flailing, trying to get away. The soldier grabbed the spirit’s hat and said
“Spirit, promise me to be my faithful servant.” There was nothing to be done other than agree so the spirit agreed and agreed so the soldier would let him go.

“I will keep your hat and when I call for you, you must come to me.” Said the soldier and then let the spirit go.

The last spirit hopped off screaming, following the others over fields and woods, hills and pastures, across the Great River to the Isle of the Dead. They called all the other spirits and spooks, fairies and furies, banshees and angels, dryads, nymphs and gnomes, crying and aching in all their bones, and told them about the soldier and his sack. They set sentinels all around the Isle of the Dead, and warned the ferryman who ran the ferry across the Great River, and ordered them to watch well, and whatever they did, not on any account to let in the soldier with the sack.

In the morning the Duke and his servants came to the palace and instead of finding the soldier ripped to pieces found him whistling his ancient tune in front of a small fire in the large room. Behind him was the forty barrels of gold and at his side his sack. The soldier told the Duke all that had happened and how he had won the gold from the spirits and chased them away so no spirits would dare set foot within a hundred miles of the palace.

“If that be so,” said the Duke, “then we shall move into this palace at once and you shall live here with me as a brother.” And so they did. They moved in all of their tables and beds, servants and cooks and even the Duke’s wife and children. Soon after that the soldier himself took a wife and they all lived happily in the beautiful palace above the small town.

One year after the soldier married his wife gave birth to a beautiful son. The soldier loved his son more than anything and told him stories of his own valor and made up stories about when the boy grows up and becomes a general himself. The son grew into a fine young boy, happy and strong. One day, when the boy was three years old, he fell ill with a terrible fever. The soldier and his wife prayed and tended him, they called in doctors and wise women, they fed him teas and gave him baths and special ointments were put on his chest and forehead. Despite all of this the boy got sicker and sicker. The Duke was about to call for a priest to care for the dying boy when the soldier remembered the deal he made with the spirit all those years before.

He grabbed up the spirit’s hat and cried out, “Where the devil has my devilish spirit gone to?” With a small whoosh the spirit appeared in the room of the sick boy.

“How may I help you, great Sir” asked the spirit, his eyes full of fear.

“My son is very sick. Do you or any of the other spirits of the Isle of the Dead know how to cure him?” asked the soldier.

The spirit, with his with long fingers and toes on the ends of his long arms and legs, wispy white hair floating above his pale face and fearful eyes above a mouth filled with sharp pointed teeth, looked around as if unsure whether to reveal his secret but in his great fear decided to tell what he knew. He pulled a small glass goblet with strange etchings all over it out of his pocket and held it in his long fingers. He filled it with cold water from the basin next to the bed and held it upon the boy’s forehead.

“What do you see in the water, great Sir” asked the spirit.

The soldier looked through the glass into the goblet and saw a shrunken woman dressed all in black, her face shifting from young to old, beautiful to ugly, dark to fair and back again more quickly than his eyes could make out. “I see Death” he whispered, “standing at the foot of my son’s bed.”

“All is well, great Sir” said the spirit, “If you see Death at the foot of a sick person’s bed then with a sprinkle of water from the goblet they are fit and fine. If Death is at the head of a sick person’s bed, however, all is up with them and Death will have her due.”

The spirit sprinkled a little water from the goblet onto the boy and he was instantly laughing and crawling towards his mother, as if he had never been sick a day in his life.

“Give me that goblet and I will give you back your hat. We will call it quits and our deal be done,” said the soldier to the spirit. The spirit looked greatly relieved, handed over the goblet, grabbed his hat from the soldier’s hands and whooshed off, as quick as he could, away from the soldier and his sack.

Starting that very day the soldier set up as a wise man, traveling from sick bed to sick bed. He would fill the goblet with water and hold it up to the sick person’s forehead. If Death stood at their feet he would sprinkle the water and up they got. If Death stood at their head he would say “All is up with you, Death will have her due”, and the person died as sure as spring would come again. It was a hard time for the doctors and wise women, but a great time for the soldier.

One day the soldier’s great friend the Duke fell ill. The soldier quickly came to his bedside, filled the goblet and held it up to his head. To his great fear and horror he saw the shrunken woman all dressed in black, her face shifting from young to old, beautiful to ugly, dark to fair and back again more quickly than his eyes could make out standing at the head of the Duke’s bed.

“Quickly, man, what do you see?” asked the Duke. “I am feeling weaker with every breath.”

The soldier made a choice and chose to sprinkle the Duke with the water from the goblet. The Duke rose, fit and fine, but the soldier immediately fell ill himself. Death would have her due. The soldier lay on the bed, feverish and ill, getting weaker with every breath. He held the glass up to his own forehead, looked Death in the face and pulled his sack out from under his cloak.

“Do you know what this is?” he asked her.

“A sack.” she replied, her eyes growing wide with fear.

“If it is a sack, then get in it!” he cried with the last of his strength. And with a rushing and a whistling Death flew into the soldier’s sack. He jumped up, fit and fine, tied the sack in two double knots.

“I’ve caught Death in my sack! I’ve caught Death in my sack!” he cried. And with that, he took the sack, slung over his shoulder and headed off to the deep forest, far away from the small town with the beautiful palace. He traveled into the very center of the forest and climbed he tallest tree in the darkest heart of the forest. He climbed the tree with his sack on his back and tied the sack with Death in it onto the highest branch of the highest oak tree in the darkest heart of the forest. And then he went home.

With Death tied in a sack no one could die. There were births every day, and plenty of them, but no deaths. Wars would be fought and people would get sick, but there would be no deaths. The soldier looked out over his small village below his beautiful palace and was very pleased with himself.

This went on for a number of years, happy years in which the soldier’s son grew into a fine young lad. The soldier and the Duke remained friends and grew even more wealthy with the prosperity of their land. One day the soldier went for a walk through the town and saw an ancient old crone sitting on a doorstep. She was so old and tiny she looked like she could hardly keep herself upright and tottered in the face of every breeze that blew down the street.

“Grandmother,” said the soldier gently, “is there anything I can do to help?”

“You,” cried the old woman full of anger “you soldier with your sack have done nothing but harm to me. Years ago I was ready to die in my bed surrounded by my family. I was ready to find a peaceful place across the Great River and grow young again, ready to meet the Goddess in the place she made ready for me on the Isle of the Dead. But then you caught Death in your sack. I’ve now spent years in this broken body wishing for nothing but Death’s release. There is only one thing you can do to help me.”

And with that the soldier set off straight for the deep forest, far away from the small town with the beautiful palace He traveled into the very center of the forest and climbed he tallest tree in the darkest heart of the forest. He untied the sack and carried it back to his palace, ready to meet Death and go with her when he opened the sack. But when he opened the sack Death flew out, as quick as she could away to the Isle of the Dead, terrified of the soldier and he sack.

The soldier cried out for her to return, to take him as was her due, but she would not return.

“If Death won’t take me then I’ll have to go myself.” he said to himself and he immediately set out. He marched over fields and marched through woods. He marched over hills and he marched through pastures. He marched and he marched until finally he came to the ferry across the Great River to the Isle of the Dead.

“Hulloo there!” he called out to the ferryman. “I’ve come to take the ferry to the Isle of the Dead.”

“And who are you?” asked the ferryman, “and why didn’t Death bring you here?”

“I am the soldier who caught Death in his sack. She wouldn’t bring me here so I brought myself.” Replied the soldier.

The ferryman left the soldier and went across to the Isle of Death to see what should be done about the soldier. When he returned he told the soldier that they would not let him into the Isle of the Dead and he should return to his small town with his beautiful palace.

“But I have done a terrible thing. I owe Death her due and deserve to die!” cried the soldier.

“There is no place for you here,” replied the ferryman.

Just then, Death, a shrunken woman dressed all in black, her face shifting from young to old, beautiful to ugly, dark to fair and back again more quickly than his eyes could make out, arrived on the shore near the soldier. With her was the ancient old crone from the streets of the soldier’s town.

“Death! Tell the ferryman to take me to the Isle of the Dead!” cried the soldier, but Death shrieked in fear of the sack, turned away and disappeared as quickly as she could.

The ferryman reached for the ancient old crone’s hand to gently help her into his ferry but the soldier begged her to stop.

“Grandmother, please help me. I let Death out of the sack and allowed you to come here, to the Isle of the Dead where you will grow young again. Do me this favor and take my sack. When you reach the other shore call me into it so I can meet the Goddess and beg her forgiveness. Do this for me as I have done well by you.”

The ancient crone took the sack and stepped into the ferry. But when she stepped on the shores of the Isle of Death she began to forget all that had happened to her on Earth, starting with her meeting the soldier on the shore. She dropped the sack somewhere on the Isle and there it most likely lies to this day.

The soldier waited on the shore of the Great River to be called into the sack, but he was never called. He waited and waited and eventually he turned and walked slowly back to Earth. For all I know, he wanders the Earth still.

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If you liked this story please check out my source material. Both of these versions are delightful and rich in language and images.

Google Books page for Arthur Ransome's The Soldier and Death

Jim Henson's The Storyteller episode, The Soldier and Death
A Veoh.com video of the entire episode (also avaliable on Netflix as of October 2009)
Someone's personal page with a full transcript of the episode.
The Muppet Wiki page with information about production and the cast.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Full Sorting Moon

Look, here it is. The last full moon of the year. The Sorting Moon, being the end of the cycle, is a time for reviewing what has been done and choosing what to keep and what not to keep. It is the time of ripping the summer plants out of the garden and readying the beds for winter. It is the time to go through the stored food and toss any bad or rotting things so they don't spoil everything. In fact, just last week I pulled out all the tomato plants from my garden and now have a table full of green tomatoes to deal with. In an agricultural society this would also be the time of choosing which animals will be kept as breeding stock for the next year and which would be slaughtered for the winter's meat. It is a time when death, the ultimate end of the cycle, is on people's minds. It is the season of Halloween, the first dark days, knowing winter is here.

It also means that I have been blogging the Wheel of the Year for one full turn now. Wow. Time flies. In line with the energy of the Sorting Moon I have been looking over and thinking about what I have done this year in this blog. I am really happy, for the most part, with my writings and observations this year. I did succeed in becoming more concious of the signs of the seasons and my relationship to the year as it turns and found many new ways to celebrate as the year passes.

I am excited about continuing to blog through the year next year. I look forward to extrapolating on what I wrote this year and exploring different facets of each moon and festival next year. By the end of this year I was not getting posts written by the actual date of the moon or festival and would really like to get back on track with this during the next year. Another goal of mine for the upcoming year is to incorporate more stories and poems into my posts. I am very good at expository writing but enjoy the posts from last year that include with poems the most. Also, incorporating stories fits with my evolving ideas of how humans learn and remember best. Stories illustrate while words simply tell. I'll keep my eyes open over the course of the year for poems and stories that fit with the mood of the moons and festivals and if you have any suggestions, please do pass them along. A few original fiction pieces may show up as well.

A perfect meal for this time of year is a good beef stew. The meat and gravy give us strenght to face these dark days and nothing warms you up like a big bowl of stew. Give thanks to the cow who gave his life during this time of culling and sorting while you stew over the things you need to sort and cull in your life.

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*2 1/2 lb chuck roast
*1/3 cup flour
*1 tsp salt, plus more
*1/2 tsp pepper
*3/4 tsp ground sage
*cooking fat of your choice (bacon grease?!? or lard or coconut oil)
*1 onion, chopped
*2 stalks celery, chopped
*1 cup red wine
*1 cup chicken stock
*1 1/2 - 2 cups beef broth
*2 tbs tomato paste
*1 1/2 cups chopped carrots
*2 bay leaves
*Small sprig of rosemary
*1/2 cup frozen peas
*1 tsp red wine vinegar
*A pan full of chopped root vegetables - I used 3 smallish potatoes, 1 turnip and 1 1/2 large parsnips. Onions, carrots, garlic and sweet potatoes would all be wonderful.
*Oil, salt and pepper for the vegetables

The night before:
Trim and cut beef into fork sized chunks. Remove most of the gristle and fat, but some will add texture and flavor to the stew. In a zip bag or pie plate combine flour, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper and ground sage. Taste to make sure it is salty enough to not just taste like flour. Mix beef chunks into flour mixture and coat well. Heat cooking oil in a cast iron skillet and cover the bottom of the pan with beef chunks. Make sure to not crowd the pan and brown until at least a couple sides of each chunk are good and browned. Remove to a bowl that will fit all the beef, easily be covered and can go in your refrigerator. Repeat with the rest of the meat.

When all the meat is browned deglaze the pan with red wine, stir and scrape the browned bits off the bottom and simmer for a minute or two to reduce the liquid. Scrape the liquid into the bowl with the beef. (I did two batches of meat in my 12 inch cast iron and then deglazed the pan, rinsed it and did a third batch. I didn't want the browned bits to get too burned but your pan/stove/etc may be different).

Wipe or rinse the pan and heat up another tablespoon or so of fat. Sautee the onions and celery until tender, seasoning with salt, pepper and maybe some thyme, or ground rosemary or even more ground sage. Deglaze or scrape the pan and add the vegetables to the bowl of beef. Place the bowl in the fridge. Wash and chop root vegetables into 1 1/2 - 2 inch chunks. Place in a zippy bag or large covered container in the fridge.

In the morning:
Place the carrots in the bottom of your crock pot. Pour beef, onions and all the juice from the bowl in the crock pot. Combine the tomato paste with some of the stock and stir to combine. Pour the tomato and all the stock into the crock pot. I added beef broth until it was just under the level of the beef. Tuck the bay and rosemary in the liquid. I wrapped my rosemary in cheesecloth so I wouldn't have to fish out individual rosemary leaves. Turn heat to low and cook for 8-10 hours. Mine cooked for 9 hours and was perfect.

In the evening:
Turn the oven to 375. Place chopped root vegetables in a baking pan and coat with olive or coconut oil. Salt and pepper liberally and stir to combine everything. Roast until the veggies are tender and browned. Feel free to crank the heat to 425 if they are tender but not yet brown and you are hungry. Should take 20-30 minutes depending on how big your chunks are.

Add the frozen peas to the stew and stir it, removing the bay and rosemary and taste for seasonings. Mine didn't need any more salt but yours might. I did add a tsp of red wine vinegar and it really perked things up. I recommend you do the same. I also left the cover off while the veggies roasted to allow everything to thicken up a bit more. and add them to the stew. Serve by putting veggies in each bowl and pouring stew over top. Serve with buttered bread, red wine and maybe some pickled carrots or a salad.

Alternative if you don't own or don't use a crock pot:Instead of putting beef and carrots and stock in a crock pot, put it in a heavy stock pot. Simmer on the stovetop for a couple hours, or bring to a boil and then place in a 350 degree oven for a couple hours. Proceed as above.

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What is ending for you? What do you need to sort out? What do you like about my blog and what could make it better? Whats your favorite stew recipe? Enjoy your winter evenings!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

What Do You Really Want To Be?

"In my ideal version of Halloween, we wouldn't scare ourselves with images of ghoulish skeletons, eyeballs floating in cauldrons, and hissing, three-headed snakes. Rather, we'd confront more realistic fears, like the possibility that the effects we have on the world are different from our intentions . . . or that we have not yet reached our potential . . . or that people we like might completely misread and misunderstand us. Then Halloween would serve a more spiritually useful purpose. It would bring us face-to-face with actual dangers to our psychic integrity, whereupon we could summon our brilliant courage and exorcize the hell out of them." - Rob Breszny

Dressing up in costumes has always been my favorite part of Halloween. I love figuring out what I am going to be and figuring out how to make the costume. I love watching my friends ramp up their creative juices and enjoy working together on creative projects with the deadline of the party looming over us. None of my friends go for store bought costumes - creativity and home-made are the words of the day. One year a group of friends went as Zoltan followers from the movie Dude Where's My Car by wearing amazing interstellar jumpsuits. They worked for weeks on their bubble wrap suits, complete with interstellar fanny packs to carry wallets and house keys. This year one of my friends dressed as the Morton Salt Girl (yellow dress, big white umbrella) and another as Zoltara, the fortune teller from old penny arcades. I also met a wind up ballerina from a music box, a giant lolly pop, Tank Girl and a chocolate bunny. Too much fun!

The question comes up, though, of why do we dress up for Halloween? A little internet research confirms the idea that dressing up like this is an ancient Celtic custom during particularly holy days. This time halfway between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice is the time of Samhain, the Celtic new year celebration. It is a time of the turning from the light half of the year into the dark and was a time when the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead was thin. It was a time of a transition, a time when beings and spirits could move freely between the two worlds. Our modern tradition of dressing up is a direct descendant of Medieval costume parades during holy days and the upside-down revelry so important in those structured and stratified cultures. Other sources say that dressing up came from a modern fear of the spirits that can be found prowling the earth on these dark nights. As our society moved away from death as a part of daily life in the form of butchering animals and reaping crops we became fearful of the dead and started dressing up to scare off the un-earthly spirits.

One challenge that faces those of us who are rebuilding our own spiritual practices is how to reclaim ancient practices in a modern context. How do these old customs of dressing up, carving pumpkins and trick or treating fit into my life in a spiritual manner? My Personal Astrologer and Hero, Rob Breszny gives me some ideas with the horoscope he wrote above. His syndicated column, Free Will Astrology, has been a source of wisdom and meaning for me for years and I am always particularly thrilled with his writings around Halloween. What are we really afraid of? What do we really want to be? Lets make dressing up for Halloween serve to illustrate these big questions!

This year for Halloween I was a Dead Prom Queen. The costume pieces came to me easily once I decided and in the end I was really happy with it. I've never been a girly girl and never been one for dressing up but the idea of wearing a prom gown was exciting to me this fall. I found a beautiful red dress at Goodwill and it looked fantastic on me. I wore my tiara to work the day before Halloween and noticed something fantastic about costumes. What you wear effects how people treat you, and how people treat you effects how you feel. By the end of the day on Friday I FELT like a Princess. By the end of the night on Saturday I FELT like a Queen in a regal gown. The story I made up for my drowning was that my date was jealous and pushed me into the river after our Prom. In my costume, in my character, I was so awesome and beautiful that someone was jealous enough to kill me. What an inspiring thought to take away from a night of partying.

Luckily, none of my friends really were that jealous and we just had a grand time. What did you dress up as for Halloween this year? What could you dress up as to illustrate your fears or your hopes? What's the best costume you've ever seen on someone?

Happy Halloween!