“The flame that burns, the song that slays,
When you hear what it is saying –
Let Panic chase us through the maze,
But Pan is only playing.”
– Song of Pan
Halloween is a special time of year for me and my family. Growing up, October was a welcome respite from the heat of summer and the nausea of school, because the house and yard would be transformed into a lair of hanging dummies, Grim Reapers playing a keyboard, a coffin in the front yard, even one year a guillotine in the back yard (took me a while to figure out why I found that so disconcerting). My family is supernaturally-inclined, and I grew up using Ouija boards, watching my sister move wineglasses by looking at them, hearing of my parents’ paranormal experiences as young adults. Horror movies, handmade costumes, Halloween episodes of favorite shows, seances, junk food. It was the one time of year that everyone was in the creepy mindset that my family lived in year-round.
I had a relaxing day home alone this Halloween, took a walk with the walking stick my patron god lives in during his Oct. 31-to-Dec. 21 break (yeah, I’ll explain that sometime), ate candy, wrote, read, watched the movies and documentaries that are part of my end-of-the-Celtic-year routine. My littlest sis (generally the one of us that isn’t paranormal-obsessed, more like terrified of everything remotely scary) and my parents were with my other sisters and their kids, handing out candy, trick-or-treating, and generally enjoying our family-favorite holiday with the youngest generation of us. It’s the first Halloween of my youngest nephew, whom I call Winky, who wore a dog costume and laughed hysterically when my mother tried to get him to bark.
I kind of wish I’d gone along, I miss my nephews, especially the one I call Sweet Pea, who since his birth six years ago has basically been my heart walking around on two legs. (Can you tell I don’t remember if I use their names on this blog or not?) Anyway, my rheumatoid arthritis (geez, that makes me sound older than I am) often doesn’t permit me to take part in anything that involves much standing or walking, so I opened the windows to let the brisk breeze in and sort of wallowed in the atmosphere, staring at the date on my laptop screen like I’m trying to memorize it. Time is strange for me. I’d swear we have six Super Bowls a year, whereas Halloween feels so precious and rare, and like it only comes once or twice every decade.
Unsurprisingly, Halloween, or Samhain as we Celtic Pagans call it, also gave me the happiest moment I can remember having. I was a teenager, and had long since stopped trick-or-treating (my social anxiety was getting severe at the time), but sometimes I was able to help hand out candy. It was after sunset, and I was outside with several family members wondering if any more trick-or-treaters would come, as it was getting late. In my front yard, I noticed that our dummy Fred, which had been absent this year from our outdoor setup, was sitting in the tall tree right next to the driveway, but now it looked like he was made entirely of leaves, and he was moving slightly, not very noticeably but almost like the shifting and breathing of a real person.
I asked my parents what they had done to Fred, gesturing, and my confused mom and dad told me Fred was in the garage, we haven’t used him this year. “Who’s that in the tree, then?” I asked, and they looked at me blankly. The “dummy” wasn’t far up the tree, I could almost touch his perch if I jumped, and I indicated where he was several times. My parents started pulling my sisters over to where we were to confirm what they thought, “What are you talking about? There’s nothing there.”
“It’s the shape of a man, he’s covered with leaves. Can’t you see him? He’s right there!” I was by now convinced they were tricking me, but my parents and everyone else present swore there was absolutely nothing in the tree. Finally, a wave of absolute joy washed over me, and an understanding. I was seeing the Green Man.
In Celtic folklore, the Green Man is a sort of personification of the spirit of the woods, of everything that grows and lives in the forest. You might have seen him represented in carvings, like a younger Santa Claus with wise eyes and a beard that flows like a fall of leaves. He’s similar or the same as the Greek satyr god Pan, a guardian of wooded land that is more than a man, more of an anthropomorphic representative of the green and growing. He is the spirit of the wood, of nature, and he is as old as the Earth.
I had been praying for years to be permitted to see a Faerie (I was obsessed with Faeries), and here was something even grander. I laughed with absolute joy, while my parents (even my strange parents) quietly discussed whether or not I was all right. Gradually, the form in the tree faded, and I prayed a thank-you to the God and the Goddess for the best Samhain gift they could’ve given me. I’ve had wonderful moments, like anyone else. But nothing has quite made me so gleeful as I was that night.
The New Year has begun, the Holly King triumphs over the Oak King as he must when the cold of winter approaches. I wish you, whoever you are, happiness in the days to come.