Monday, October 31, 2011

Unwrapping: Happy Halloween - Things That Go Bump In The Night (or in broad daylight)

                          Happy Halloween Everyone!

Today is Halloween, All Hallows Eve, or A Day of Trick or Treat - whatever you call it, it might possibly be the scariest day of the year right behind April 15th. It's the day that spirits are said to be able to cross into our realm and walk the earth alongside us. [shiver]

Around 2,000 years ago, the Celts, who lived in what is now the United Kingdom, Ireland, and northern France, had a festival Samhain, pronounced sow-en, commemorating the end of the year. Since their New Year was November 1, the day before signaled the end of summer, the end of the harvest and the beginning of a long, hard winter. There were always losses of weaker animals and people over their winters so the end of the year represented death to the Celts. They believed that on this night the wall between the living and the dead was open allowing the spirits of the deceased, both good and evil to mingle among the living.

Samhain was considered a magical day. There are many stories of the Celts practices and beliefs regarding this day and some have carried over into modern times. Stories of leaving food or drink for the spirits to aid them or ward them off, tales of Celts dressing up in wild costumes and roaming the villages making noise to scare away the spirits are all attribituable to our modern celebration of All Hallow's Eve or Halloween. Great bonfires were said to have been built to ward off the spirits while others tell of all the home fires being extinguished during Samhain, either to make their homes less attractive to roaming spirits or possibly to allow their home fires to be lit from the sacred bonfire used to protect the village. Fortunes would be told and marked stones thrown into the fire. It was said that if a person's stone wasn't found after the bonfire went out, that person would die during the next year. (I would've thrown two stones in just to make sure.) There are tales of Faeries roaming the land during Samhain. They would dress as beggars asking for food door to door. (Sound familiar?) Those that gave food to the faeries were rewarded, while those that did not were punished by the faeries ... sounds like 'Trick or Treat' doesn't it?

By the 1st Century A.D., the Roman Empire had spread into the land of the Celts and made an attempt to banish these pagan rituals. All Saints Day or All Hallows was moved by Pope Gregory IV to November 1st in 835 A.D. with the hope of diminishing the celebration of Samhain which now became known as All Hallows Eve and later Halloween. The pagan celebration didn't cease. So in 1000 A.D., the church designated November 2nd as All Souls Day, to honor the dead who were not Saints. Eventually, they were combined and celebrated as Hallowmas.

On All Souls Day in England, the poor would go a-souling. They would go door-to-door asking for food and in return they would pray for the souls of the family's dear departed. It was widely believed at the time that the souls of the recently departed couldn't enter Heaven until enough people prayed for their souls. The church encouraged this practice to replace the pagan tradition of leaving drink and food for the spirits. The poor were given soul cakes which were pastries made by the relatives of the dead in thanks for them praying for the souls of their recently departed family members. In some cases, soul cakes would be given in exchange for a song or dance as well. Soon children adopted this practice and were given food, ale, or money.

The Jack o'lantern is another traditional fixture connected to Halloween and it might have come from an old Irish tale about a man known as Stingy Jack, who was a swindler and a drunk. It's said he asked the devil to have a drink with him and then convinced the devil to change himself into a coin so that he could pay for the drink. Jack put the coin into his pocket instead right next to a silver cross which trapped the devil. The devil was unable to change himself back. Jack agreed to free the devil only on the condition that he would not bother Jack for a year. The next year, the devil returns and this time, Jack tricks the devil into climbing a tree to fetch a piece of fruit. While the devil is in the tree, Jack carves a cross into the trunk thus trapping the devil in the tree. In order to get down, the devil agrees not to seek out Jack's soul anymore. When Jack died, he wasn't allowed into Heaven because of his drunken thieving ways but he also wasn't allowed into hell either because the devil had kept his word and refused his soul. Taking pity on Jack (surprising for the devil), the devil gave him an ember to light his way in the darkness. He put the ember into a hollowed out turnip for Jack to carry on his lonely everlasting journey around the Earth. The people of Ireland and Scotland would make Jack o'lanterns during this season to scare away Stingy Jack and other spirits that might wander about in the night.

So enough with the History of Halloween, let's have some fun!!
Instead of referring to novels this posting, I'd like to share some real life experiences involving spirits. The idea of spirits roaming the Earth alongside the living is paramount to the celebration of Halloween.
GHOST is a delightfully romantic movie about love and how it can transcend death but what about the real life ghost experience? Do you believe in ghosts or spirits visiting from the other side? Well, I do because I've experienced strange things that could only be explained by believing that ghosts do exist. Let me share a few experiences of mine and some of the members of my family.

     My husband and I moved to our home in an area of Virginia that abounds with both history and strange occurrences just over ten years ago. The area where we live has a history which encompasses Indian tribes, Revolutionary encampments and battles as well as Civil War battles and encampments. There are families that settled the area whose family members still live here. Many of these families have family cemeteries that date back to the first family members. Consequently, the area seems to be a hotspot for strange activity.

     Soon after we moved in, Kevin and I were on our front porch enjoying the cool evening air with our dog at our side. The night was illuminated by one of the brightest full moons either of us had ever seen. The road below looked like a river of moonlight. As we commented on the beauty of the moonlight, we heard a whistling. Someone was whistling a tune that seemed familiar yet neither of us could name it. As we stood there, a dark figured strolled down the center of the road. Our dog reacted only with a low slow growl to which, if the figure heard it, there was no reaction from the person. The whistling never stopped. We watched the figure which was indistinguishable even in the bright light of the full moon move along the road. The figure disappeared into the shadow of some trees only to re-emerge on the other side of the shadows, take a few more steps and promptly disappear. Kevin and I were both surprised at this but have never forgotten it.

     Another time, Kevin and my stepson Sean, were driving up the winding road that leads to where we live. It was night and the only illumination on the road was the headlights of the car. As Kevin turned a curve, he saw another car emerging from the other direction and so dimmed his headlights. Just as the other car came around the curve, Kevin and Sean both spotted a man standing in the road. Kevin hit the brakes as did the car coming in the opposite direction but as they did, the man disappeared. Sean immediately exclaimed, "Did you see that?" Kevin told him that he had. Consequently, both of them were slightly rattled when they got home and told me about it with great excitement.

     On another occasion, Kevin and I were sitting in the living room. I was on the loveseat reading a magazine, he and our dog Marco were sitting on the couch. Kevin was watching TV, Marco was doing whatever he does when he isn't sleeping while on the couch. All of a sudden, Marco let out a quick bark and leaped from the couch. He ran straight to the recliner that sits on the opposite side of the room.
     Kevin exclaimed, "Did you see that?"
     I glanced up from my magazine and asked, "See what?"
     Marco was sniffing around the base of the chair as if looking for something.
     "A gray cat just appeared on the chair but jumped down and disappeared when Marco barked." Kevin told me in an excited voice. 
     I believed him even though I hadn't seen it myself. I just don't know what cat ghost it could've been since we didn't have one and none has ever lived in our house. However, that doesn't mean that such a cat didn't live or die on the land where our house is built at an earlier date.

     Our first dog, Tika - the same dog that saw the figure on the road that moonlit night - did die on our property. She died suddenly, unexpected and to our great distress. We miss her every day and even though we have Marco to keep us company, she's never really far from our thoughts. Since her death in 2006, we've felt her presence, heard her movements and even Marco reacts sometimes as if he sees or hears her. A couple of months ago, I was in the bedroom putting away some freshly laundered clothes. It was early evening, Kevin was cooking something on the stove and so I had a light on in the bedroom. I was hanging up some shirts in the closet when I suddenly heard a loud panting sound behind me. It sounded just like a dog panting. I assumed it was Marco waiting not so patiently while I finished so that I could take him out when I was through.
     "Just a minute, Bubby (I call him Bubby)." I told him over my shoulder. In that moment, I glimpsed an empty room behind me. I couldn't believe that he was there one moment and gone from the room the next so I looked around. I left the bedroom, walked to the living room assuming he was waiting for me there but he wasn't there either. I returned to kitchen where I asked Kevin, "Where's Marco?"

     Kevin shrugged his shoulders. "He's around here somewhere," he answered.
I was about to go back into the bedroom when I thought of one place he might be since Kevin was cooking - the bathtub. Marco tends to get in the bathtub when Kevin is cooking because he's afraid of the smoke alarm (don't ask). I walked back to the living room, went to the hall bath and sure enough, Marco was peering at me from behind the shower curtain. Now the question filled my head. If that wasn't Marco panting behind me, who or what was it?
     As I returned to the kitchen, I must have looked very puzzled for Kevin suddenly asked me, "What's wrong?"
     "I just heard a dog panting behind me in the bedroom and thought it was Marco but Marco was half way across the house. It must have been Tika." I told Kevin happily. It always pleases me when she visits. Suddenly, Kevin smiled, too.
     "Just before you came up from downstairs, I thought I heard something moving around in the bedroom. I was just coming out from looking around for Marco in there when you came along." He told me.
     "Why didn't you tell me that before I went in there?" I asked him.
     "I didn't want you to think I was crazy." Kevin answered still not sure what he heard.

     That happened just Labor Day weekend and since then, I have heard more strange things. We have bells that hang from our front door that Marco will ring if he wants to go outside. One evening, I was doing something in the bedroom when suddenly I heard the jingle of those bells. I knew it wasn't Marco because he was standing next to me so I thought Kevin had knocked them as he started to open the door. I waited for the sound of the door to open but nothing else came. Curious, I walked into the living room. There was Kevin, sitting on the couch reading his e-reader.
     "Did you just open the door?" I asked him curiously.
     Kevin looked up at me. Puzzled, he looked at me strangely. "No. Why?"
     I shrugged my shoulders and shook my head. He asked me again. "Why? What did you hear?"
     "I heard the bells on the door sound and I was going to ask what you were looking for on the porch?" I told him.
     "I haven't moved." Kevin told me. "I didn't hear the bells either."
     Go figure! I've heard bells sound on two other occasions since. I figure it's either the tremors left from the earthquake in August or Tika's learned a new trick.  : )

     My mother told me of an extremely eerie experience she's had twice in the past few weeks. The first time, she was asleep in bed when she felt someone lift the covers on the other side of the bed and climb in beside her. Now, my mother and father sleep in separate rooms because they are elderly and have developed different sleep patterns so her first thought was that it was her husband. She sat up in bed and was about to ask him if he was okay when she realized that no one was there. Worried, she got out of bed and went to my father's room to make sure he hadn't died in his sleep. He was fine, snoring as usual. Slightly rattled, she went back to bed but didn't sleep well the rest of the night.
     The other day, she told me it happened to her again. She was awake and reading in bed as she has a habit of doing to help her fall asleep. She had just turned out the light and settled into bed when she felt the covers lift, the mattress sag and someone lie down next to her. She immediately threw both her arms over the place where this person would be but found nothing. She turned on the light but there was no evidence of anyone having been in bed with her. Very strange indeed for we cannot figure out who it might be. By the way, once more she climbed out of bed and checked on my father who is still alive and well.

     Have you any strange experiences to share? Strange sounds in the night or in broad daylight? Strange figures seen where there shouldn't be any? Love to hear them so please do share, Marco's waiting to hear some real life scary stories ... he wants to know he's not alone. 

    In the meantime, if you're looking for a great story about spirits, please check out Merrie Destefano's AFTERLIFE - THE RESURRECTION CHRONICLES.

     Chaz Dominguez is a professional Babysitter in New Orleans, helping to integrate the recently deceased into their new and improved lives. Though Fresh Start has always been the only game in town, resurrection isn't all it's cracked up to be. Nine lives are all a person can get—and a powerful group of desperate, high-level Nine-Timers will stop at nothing to possess the keys to true immortality.

            Now, for one last treat!
           After all it's Halloween -  
     a house display to set the mood!            
                               Enjoy and Happy Halloween!!

Next time at UNWRAPPING ROMANCE ... well, let's see what the spirits have to say later.
Happy Reading Everyone!

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