All Saints' Day in Poland. Candles in Rakowicki Cemetery light dead loved ones' way through the darkness. Image: Escape to Cracow.
The transition. It is not without some relief that I leave the Hallowe'en blog themes behind. The first rush of autumn that runs up to Hallowe'en anticipates catharsis, derived from ancient autumn harvest festivals. In Britain, the madness continues for a few more days, up to Guy Fawkes Day on November 5. The mood is evident in stories such as the narrative for the ballet Giselle, which takes place during the French-German grape harvest and leads to the death of a village girl, who becomes a Slavic spirit. In this story as well, there is a wild release of supernatural forces, followed by a race toward daybreak as the cock crows and all is returned to normal again. I've blogged about Giselle here.
Because so many people focus on Hallowe'en these days, they forget that the Church intended this festival to be a two-parter. Hallowe'en is of course, All Hallows' Eve, when all the ghosts and evil spirits get to have their romp before being tucked away back in the afterworld for another year. In the Roman Catholic Church, November 1st is All Hallows' Day or All Saints' Day, also called Hallowmas. It is celebrated in the Eastern Catholic Church on the first Sunday after Pentecost. As its name implies, all the Catholic saints are honoured on this day.
Walt Disney's Fantasia has a good mid-twentieth century clip that shows the transition from All Hallows' Eve to All Hallows (below). The movie, and Disney himself, were strongly influenced by themes that date back to early-to-mid nineteenth century German Europe. This is evident in another of his film adaptations from this period, Bambi (1942), which was based on a 1923 book of the same name by Austrian author Felix Salten. Perhaps Disney looked back to his partial German heritage when fashioning his animated fantasies that would become a byword for twentieth century American youth culture.
This transition from rampant undead to a consummation of faith in the holy dead is not just a basic recognition of the dual existence of evil and good. As autumn wears on, the mood changes to a month of sober introspection, contemplation and memorials; it may have originated merely in a seasonal need for people to brace themselves before the onset of winter's hardships. Regardless, the theme of much of November in many parts of the world is memory and remembrance. In the strongholds of Catholic Europe, people visit the graves of their loved ones on All Saints' Day, a custom also addressed in November 2's All Souls' Day. In the English-speaking countries, the hymn "For All the Saints" is traditionally sung (text: William W. How, 1823-1897; music: SINE NOMINE Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)). Notice that the lyrics defend an active, even aggressive, faith, not a passive one.
For All the Saints (1864)
1. For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
2. Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
3. For the Apostles’ glorious company,
Who bearing forth the Cross o’er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
4. For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
Like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
Is fair and fruitful, be Thy Name adored.
5. For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.
6. O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
7. O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
8. And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
9. The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
10. But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
11. From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
While Catholic doctrine brings in a lot of stuff about collective communion with the ever-living saints, who can intercede with god on behalf of the faithful, there's another sentiment at work here. This seemingly tame commemoration of saints actually involves an all-or-nothing recognition of sacrifice and martyrdom in defense of the Christian faith. All Saints symbolizes a point at which the faithful, having let it all hang out the night before, now have to lay it all on the line. They have to acknowledge what they believe, and stand and defend it, to the death if necessary. This draws from the metaphor of 'faith' as a 'battle,' which some believers take literally. In 2009, a sequel to the 1999 Boondock Saints film, entitled All Saints Day, dealt with Irish Catholic vigilantes defending the streets of Boston, Massachusetts against various threats. Thus, November 1 is a day of commemoration, remembering dead relatives, of stating respect for holy sacrifices made. It's also a day of reckoning among the faithful, which continues into November 2. No surprise, perhaps, that the 2010 midterm elections fall tomorrow in the United States.