Here Thar Be Monsters!

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31.10.11

Happy New Year!

Happy Samhain, or what folks commonly call Halloween these days.  Halloween, of course, is the Catholisation of the ancient Celtic festival, which popularly marked the end of harvest time and the beginning of the long winter.

Today marked the death of the Sun.  Though few folks bother to look up anymore, the ancients tracked the movements of the celestial objects in a kind of giant fairy tale with a year-long telling.  In the days before TeeVee, and even radio, the communal entertainment was heavenly cycles, and the priests were the ones who kept track of these things and predicted the coming of the seasons, as well as the influence of the Universe on life below.

Many people don't realize the influence that the natural cycles have had on humanity.  The need to plan for things like winter and summer led to the rise of tenses in languages.  Without the ability to discuss past and future events, people actually died.  If a family didn't gather food and firewood during the warm months, they perished in the cold.  The need to plot the heavenly cycles literally made the difference between life and death.

Samhain marked the end of the collecting seasons and the beginning of the isolation.  As the Sun's time began to wane on a daily basis, the days grew colder, and soon families would seal themselves in for the duration of wintertime.  Survival was predicated on how much fuel and food they had been able to store up, and how well the houses had been sealed against the weather.

It's interesting to note the differences between equatorial cultures and those above the tropic zones.  For instance, in Indonesia there's very little knowledge of things like canning and preservation of food.  There are no harvest rituals or seasonal activities.  The closest thing to cyclic lifestyles here are those related to rice cultivation, which depends on the rain cycle.  However, in a land where food grows literally everywhere all the time, there was never a need to plan for tomorrow, much less months from now.  As such, the languages didn't adopt tenses, the need for root cellars never arose, and even things like hunting had a far lesser importance.  After all, if there's no vital need to preserve foods and collect skins and fuel, why would anyone need to mark these moments?

In northern climes, intricate rituals developed to note the timing of longer and shorter days, and the coming of growing seasons or deep winters.  Harvest festivals were the last great feast of the year before the family sealed itself into the home.  The festivals were the last time you'd see many folks until the thaw, and in some cases, the last time you'd see them at all.

People from less temperate zones never really understand the concept of maňana, and folks in the temperate zones can't figure out why everyone else is in such an all-fire hurry.  It makes perfect sense in the context of summer and winter.  Those facing long, hard winters only have a certain amount of time to gather enough food and fuel to survive for six months.  In effect, they have to work twice as hard on warm days to have enough for the cold days.

By the same token, if you live where temperatures are the same, day in and day out, year 'round, and the only variation is more or less rain, and food grows everywhere all the time, what's the hurry?  There's no need for complex astrological calendars and planning and storing.  Tomorrow will be just like today.  You don't need to save money, or store food and special clothing.  You won't die of exposure if you sleep on the ground tonight.  About the most shelter you ever really need is a couple of big palm leaves on a stick.

Needless to say, there's no Halloween, or Samhain, or Thanksgiving, or even hoe-downs here on the equator.  The language doesn't need complicated tenses.  Storing and preserving foods is never an issue.  Gathering and storing fuel is never a concern.  Tomorrow is the same as yesterday.

Meanwhile, the northerners have spent their entire history conquering warmer places to ensure a steady food supply.  The languages have complex tenses and time statements.  People are always worrying about the future and stockpiling for what-ifs.  The cultures are obsessive about calendars and clocks and time in general, because there's never enough of it before the dead of winter sets in.

It's truly a massive game of ant and grasshopper.  One group can jump in the water and pluck out a shrimp the size of a lobster any time they want, while the other must have fishing fleets to gather up the food in season.  The first group has no need or care for the future, because it looks the same as today, as yesterday, as the day before that.  The other group is always racing against time, always seeking new frontiers, always looking to tomorrow.  It's all about the weather.

So, as you prepare for Samhain, with the little goblins ready to collect the loot, and the death heads carved out of gourds to chase away the evil spirits of winter, keep in mind that you are celebrating death.

Death of the sun.  Death of the world around you.  Death of those dear to you.

Here, death looks like a tiger and always attacks from the rear.  There, death looks like a ghost and can't be touched or held.  It just surrounds you.

Happy New Year!  And don't fret, the sun will be reborn on December 25th, with the festival of light.

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