October – crisp, fresh and spectacular. Beautiful foliage in vibrant shades of scarlet, amber, copper and gold decorate the entire landscape, marking a magical transition from summer to winter. A time for reflection, a time for preparation, a tranquil season that sooths and comforts the soul. A loving hug that prepares us for the arrival of winter.
Pre-Christian Celts marked this time of the year with the Celtic festival of Samhain on 31 October where they celebrated the end of summer and the beginning of winter and honoured the connection between life and death. Later, Christians dedicated this time of the year to remembering and celebrating those who died for their beliefs. 31 October is a date that is now synonymous with ‘Halloween’, deriving from the amalgamation of the word, ‘Hallow’ which refers to the saints celebrated on All Saints' Day, and "een" being the contraction of "eve" — or evening before. Halloween is therefore the translation of Eve of All Saints’ Day.
Robert Burns the Scottish poet was inspired by Halloween to such an extent that in 1785 he dedicated a beautiful poem to the occasion, aptly named ‘Halloween’.
In Mexico, Halloween is celebrated with exuberant street carnivals, cemetery gatherings and decorations to fit the ‘Day of the Dead’ – ‘Dia de Muertos’ in Spanish – and the celebrations last from 31 October- 2 November.
Research has shown that fun scary themed activities such as those dedicated to Halloween can have a positive impact on a person’s state. The research suggests that those who voluntarily expose themselves to highly intense and scary experiences are directly challenging their fears, are actively learning about themselves and –as a consequence – feel remarkably lifted and happier for the experience.
Professor Kerr, 2018, highlighted that, “Highly intense and scary activities – at least in a controlled environment like this haunted attraction – may ‘shut down’ the brain to an extent, and that in turn is associated with feeling better. Studies of those who practice mindfulness meditation have made a similar observation.” She goes on to comment on the other benefits of letting yourself be scared; “Choosing to do fun-scary activities may also serve as a way to practice being scared, building greater self-knowledge and resilience, similar to rough-and-tumble play. It’s an opportunity to engage with fear on your own terms, in environments where you can push your boundaries, safely.”
Halloween is not only an opportunity to embrace and reconnect with the natural and spiritual element of what it is to be human, but also an opportunity to challenge our boundaries, address our limitations and increase our resilience, strength, resolve and courage.
Challenge your fears and improve your stress coping mechanisms this Halloween. Oxfordshire boasts countless haunted historical attractions that are sure to give you the willies this autumn.
Maria O’Meara, MA, BSc (Hons) Empowerment and Personal Performance Coach.