If you don’t believe in ghosts, then a visit to Ireland might change your mind. The Emerald Isle is peppered with stories – regaled by salty old characters around the warmth of many turf fires and in sparsely lighted pubs – of strange occurrences and unexplained phenomena.
There, in the land of my birth, the Celts trace Halloween’s history – the pagan celebration of the end of the summer harvest – to before the arrival of St. Patrick in the fifth century. The traditional belief is that on this night, spirits arise from the dead and mingle with the living. Masks are worn to scare off bad ghouls while food is left at doorways as a treat for the better spirits. My childhood imbued me with stories of the mythological world of the Tuatha Dé Dannan, the fairy tribe that lives under the surface of the earth in Ireland.
For example, there is a tradition that a lone bush in a field should never be cut down. The belief is that it may be the secret gathering place for spirits. There are many other places sprinkled throughout the country that are considered to be fairy forts. The local people never build there or encroach in any way on that sacred ground.
In the Celtic culture, those who are privileged to still have time – between arrival on Earth and departure therefrom – are forever respectful of the spiritual. They believe the dead are not far away but are in fact very near, that they are our nearest neighbors.
Throughout the countryside, old castle ruins and dungeons are prone to Halloween sightings of mysterious white shadowy figures shrieking and crying in the night. Credible and more frequent than sightings of the Loch Ness monster, they appear sometimes as bodies without heads, often as heads without bodies. Historically these castles are places wherein executions occurred.
On this day, numerous politicians in Ireland keep a low profile. This is due to the superstition that during Halloween in the spiritual world of influence-peddling, there is a crippling curse on lying, deceit and distortion.
The Nobel Prize-winning Irish playwright, Samuel Beckett, implies great insight into the spiritual in his play “Waiting for Godot,” in which Godot, who is to play the principal part, at no time shows up – except in spirit. Beckett never specifies Godot’s identity, a source of much speculation. I believe that the character’s name was inspired by the expression “Go Deó” meaning “forever” in Gaelic.
An aunt of mine relates the following story: On Halloween, while visiting my grandmother’s house, my aunt peered out from one of the windows that faced her little wrought-iron entrance gate. She saw my uncle open the gate latch and walk up the path to the front door. What’s eerie about this? Well, my uncle, a frequent visitor to my grandmother, died months earlier. To my aunt’s dismay, he disappeared before he reached the door.
There is a well-known figure in Irish folklore known as the banshee. This is a spirit whose wailing warns of impending deaths or allows a glimpse into the eternal world for those lying in repose.
At the time of my mother’s passing, a mysterious white veil appeared in her room, a mere wisp of vapor flowing through the air. As quickly as it appeared it vanished. Imagination, no doubt.
Do I believe in ghosts, spirits or banshees? No. But then again, bizarre events often cause me to wonder, especially on Halloween.