Saturday, October 31, 2009


I saw Sting on some talk show talking about his new song "Soul Cakes." He explained that it was the origin of trick or treats. People in England would put out cakes for the dead. The dead, of course, would not eat them and the poor would come and ask if they could have them if they prayed for the spirits of the dead.

That may be one of the nearer origins of trick or treat and Halloween, but putting food and drink out for the dead is a very ancient tradition. There is the medieval tradition of All Hallows Eve, the night when the dead are released for a moment from their graves. The Ancient Greeks would put bread and beer out for the dead. Placating ghosts with food is one of the oldest traditions of human kind. It probably goes back to at least neolithic times when the bones of the dead were often kept under the floor of the house and disinterred when the family moved. I would not doubt that it dates back farther into the paleolithic, back to when humans became aware of themselves as human as mortal.

It is part of our core humanness to be haunted by our dead and by the fear of death itself and to try to placate them and it. Food is a fundamental of life, a necessity and a comfort. Providing the dead food is a way of reminding the dead of what it was to be alive. Food is communal. To partake is to be a part of the community. By inviting the dead in, we ward of their anger at their separation. We let them know they are not forgotten.

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