This one’s David doing his thing, brooding over words. In this case – it’s Halloween after all – the words ‘goodbye’ and ‘Halloween’. With some creepy history and a great moment in Eng Lit thrown in for some seasoning.
David creaking open some word doors. Getting into their darkest recesses.
“When we say goodbye on Halloween what we’re really saying is ‘God be
with you’. Tease the word goodbye apart and it comes into view, like a print
coming up in a darkroom: God be [with] ye. The ‘with’ is completely
elided, but for the rest – well, it’s all there.
And as for Halloween – well, again, if you trust your ear you can hear the
trumpets of the past. Hallow is short for Hallowed. And een is an elision of
So it’s the Evening of the Hallowed. The hallowed being the saints, the
saints honoured on All Saints Day – November 1st. And the rest of
the silent majority get in on the act on All Souls Day – November 2nd.
So we’re really talking a Festival of the Dead here. And why at this time of
the year? Well, souls schmouls and saints schmaints – because the cultural
roots of all of these goings-on go down a lot deeper. Down into a distant
Celtic past. That territory is pagan – and that means light, sun-worship. And
this time of the year – well, we’re all very aware of it – the light is high-
tailing it out of these northern climes. And with the onset of some serious
darkness, well, the Celts believed that at this time of the year the bourne
between this world and ‘the beyond’ got real thin. Thin enough for spirits –
for the ‘departed’ – to pass through.
So think of October 31st as a membrane. A membrane ‘they’ can come
through. Come through and get in amongst us. And they do.
You might well see one or more of them on the Halloween ghost walk. Or
hear them. Or sense them. It has been known to happen. And no, I’m not
making this up. We’ve got the video and the audio to prove it.
And now on another note, a related note…
“For some serious, how about this little set of reflections. It was in
the Middle Ages – in the West – that relations between the living
and the dead underwent a major change. The ancient world didn’t
like its corpses. It feared them, was repelled by them. That’s why
the Romans, for example, buried their dead outside their towns
and cities. Along the roads that led into the countryside.
The Middle Ages dansed to a different macabre: their dead were
integrated into the urban space.
Every town, every village was built around a church and a
And historians think that the cemetery might well have antedated
the church. So when we go into those churchyards on
Halloween night we’re, well, turning our back on the classical
world and ‘going mediaeval’. It’s Hello Wallace but Goodbye
Or if you’re of a literary bent how about goodbye Horace, hello
Horatio. Horace being the roman poet, Horatio being Hamlet’s best
friend. And particularly to the point here – Horatio’s there with the
two soldiers, the two sentries, there on the battlements of
Elsinore at the witching hour – and sure enough, he sees the ghost.
Actually if you’re going to be a purist about it Horace and Horatio
are the same name. Horace is Horatio anglicised.
But for our purposes – and I think we can safely say, for
Shakespeare’s purposes – Horatio couldn’t be better named. His
name means “hour” – man of time, keeper of the hours.
So who better to have on hand when that ghost, that rough beast,
its hour come round at last, slouches toward them on those dark
and wind-buffeted battlements. That hour come round, that thing
coming toward them, its chains clanking like a striking clock,
who better to have on hand, than the keeper of the hours.
God be with you. Goodbye.