Saints and Goblins

A full moon. A plunge intemperature. Transylvania County, North Carolina. Conditions were just right for Halloween....

I grew up in Hershey, Pennsylvania, a town built on candy, and I hold fond memories of Halloweens gone by - shuffling through damp, fallen leaves after dark with my sisters, sweating under masks we could barely see out of. Back home, we piled up a mound of goodies dumped out of big, brown bags onto the living room floor - trading Tootsie Rolls for Mary Janes and, of course, the ubiquitous Hershey miniature bars.

I have been conditioned to love chocolate holidays, Halloween and Easter chief among them. And Halloween in Transylvania County, North Carolina, is, well, something Count Dracula would be proud of.

There is the usual parade, the apple pie bake-off, and pumpkin carving on the square. Businesses on Main Street open their doors to costumed children and give out goodies (slightly dampened this year by rain).

After dark, the ghosts and goblins appear. A family on Maple Street created a cemetery in the front yard, and another used stereo speakers to broadcast eerie music and laughter. At the corner, a witch rocked back and forth in a rocking chair on her porch, her black cat by her side.

An older couple opened their home to all the grandparents on the block, who were particularly missing their grandchildren on this holiday designed for young ones. They spent days amassing candy and apples, and busily popping popcorn. Three-hundred-and-sixty-three trick-or-treaters knocked on their door during the evening.

Park Avenue was dubbed "Jurassic Park Avenue" for the season, when three huge Tyrannosaurus Rexes invaded a home there. Drivers and pedestrians happening by stopped dead in their tracks at the sight. Once word was out, people came from all over the mountains to see the dinosaurs crashing through the roof and peeking out of the bedroom.

For those who find Halloween a little too deadly, the Red Cross invited residents to "give the gift of life." Attendants at the special Halloween blood drive dressed as vampire bats - all except one, who wore a sign reading "Dracula's assistant." Donors received a pin with an image of a bat and the words, "I gave blood in Transylvania."

ON THE DRIVE HOME, I pondered this rather bizarre holiday humanity has concocted. Some find it offensive on theological grounds, and I've heard some pretty convincing arguments. On the other hand, evil has its say so often, it seems all right once a year to get out and laugh at it - perhaps as one way of disempowering and loosening its grip just a bit? (As long as we don't scare the children too much.)

Dark clouds were racing across the moon when I arrived home close to midnight. Leaving the din of Halloween behind, I walked out into the meadow, searching the shadows, steeped in quiet. From out of nowhere, it seemed, came a pounding of hooves. A feeling somewhere between fear and awe gripped me.

The three horses who pasture there galloped close and then circled around me, kicking their feet up and holding their heads high in the wind. Given the day, I half expected to see a "headless horseman" on one of their backs.

The youngest, a black mare, cautiously approached. When I reached out for her, she gently laid her head on my shoulder, her warm breath coming out in moist clouds around my ear. As I rubbed her, the others came close to nuzzle. I felt enfolded in a circle of safety.

Evil seems to roam as free as the wind through our world. But sometime while I was standing out in that pasture flooded with moonlight, the Earth turned us to All Saints' Day. I was reminded of that "cloud of witnesses" that surrounds us, urging us toward good - and the Spirit, that moves where it will. I ran into the wind with the horses, a few scattered snowflakes falling around us to herald a new season, and recalled the invitation from Hebrews to "run with perseverance the race that is set before us."

Once I was back inside, and sufficiently warmed by the woodstove, I pulled out an article that I often return to for inspiration. I read once again these words from Vincent Harding on "the company of the faithful": "No excuse for drooping - at least not for long. No excuse for not running - or at least walking strong....'Cause we are surrounded....So let's get down with some real long-distance walking and running - and maybe even some flying, like eagles, in due time. That's our tradition. That's our destiny. That's our hope. So go right on, brothers and sisters...walk in the light, run with the cloud, mount up on wings...."

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