Trick or Treat for Druids?

Many folk in the UK consider trick or treating to be an American import. As far as I can make out, it’s a Scottish export – a tradition called Guising, which went over to America, got itself reinvented and came back with a new hat on.

Trick or treating is a process in which children dress in costumes and go door to door on Halloween, begging for coins, candy and other such treats. Guising involved older folk, still included costumes and was either about frightening off malevolent spirits, or collecting offerings for the dead. In many ways the ‘trick or treat’ tradition encapsulates both. Guisers collected soul cakes – which is a kind of shortbread.

In the Christian calendar, Halloween is actually All Hallows Eve – the day before All Saints Day. There are a lot of superstitions around seeing the dead at this time of year, and it seems to be a day for faerie hordes rampaging about the countryside. The night gets a specific mention in that classic fairy tale – Tam Lin. Samhain of course features in the Celtic calendar and is honoured by lots of pagan folk.

So, how to come at trick or treating from a Druid perspective? I wouldn’t recommend going out as an adult Guiser, unless you have a community of people who will get it – in which case – that would be a wonderful thing to do. Making shortbread soul cakes is a great option, for personal use or door to door callers. It’s a time of year when people let their children out and folks go round to their neighbours. I think this is the point at which the Druid perspective kicks in. This is a community event. It’s a chance to say a few kind words to some small people and chuck something nice but not crippling to bodily health into their bag. Apples are good. There’s nothing to stop the people who stay home answering the door in costume either, so there are fun ways to play.

Redditch offered a costumed lantern walk as a safe alternative Halloween activity. It was well supported by local families. I was involved over a number of years, building a wicker man for that event, and sometimes providing music for the evening. I’m a big fan of having safe, child friendly, fun, worthwhile options for this, and anything else that comes along. Getting to walk round a lake in the dark, in a costume, with a lantern is quite an adventure, so it’s not like a ‘wrapped in cotton wool’ response to Halloween, but no elderly folks get alarmed by such activities.

I’ve taken no small amount of delight in asking trick or treaters if they are collecting gifts for the dead. I treat them as though they are guisers. I suspect some of them think I am insane, but I also suspect it adds to the fun. I gather my mother likes to dress as a witch and hand out goodies from a cauldron. It’s a chance to connect, interact, have some fun and uphold some good traditions. Lost souls can be welcomed with pumpkin lanterns… So even if the little ones on the doorstep don’t know the first thing about Samhain, we can welcome them, and treat what they do as part of that older tradition.

I’ve felt for a long time that paganism is intrinsic. We make up forms, but at its heart, paganism is a human reaction to life and nature. We don’t need books because it could be reinvented at any moment. We respond to the dark with lanterns. The winter is coming, it’s a time for ritualised begging. We think about the dead, and we respond. The elf on your doorstep, collecting sweets, is as much a part of that innate, intrinsic paganism, as anyone else. Which, I think, is rather cool and to be encouraged.

5 thoughts on “Trick or Treat for Druids?”

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  2. Having fun, as a community, is a special magic in itself. I can’t help but break out in a big grin listening to the ads on my local radio. They’re talking about Halloween parties, and stores promoting their Halloween fare, decor, costumes, trick-or-treat bags, etc… very common in the US, true, but I’m living in the Jordan at the moment! 🙂

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  3. Years and years ago, I was in this MSN group which had about ten thousand members. They asked what we were doing for Halloween, and I jump in bragging about how this is a HUGE day for us, as its all about the kids, trick or treating etc. I mean, seriously, Halloween is my favorite holiday even as an adult. Its the one time of year that KIDS get to dress us with other kids, and well, its just fun.
    But boy did those Witches skitz out on me. “You must be American.” They hounded me. “Americans never take anything seriously. Pagan Americans are a big joke.”

    That really pissed me off. But hey, I am still having a great time on Halloween.

    On another note, I was watching THE VIEW the other day as they debated as to whether or not they should let their kids trick or treat or partake in Halloween. Their kids wanted to—or a few of them–but since they are Christian, they didn’t know if they should let them partake in this devil worshiping holiday…after all, Halloween in their eyes, is about evil and a superstition that Christians have nothing to do with.

    That pissed me off too. No matter WHAT started Halloween–no matter what Adults seem to think about it—its still about the kids. (And grown ups like me who love dressing up to lol). I just get so pissed off when people use religion to take the fun away from youth.

    Halloween is one night a year when children can really be werewolves, or fairies, or witches, or elves, or characters of a book or movie, or anything that triggers their imagination.
    For me, I can’t explain it. Its something even more deep…more mystical. And while I don’t go to any grand extent to do rituals or anything of the like, I am haunted and mystified by walking underneath the moon, in the dark, close to a thinning veil while my kids go door to door and get excited with each door because that’s a new treat in their bag.
    My oldes, is to old to trick or treat but he still dresses up and as he says, Halloween is the most beautiful night of the year. Just something about it. *sighs*

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  4. Ha! I feel vindicated for defending all Hallow’s eve to my coworkers now. They were banging on and on about it being an American import and I said it went back centuries as a time to make a noise, light bright lights and generally have a good time to scare off the nasties.

    Will now google Guising and send the link to my doubting friends. Result!

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  5. When I still (a) lived in the city and (b) could stand for a long time, I’d wait for the trick-or-treaters in my front yard dressed as black-cowled and skull-headed Death, utterly motionless.

    (The kids’ usual routine: suspicion, “Is he real or a statue?”, start to come down the walk, my slightest move caused scream + levitate + fly back to laughing mother, start over from scratch.)

    But the main thing was, at the time there’d been scares about tampered food, poison or razors in candies or fruit. Parents were having to go through their children’s trick-or-treat bags and throw away any suspicious items. You can imagine how they’d have felt about any food item at all given by Death. So I didn’t give food items as such. The local chain fast food restaurants sold small gift certificates — and those were what I gave away, to the kids brave enough to face Death.

    Some of the parents actually took their kids to redeem the certificates during their walkabout, and on their way back (safely across the street), called over, “Thank you!” There, at least, they’d had no worries about food safety.

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