The group of people walking grew steadily in size as the sky to the east began to turn from black to purple to dark blue. They soon gathered in a large field, almost two hundred of them. The women in the black hooded cloaks walked up a short rise in front of the people as another woman, this one in a purple cloak, appeared before them from the crowd below.
“Are you all happy?” the woman in purple asked them.
The crowd murmured to the affirmative. Nods and smiles were everywhere.
“Were your family and friends happy to see you?
Another murmur said yes.
“Then we have done our job tonight, ladies,” she said as she turned to the other cloaked women on the rise with her. “You have done well, my sisters.”
“Ma’am?” the man in the older-style dress green Army uniform asked. “What happened here tonight, if you don’t mind my asking?”
Another murmur asked the same question of the lady in purple.
She smiled at them and said, “For those who haven’t met me yet, I am Diana. Some call me Lady Diana. I am sort of in charge of what went on tonight.”
“We really enjoyed what happened but we don’t exactly understand it, Lady Diana,” an old man in a dark suit said.
“What did happen to us tonight, Lady Diana?” another voice asked.
“Our time here is short so I won’t give a long explanation, but what happened tonight is something that has happened, every year, for a very long time,” Diana explained as she looked out over the two hundred assembled before her.
“According to old Celtic tradition, and myth and legend, the night of Samhain, October 31st, what we now know as Halloween, is the time when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. You have been given the honor of passing through this veil tonight.”
A murmur of approval - and confusion - rippled through the crowd.
“In our beliefs, the God passes over at Samhain and he leaves the veil open for others to enter - and also to leave - the realm of the dead. The Goddess mourns his passing and the days grow shorter and colder until the God is reborn at Yule on December 21st. The dead can visit this realm we are now in during the time the veil is open and are free to visit those they left behind, but for this night only. The dead who have come to this side must be returned before daybreak.”
Many in the crowd nodded and listened closely to her.
“The job of the witch is to help you enter the realm of the living once again and to help you find your way to where you are going. It is also our job to make sure you return before the sun rises. You can say that is why Halloween is considered the witches’ holiday. It is our most sacred time. We have done our job tonight and soon you will be returned to where you belong.”
“We all know about spirits visiting on Halloween, Lady Diana. I always thought it was just a fun thing for the kids,” an old woman said.
“All the traditions of today’s Halloween come from our ancient cultures, a lot of influences but mostly from the Celts. As you can see, they aren’t myths at all,” Diana smiled.
“What about the demons, or the ones who manage to escape?” another woman asked.
“They aren’t demons, just mischievous spirits. Harmless mostly, just a pain in the neck. We try to stop them but a few always get past us. They don’t have anyone to visit but they knock on doors anyway. The people in the house know they aren’t supposed to be there so they bribe them with treats to keep them going on their way.”
“So that’s what trick-or-treating is all about!” someone laughed.
“You see,” Diana went on. “In ancient times a candle was displayed in the window to welcome friendly spirits and to shoo away mischievous ones, and the occasional unfriendly ones who manage to get out. The Irish took this custom and placed the candle in a hollowed-out turnip, the jack-o-lantern, and then in America the custom was modified to include the pumpkin, much easier to carve than a tough old turnip. If the candle doesn’t shoo away the unwelcome ones then a bribe of cakes or candy would keep them moving.”
“I always heard that witches were bad. I haven’t seen anything bad from you witches tonight. Has anyone else seen the witches here do any bad things?” a man in a tan suit asked of the crowd.
“No,” was the unanimous answer.
“A short history lesson and then we have to move on,” Diana smiled at several people before her. “In the old times the witch was the Wise One of the village. Mostly women but there were a few men; we were the teachers, the healers, the midwives, the pharmacists, the counselors, the crop experts. All over the world in every culture there was the witch, known by other names too, but the same Wise Ones everywhere. But when the missionaries and the soldiers came to spread the new religion we were seen as bad because we saw no need to change what had worked, and worked well, for thousands of years. They spread false rumors about us and soon we were seen as consorting with the devil and killing crops and spoiling milk and making babies sick and other terrible lies. They hunted us and tortured us and killed us. They published manuals on the proper methods of torture to make us confess to things we were falsely accused of. We call this terrible period of history The Burning Times. But they couldn’t get rid of us; the ones who survived went into hiding and we exist to this day. And we still don’t have anything to do with the devil. Sorry, wrong religion.”
Someone asked, “But doesn’t the Bible say that witches . . ?”
“Exodus 22:18,” Diana said seriously. “’Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’. Yes it does. But when King James translated the Bible it had originally said, ‘Thou shalt not suffer a poisoner to live’. He was terrified of witches, part of the hysteria of the day, and he changed the passage to mention ‘witch’. The King James Version of the Bible isn’t exactly the same Hebrew Bible he had translated and many people suffered for it. Who is a mortal man to change Holy Scripture?”
The silence from the people revealed they had understood.
“Now, my blessed ones, it is time for you to return. Please move toward your left and we will see that you make it safely back.”
The black-cloaked witches moved to their right to a place between two massive oak trees, the portal back to the realm from which the dead had come. The air between the trees shimmered as if heated. Six witches lined up at either side of the portal as the dead walked slowly into the shimmering air before them. Many stopped to touch the hand of a witch or to even place a quick kiss upon her cheek.
After a few minutes most of them had passed to the other side and looked back, each one smiling and content. A few stragglers talked briefly with the witches there and hugs and kisses were exchanged before they entered the open portal before them.
Diana had two people before her, a man and a woman, chatting briefly and then one more kiss before they passed through.
When everyone was on the other side, and still looking back, Diana raised her arms to the sky and shouted, “Blessed be those who are remembered! It is not goodbye, it is merely so long. May the Lord and the Lady keep watch over you. Blessed be!”
The shimmering air of the open veil began to spin, becoming a whirling mass of white energy until it slowly faded and disappeared. The veil had closed once more.
Diana sank slowly to her knees as she looked where the portal had been just a moment before.
A black-cloaked witch came up to her and put her hand on her shoulder. “Lady Diana, my blessed High Priestess, you have done well. Are you all right?”
Diana was crying softly, tears of happiness as she rose and hugged the woman. The others surrounded her, all smiling, reaching out to touch her purple cloak.
“Did you all get to see loved ones tonight?” she asked, sniffing back her tears.
They all nodded happily.
Just before she broke into sobs, Diana said, “I saw my mother and father tonight. I got to tell them things I wished I had long ago, before they passed over. We are truly blessed.”
The full moon loomed low and bright in the western sky between the two oak trees as Diana slowly turned to face it, kissed the fingers of her right hand, and held her hand high toward the silver orb in the sky as she whispered, “thank you”, in Irish Gaelic, “go raibh maith agat.”
The twelve other witches surrounded Diana in a circle, each facing the full moon, raising their open arms high as their hair began to blow softly, then whip about harder and harder until finally the long tresses of the thirteen women fell softly to their shoulders once again.
At the Mount Prospect Cemetery, Diana walked up the grassy hill to the graves of her parents. She carried a tray with some colorful flowers to plant, a small garden shovel, a hand-held grass clipper, and a small American flag. She clipped some shaggy grass around the headstone and dug some shallow holes and planted the small potted pansies her mother had always enjoyed.
She hummed quietly as she worked and was soon finished.
“I know you like the multicolored pansies, Mom, so I brought you some. They’ll bloom until the first frost. And Daddy, you need a new flag. We can’t have a veteran here without a flag, right?”
She pulled the bare stick from the American Legion flag holder and placed the new bright and colorful American flag into the holes of the marker. She then kissed her right hand and touched the top of the family headstone and smiled. Borrowing from Jewish tradition, Diana placed a small rock on the headstone to commemorate her visit. She took a small strip of wood from her tray and leaned it against the base of the stone. It was a small hand-painted sign she had made that simply said, “It’s nice to be remembered.”