Halloween, Samhain and Ogoh Ogohs

It’s that shadowy time of year....Halloween, where moving through our normal day and night we see unusual characters....and the veil between the worlds is said to be the thinnest, like the edge of a leaf.

Since we have ghoulish things moving about this weekend I’m thinking of Balinese Ogoh Ogohs. They come to life in March, on the last night of the old year, before Nyepi, the New Year, begins. Samhain is today, the Gaelic New Year, and with Halloween her sister, they all speak of transformation.

                              Shaking Hands with an Ogoh Ogoh,  Photo by Jane Carleton

                             Shaking Hands with an Ogoh Ogoh,  Photo by Jane Carleton

Ogoh Ogohs are scary. Artists in Bali make huge elaborate bamboo, foam, and paper mache' statues of the scariest things imaginable, like witches and demons. They spend many weeks making them, for Pangrupukan, a ceremonial day leading into a parade and festival that lasts late into the night. Every village and city participates. It’s an amazing sight to see these intense heavy statues, lit up, sometimes with roaring sounds, moving through the streets carried by dozens of men, led by the heady rhythm of the gamelon, with beautiful Balinese women moving in procession. Smaller versions are carried by children, and everyone enjoys the spectacle. It’s great fun, and it serves a purpose.

                                            Ogoh Ogoh, Ubud, Bali, Photo by Jane Carleton

                                           Ogoh Ogoh, Ubud, Bali, Photo by Jane Carleton

The idea is to prepare for the New Year. The shadowy, negative, scary, dark aspects of people and evil spirits are embodied by these statues. All this noise is made to entertain and confuse the demons. It's a wild night and the energy is intense. And what happens is the shadowy bits are acknowledged, and in the process perhaps transformed. 

Those dark spirits are not very smart. They can't turn corners and are easily tricked. And they enter into these statues because they like all that commotion. At the end of the night's festivities, the statues, with the darkness, are burned, cleansing the island. 

And then...the next morning all is still and in silence. The island of Bali shuts down for a full day and night, even the airport. People are not allowed out on the streets and the village security police make sure everyone is complying. No electricity is to be used, no TVs or entertainment, no noise, no vehicles, and no travel or moving about. Voices are to be low, or ideally in silence. And because everyone is quiet and there's no movement, evil spirits think the whole island is deserted and they pass it by.  It is a sacred day for contemplation, meditation and prayer. 

Imagine if we did this here. First, highlighting and transforming the shadowy bits, and then how marvelous to spend a whole day contemplating the sacred nature of your life, to begin your initiation into winter, the time of gestation and going deep. 

                              Image from National Geographic: Mysteries of the Unseen World

                             Image from National Geographic: Mysteries of the Unseen World