I’ve never been a fan of horror films; but I always admired my paternal grandmother because not only did she love Halloween and scary movies; but she taught my siblings and me how to deal with fears and tragedy with strength and courage. Because of her unique perspective of Halloween, we received life lessons; which I believe serve us still today.
In most Christian, North American families during the 1970’s Christmas and Easter were the most important celebrations; but in my home Halloween took a life of its own. These days we spend a lot of time decorating our homes; finding the proper costume; and stocking up on candies for the trick-or-treaters. Yet when I was young I spent every Halloween weekend with my grandparents who had endless stories about ghosts, aliens, demons and monsters; which could rip our souls apart. Even when it wasn’t Halloween my grandmother shared stories with us about entities; which could rise with the dead and make people’s existence a tragic experience.
It was only once I started studying First Nation traditional stories and hearing them first hand from elder storytellers that I discovered some of my own cultural background. My grandmother never talked about our family heritage and I never knew as I was growing up that my paternal grandparents were First Nation. Lets put it this way: My grandmother never said “what we were”; but she constantly shared skills, stories, and personal beliefs; which were handed down to her by her mother and grandmother. As far as she was concerned we were receiving exactly what we needed to know “who we were and where we came from.”
Throughout my life I often dreamt of an ancestral language, waking up with foreign words, and jotting them down. In time, with research and luck I was able to identify this language as Micmac, Wabanaki. In time, with the help of First Nation friends / family I was able to recognize that many of the characters in my dreams, the stories they shared, and the lessons they imparted were related to DNA. In other words, I didn’t need to be told “who or what I was” – it was all there, in ME!
It’s the first Halloween where I find myself missing the way of the past. Our World has changed so drastically that we no longer depend on our elders (grandparents) to get a glimpse of ourselves. We definitely explore our cultural backgrounds differently than when I was young. Ironically these days, it’s almost a “faux pas” to approach a child and ask them about their cultural background. More and more people believe that “we should be building a new World without cultural differences.”
We have never had more access to information than we do now. Yet what is unfortunate is that we solely depend on technology or search engines to find data. The facts and figures we collect are perceived through the “I”. Less and less people are willing to accept a perspective that is different than their own. We are no longer used to the voice of the teacher, or the elder, or the voice of “gods / goddesses” (a force beyond our own). It’s our opinion that counts and we can twist any story, or any information to fit what we expect or want. Our World is not about “truth” or even about “reality” – it is about “fantasy, illusion, and manipulation.” We see this through our use of media, games, and advertisement / consumerism.
Most students I meet today will ask me: “Can you recommend a book for me to read”. They don’t have the time nor do they want to give their time away to “listening to me and my story.” Knowledge in the 21st century needs to be written!
I found through my experience that Oral tradition provided me with a greater, deeper, and more thorough understanding of life, death and dreaming. It taught me that awareness is made of different perspectives:
· The perspective coming out of the experience.
· The perspective given by others.
· And my own perspective.
Modern men are definitely sedentary people but the fact that we can travel all over the World so easily these days has manifested in a new form the notion of “nomad”. Here, out east many retirees and elders spend their Summer at home in Montreal; but travel to Florida or Mexico for the Winter. These customs are no different than how the Iroquois or Wabanaki people used to live. They may have had a broader sense of the land and a stronger connection to nature but the nomad in them was no different than the nomad in each of us today. With or without the proper attire for the seasons – our bodies seem to tell us where they need to be or need to go to feel healthy and strong. We are not realizing that we are repeating ancestral practices because the shapes they are taking almost seem like originals: New human practices.
When I’m interviewed and asked about Indigenous Dreaming or what people like to refer to as Dream Walking – I’m often asked if “I learnt the skill and the tradition / teachings from my elders?”
Looking back at my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents along with their children it is clear to me that I’ve inherited my dreaming skills: Mostly because we all seem to have them. I’m continuing a long legacy of dreaming tradition and inherited skill because I intentionally chose to walk the path; learn everything possible about it; and focus on transmitting it to my children etc… For me learning from my elders and ancestors is a given; but ironically, it many cases these individuals didn’t even know they were transmitting a dreaming lesson to me.
I learnt as a child that Halloween referred to a point in time mid-way through Fall where the veil between the Worlds was thinner. During this time characters from different dream realities could be seen, sensed, or heard and in some cases even manifested into realities they didn’t belong in… My grandmother scared us to believe that during this time some of these entities could be dangerous even deadly. Most of the stories my grandmother shared with us gave us lessons about “what not to do” in certain circumstances and how important it always was to be attentive and alert to the smallest of details. Honestly I never liked Halloween because too much of what she spoke of was incredibly real to me.
All of us, my siblings and me were sensitive to the thinning of the veil and each of us every year experienced some kind of phenomenal story; which left us believing in the potential horrors of Halloween. Still, we continue to enjoy this time of year in our own little way. We celebrate the fact that we don’t have an ordinary “heritage” and that with or without a conscious awareness of the past and our ancestors, we are still connected and in communication.