October 30, 2023


Every morning the fingers of light become a little more shy and greyer for longer and, it takes me a little more time to persuade myself I should launch myself out for a walk or a cold swim. Geordie, on the other hand is always somewhat more of an early morning bird than I am.

The clocks in the UK have also just gone back, marking the end of summertime and despite all our well-lit homes and high tec living, our own bodies still react, as they have for millennia, to the decreasing light in this northern part of the world . It slows us down, almost eliciting a feeling of hibernation. Lower levels of energy, a desire for comfort foods, log fires, thick ribbed socks and oversize sweaters occupy our autumnal thoughts.

For all the positive feelings and warming colours, it is nevertheless a time we can feel a bit low – sad. Light is important for many reasons, for example the health benefits of vitamin D and for our circadian rhythms. The daylight is mediated by the retina in our eyes and a series of molecular loops carries the information to the pineal gland which, with the hypothalamus in our brains, hosts our own internal clock.

Numerous scientific papers remind us of recognising the health giving benefits of listening to our body, of when we naturally should be awake or turn to sleep. Typically many of us have managed to disrupt our waking or sleep rhythms by our fascination with screens and artificial lights.

However we can help ourselves by getting out into the fresh air as much as possible each day as the spectrum of daylight, which is light from the sun filtered by the atmosphere is relatively broadband whilst artificial light has negligible benefits. A cold wintery walk stirs our bodies and souls. It is also better to read books – those written on paper – before turning the bedside light off to sleep.

Traditionally, as the evenings become longer and darker, thoughts and stories turn to those of spectres and ghosts. Tomorrow is Halloween: October 31 and many of us fear the dark, the “unknown-ness”, the hours when we cannot make out what exactly what is going on, or identify all the sounds of the night. There could of course be many dangerous animals or beings lurking in the darkness.

Halloween is the night when the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became smudged. Celtic traditions called the day Samhain, a day to ward off ghosts, to light bonfires when the priests would also try to predict the future.

Samhain is an Anglo-Saxon word which means to assemble or to congregate which in many ways segues into the present community celebrations which focus on eating especially pumpkins and “trick or treating”. Many children are looking forward to dressing up in bright orange costumes to go round asking for sweets which tend to be preferred to carrying out pranks!

Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honour all saints, “All-hallowmas” (from Middle English “all hallow messe”)meaning All Saints’ Day which incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain and made it Christian. The processions often carried on to the next day, those taking part dressed in white the symbolic colour for victory and life out of the darkness.

Of course walking through the Egyptian exhibition at Highclere you can see the replica tomb paintings of Tutankhamun, dressed in white as he moves through the hours of the night to the next world and the world eternal.