These days, little Rosie, the spaniel, bumbles along on walks. Long brown ears swinging, and highlighted fringe bopping up and down, she sort of follows us, lost to our voices and safe in her own world as she is now almost totally deaf.
Yesterday, on a walk, I was standing by a gate trying to attract her attention, waving my arms to get her to come towards me. It was not working so Geordie kindly jogged towards her whereupon she picked up speed and led him a merry dance entirely the wrong way. It was very funny. Fifteen years old, Rosie is stiffer and everything works less well and we can see she is getter older. I don’t think, however, she knows or worries about the fact that she will die. Her thought processes remain “of the moment” from the little delighted prance she gives when food is about to arrive to the way she makes clear that she is in two minds about my dog grooming techniques.
W B Yeats compared this difference between man and animal in a short poem beginning:
“Nor dread nor hope attend
A dying animal;
A man awaits his end
Dreading and hoping all;
Many times he died,
Many times rose again …”
She also retains her excellent sense of smell as do her children and granddaughter, Evie, as, of course, do the Labradors. Alfie the fox red Labrador seems to be able to find a corner of a sandwich at the bottom of a skip 100 yards away. He is also a good guard dog and always looks after me as did his grandfather Percy.
Percy had another ability in that he also shared my spiritual adventures with at least one ghost here at the Castle. His daughter Bella was likewise fey and I relied on them for early warnings of when better to vacate a corridor.
Of course, we have just passed the time of the year when traditionally the worlds of the quick and the dead merge and superstition suggests it is easy to pass from one to another. As a race, we spend much time defining and naming what we see around us and our imagination and mind leads us to fear and worry about the less tangible things like death. In order to get around death, we believe in other worlds, resurrection or put it off through good living or drugs. Whilst we seem to look forward to another world, it is also one that scares us and merges with dark winter nights, unexplained sounds, witches, pumpkins, vampires and a time to remember the dead – All Hallows’ Eve.
An entire genre of plays, poetry, novels and films has developed from this. There are at least twelve Halloween films, demonic ones, ghost and trick or treat ones and, to my relief, some fun ones like Ghostbuster.
Through history, the traditions of All Hallows’ Eve have been either quite serious and stoic or a combination of prayer and merriment. From there it became an opportunity for begging at a door in return for “soul cake” and prayers for the departed. It has always been deemed important to pray and not forget our predecessors: the more prayers you bought, the more likely you would be to stay in heaven.
Queen Elizabeth I of England banned all spiritual or social observance on all Hallows Day which was not entirely popular and, of course, it came back later. Likewise, some 350 years ago, Oliver Cromwell legislated Christmas out of the calendar which we may also be looking at today, although it was so unpopular it led to rioting. Luckily Rosie the spaniel does not worry about either Halloween or Christmas Day but nor does she have a vote.
Personally, I think I prefer the older version of All Hallow’s Eve. A celebration much like our Halloween, with bonfires and feasting on apples and nuts and harvest fruits, it was part of pagan worship for centuries.
Will we ever stop being afraid of nights and death?
When you reach the stars, boy, yes, and live there forever, all the fears will go, and Death himself will die.”