Many moons ago, around this time in October, my research collaborators and I were keeping a night’s watch in the lab; I mean pulling an all-nighter. We were peeking into some cells growing in a petri dish using a confocal microscope, and little did we know that the impermissible realm was waiting to stare back at us. The spirit of Halloween spooked us through these sacs of life!
Here’s how they looked back at us.
To the annoyance of my wife, my Facebook memory of this otherworldly microscopic image prompted an outbreak of random reading. In this reading session, I hit upon the pagan festival of Fontanalia, a celebration of fountains celebrated by Romans in October. On digging further, I learned that a Pagan view of October has a deep connection with the House of Stark in Game of Thrones, which links back to Halloween. To the best of my knowledge, these connections are not made explicit by George R. R. Martin, and if you have already connected the dots yourself, consider me a dim tube light.
Any number of GoT fan pages will tell you that Westeros is based on medieval Anglo-Saxon Britain, and the motto for House of Stark—one of the Great Houses of Westeros—is “Winter Is Coming.” The House of Stark is the only noble House whose family motto is a focal warning for the whole Ice and Fire narrative. Apart from the motto being a sign of vigilance for the Starks against a hard winter, it is also a long-forgotten reminder that the White Walkers will return in the winter and overturn the realm. So the Starks are looking to protect the realm’s order and keep the Night King away.
Let’s cut to October—a month sacred for the Roman goddess Astrea. She is a star-goddess with wings, a shining halo, and a flaming torch who lived among humans during the Golden Age. When the human realm began to degenerate, she withdrew to the upper world. Astrea’s departure in October signaled the end of the golden age of light as the chills of autumn alerted that the winter was drawing near. Interestingly, October’s Anglo-Saxon name is Winterfelleth, which means winter is coming, and Westeros is a version of medieval Anglo-Saxon Britain.
Like Fire and Ice, the Pagan October is tinted in celebrations of light and darkness. The month begins brightly with Fides, the goddess of faithfulness, followed by a festival of the Grecian Dionysus, the pagan god of wine and revelry. Barring a brief interlude to honor the departed ancestors on Mundus (the 5th of October), we have the celebrations of Victoria—the Roman goddess of triumph; Felicitas—the Roman goddess of luck; Fortuna Redux—the goddess of successful journeys; Fontinalia—the goddess of holy wells, springs, and fountains just before October turns towards the freezing gloom that is to follow. From the 14th of October, named Vinternatsblot, to the festival of Fyribod on the 28th, a marker for lousy weather, we have ceremonies that cogitate the motto that winter is coming. As winter draws near, we have the feast of Samhain Eve (pronounced: Sow-ain Eve) on the 31st of October.
The close of October (aka Winterfelleth) signals a “calendrical rite of passage” for a temporary reversal of powers. It is a seasonal turning point marking the day’s liminal status as an annual and a seasonal day of transition; April fool’s day is another example of a “calendrical rite of passage” for a temporary reversal of powers. During this disorienting time of Winterfelleth, the Pagans cross the sensory walls of their mundane realm to peek into the impermissible realm. For all of us, the feast of Samhain Eve on the 31st of October is the modern-day festival of Halloween—a time when we playfully welcome the otherwordly. For members of the House of Stark, who embody the month of Pagan October, this time marks the breakdown of the Night’s Watch, the collapse of the physical wall, and the Night King’s arrival.
Remember, tonight, all of us belong to the House of Stark with the duty to keep a Night’s Watch because winter is coming. The point of difference is we welcome the temporary reversal of powers to mildly disorient our sensory walls to have a peek into the impermissible realm.
Happy Halloween! 🎃