Remember, remember the 5th November

Gunpowder, treason and plot

I see no reason

Why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot

THE season of remembrance is upon us. Today is All Saints' day (or All Hallows' day to give it its ancient title – hence Hallowe'en –). Monday, Guy Fawkes night and November 11, 100 years to the day marks the end of the First World War, when we remember not only the sacrifice of the 10 million military personnel that died in the Great War, but also those who have died or been injured in armed conflicts since.

The Christian celebration All Saints' Day is rooted in ancient Celtic pagan celebrations, The celebration marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the darkest time of the year, the passing of which we now mark with the end of British Summer Time. As darkness enveloped the world, the veil between this world and the one inhabited by the spirits thinned. Gifts were offered to placate them; places were set for them at table; fires were lit so they could be warmed.

The echoes of those ancient customs linger today. Trick or treating, a modern derivation of an offering food to placate the spirits. And rather than fear ancient spirits, the church adopted the occasion as a time to remember all those who have died and bore witness to their faith

Events of the past cast a long shadow. The Red Cross was established in the aftermath of the bloody battle of Solferino; the British Legion and Lord Haig’s Poppy Appeal was a response to the earing losses of the First World War; and Help for Heroes and a national rekindling of Remembrance Sunday was the response of recent generations to the realities of the conflicts in the Gulf.

But more than that, retelling and remembering has potency for today. One of the reasons why remembrance of Guy Fawkes was encouraged was to stoke the fires of religious bigotry and hatred. As long as the fires were lit, a potential Catholic plot to unseat the monarchy might not be far away. The poppy wasn’t just a symbol for a lost generation, it was a vivid reminder of that the cost of conflict is largely borne, not by the politicians who create it, but through the lives of those who, as a result, do not return. And the remembering of those who have died, particularly those who have either inspired, influenced or been close to us, is a reminder that they have helped to shape (for good or ill) in our own lives.

The Celts had something. Reminding ourselves that the veil between those who have died and those who are still alive is sometimes quite thin and can be both salutary and inspiring. Early November, as the clocks change and darkness suddenly strikes us afresh, is such an appropriate time to be thinking on those things.