Minneapolis: Samhain 1986

For the big public Samhain that year, we wanted to avoid the usual cliches: the skulls, the jack o' lanterns.

So we threw a Wild Hunt instead.

300 people crowded—probably in contravention of fire regulations—into a park building in South Minneapolis.

The drums come up. We're dancing.

Suddenly, the Deer is among us: tall, lean, naked in antlers and paint, he dances with a cervine grace.

The drums change. Enter the Hunters, men and women, pounding the butts of their spears on the ground.

The Hunt ensues. We become the trees of the forest: the Deer dodges among us. The Hunters pursue.

(With the eye of years, I see the potential danger here. I like to think that we saw it then, too. In fact, no one was injured.)

The Hunters surround the Deer. Then comes the moment of grace. Seeing that he can't escape, he gives himself to it.

The Deer crouches, then springs straight up into the air. The Hunters' spears track him as he rises and falls. As he lands, the spears thud home.

The Hunters kneel: first silent, heads bowed, then keening. People mourn with them. Real tears rain down. Everyone has some private grief; public mourning heals.

The Hunters hoist the Deer onto their shoulders. Exit Hunters, with Deer.

The drums thud mournfully. Having killed, we feed on the fruits of our Hunt.

The drums rise and we're dancing again, a dance of triumph. Suddenly the Deer is back, back from the dead, back among us, leaping and alive. Together, we dance out the oldest dance of all.

It was a good rite, worthy, a rite where joy and sorrow met and kissed. No circle cast, no quarters called, no charge read out: in fact, no words at all. You don't need words to tell a story.

As always, not everyone was satisfied.

“But what did it have to do with Halloween?” they wanted to know.