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On November 2nd in Estonia it is All Souls Day. In the United States Halloween marks the end of the harvest or summer period, and Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the traditional winter season.  If you have grown up in the United States as I had, most of my direct family was left behind in Estonia so I didn’t grow up  experiencing any of my grandparents, aunts, great uncle’s etc. dying.  All Souls Day didn’t have all that much meaning except for our older generation that had grown up amidst the horrors of revolutions, communism, Nazism and two World Wars. The idea of death for me was limited to accidents. The war became real to me when our neighbor, Aado Komandant, an American fighter pilot only a couple of years older than my brother  Kaido, was shot down in Vietnam.  His body was never recovered and the family has never really had closure. When I think of soul, I think of black music. Having lived in Estonia for some time now, I get a better appreciation for the importance of this day. Mall Hiiemäe has written extensively how…
”... before the Christian calendar reached Estonia the “season of visiting souls” began with the day they considered the end of the work year. This seems like a logical time for souls of the departed to pay a visit —  the hectic planting and reaping season has just ended, birds that migrate have by this time left, everything around us seems to have died, and it is the darkest period of the year – (obviously a call for a celebration of some sort).
During this time, unnecessary talking or working is strictly forbidden. If a person is foolish enough to ignore this taboo, lightning could strike and cause serious damage.  All work was not banned completely; forbidden activities included spinning, sewing, carding, and other work connected with wool. Ignoring this ban could adversely affect all your sheep. Working indoors is forbidden late at night because the souls arrive then. The exact nature of these and other similar bans, as well as the many quaint customs associated with visiting souls vary from one district to ano-ther. In some places to speak in riddles is believed to have a positive magical effect.
It is customary to receive visiting souls in the home and to set a proper table for them. The expected spirit guests would be addressed by name, invited to help themselves to the food, and toasted in turn, with appropriate spirits. Apologies would be made for the lack of better dishes and/or accommodations. When these spirit guests depart, they would be asked to continue to take care of the fields, livestock, and so on. If next year’s crop fails all the same, it is assumed the visitors had not properly been won over.
The sauna is usually heated for the visiting souls with proper washing implements laid out for their use. The sauna spirit visitor was given a separate piece of soap and a birch branch to “beat” or massage themselves. It is possible this custom of leaving food or objects for departed souls originated from the ancient tradition of making sacrifices to gods and spirits.
As Christian burial became ever more significant for Estonians, it was believed visiting souls would sometimes react to how they had been buried, as the following quote, dated 1894, indicates: “If some dead had been buried in shabby clothes, they were said to have cried while leaving, howling ‘I have a blue shirt on!’.”
Clothing, or garish costumes and disguises acquired prominence during All Souls day as minstrel-begging (like the American Halloween custom of “trick or treating”) became a popular form of merry-making at the end of the 19th century. This probably evolved from the practice of riddling.
Weather as well plays an important part during this “season of visiting souls”. If the weather is calm and foggy, all is well, because that is the norm for this time of year in Estonia. Whereas, a strong wind indicates at least some of the visiting souls are upset about something. After all, doesn’t the howling of the wind resemble the sounds made by complaining spirits? Also, this day can mark the commencement of winter. An old Estonian saying is: “The souls arrive in a carriage, but depart on a sleigh.” In some localities there is an old tradition to go and meet the souls of the departed at the local cemetery with a horse drawn vehicle, appropriate to the weather.
Many Estonians today honor deceased friends and relatives on this day by lighting candles on their graves and/or placing lighted candles on their window-sills. The season for visiting souls has even became part of our Estonian Singing Revolution history—  on October 15, 1988, about 20,000 people gathered in St. Mary’s Cemetery, in Estonia’s college-town of Tartu, to demonstrate their solidarity with their national traditions, their ancestors, and each other!
It is good to think about those who have left us. We can learn much from them. I am reminded of my  departed mother-in-law, Alli, a Setu woman married to a farmer in southern Estonia. She was a hard working woman, a good wife and a great mother to her children. I consider it a privilege to have known her.
She used to tell us this story. An arrogant bird flew too long and too high, -way beyond its abilities. The bird quickly tired and fell to earth. Luckily the earth was covered with snow which cushioned the bird’s fall, keeping the bird from being killed. However, the severe winter cold would have killed the stunned bird had it not been for a passing cow that serendipitously shat upon it. The heat from the excrement kept this bird alive until a barn cat, smelling the bird underneath the manure, dug the bird out and ate it. The morale of this little tale is, the one that shits on you is not always your enemy, and the one that digs you out, is not always your friend. 
Viido Polikarpus


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