By Kelly Mathews
I am a fan of thrills that go bump in the night — ones that give me goosebumps. During Halloween season, do you love Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin? Old TV shows pronouncing your super Gothic spooky quirky coolness like The Addams Family? Do you have favorite stories or movies you break out every Halloween? I do. I am also a fan of Halloween and shivery tales of eerie suspense and the supernatural all year round. I do however, save some of my favorite stories for this time of the year, when it is cool, and the leaves are in various stages of decay. My favorite Halloween stories evoke what seems a feat of magic, an atmosphere of brooding gloom or brisk eeriness and suspense.
When I see the dismay and worry some people have over Halloween being demonic or evil, I wish people would dig a little deeper. Halloween, like most of our holidays, is a complicated celebration and amalgamation of beliefs, culture, psychology and history. The way Halloween has developed into stories about the dark side are pretty much one of the oldest story-telling tricks, designed to scare people into not straying from the path of good. After all, most of the horror stories, while being of course, horrific, are depicting what happens if you aren’t Christian and faithful. If you look at classic, or even modern tales of horror, you’ll see that it’s quite often the case many of them are portraying. Modern day pagans and historians will tell you now that witches, or druids and Samhain were yes, practitioners of a different religion and faith then Christianity and so were portrayed as evil and convenient scapegoats for nasty stories to scare children with. It wasn’t that long ago witches were persecuted here in America. Then there are the politics of how witches are portrayed as summoning the devil and witchcraft not being OK in the Bible coupled with the horror of thousands of people being murdered or tortured for supposedly practicing witchcraft.
Complex stories of witches and werewolves, shape-shifters, demons, and the supernatural date back beyond medieval times. These mythological beings still resonate with us.
If people thought about it a little more, they might see Halloween as a way of a healthily expressing our fears and embracing them, psychologically. There is an opportunity to see the scary side of ourselves or what we fear and confront it, or even walk in the footsteps of who or what we fear by donning its face for a day. We try to teach our children this. It’s not a bad lesson for adults, either. Werewolves are a way for us to understand the animal parts of ourselves in a civilized society that may long to be wild. Vampires can be symbolic for people who seem to drain your life away and destroy things insidiously while retaining a beautiful appearance, and often, are materially wealthy. They flaunt their charm and lifestyle without bounds to those they seek to make one of their own. Witches can be scary to people afraid of the power and sacred divine aspects of women. Zombies are people who are dead inside and have no original ideas of their own and so have to live on the “brains” ergo, the creativity of others. Or people who are emotionally dead, or soulless. It’s not hard to understand why there is a zombie craze when there is a such a lack of creativity and theft of actual creativity by large corporations who sell people’s ideas for profit that aren’t able to do it themselves. The mad scientist is an ultimate horror of our modern age, unleashes the terrors of biological warfare that causes the zombies, or the atomic bomb, and the fallout from that, or the technology, including robots, which go wrong and murder our humanity. Of course, too, there’s the idea of us murdering our humanity — our ability to empathize with others when we leave the golden way or stop loving our neighbor like ourselves.
So many monsters and horrors we deal with seem worse on a day to day basis werewolves and vampires, ghosts and witches seem tame in comparison to the actual atrocities of serial killers, war, poverty, racism and sexual degradation. These very real too, can be confronted. For instance, when choosing our Halloween costumes, we really shouldn’t put on a costume which appropriates another culture, for instance, wearing a costume disrespectful to indigenous peoples if we are white by saying we are “Indian.” If we are a feminist and are of faith, or are just a feminist, we may want to find a cool costume of a strong and awesome woman from history or who inspired us that isn’t from Leg Avenue. Some women feel, who think of themselves as being of faith or modest, as Halloween being the one time of year when a person can be allowed to be outrageously, be over the top “sexy” that they might not wear any other times. It seems one of the important things Halloween does for adults is provide a ritual to free them a little by giving them permission to transgress their boundaries and broaden their perspectives, in ways that are more than just fun. Sometimes, Halloween seems like that Las Vegas slogan “What happens on Halloween stays on Halloween.” What does that say about our own lives?
I find it problematic, though, to glorify gore and mayhem and serial killers through Halloween or scary movies. I don’t think glorifying killing as a pastime is right.
On the other hand, I also find it problematic, to wash down of Halloween into a something boring and bland as a processed loaf of 99 cent bread, to make it “safe.” For kids, sure, I understand not wanting to give them nightmares, and only scare them so much as to be thrilled with a fun little ghost story. Halloween can be a great “safe” way for us to explore our imaginations. You can safely enjoy and celebrate Halloween without losing its spirit. The spirit in which you do or don’t celebrate Halloween is up to you, of course. But why lose such a rich source of something which has long fed the human imagination? It seems to me, we need our ghosts, to remind us of what we need to do, so they can find peace, and remind us to make our peace with this life.
And of course, celebrating Halloween as a way of remembering dead loved ones has its place too. I light candles for mine, in the smile and the flicker of a Jack O’ Lantern. I mix and match customs, ceremonies, possibilities. You can always dress up as a hero for Halloween, too. And that’s something to not forget. You can be whoever, or whatever you want. That’s what makes Halloween so appealing.
Also, if you’re going to celebrate this Halloween by providing treats to trick or treaters, you can choose healthy fun treats, or candy. One thing, though, as a Christian, is you shouldn’t turn away kids from your door because you think they’re not from a good neighborhood like yours. Miss Manners just wrote a brilliant piece on your duties as a candy host on Halloween, if you want other sources in etiquette and goodwill regarding that. There are lots of ways to get into the spirit of it all!
Whatever you decide this Halloween, have fun. There are lots of Halloween celebrations, as well as great fall festivals and harvest festivals at local churches and all over Spokane that are family friendly and don’t cost anything. Some places, like local comic books shops like Merlyn’s even have an all day Halloween celebrations that includes a costume contest where your picture goes on social media and you get prizes. For little super heroes like Wonder Woman, or Nick Fury, this is a great place to see some outrageously fabulous costumes. I take my kids there. One of the best costumes I ever saw there was Dalek from Dr. Who. There will also be a Halloween salsa celebration at the Big Dipper. Not to mention the fabulous Halloween Ball put on by Spokane Arts. Well, now, it’s time for me to let you get back to your festivities. This is Kelly Rae Mathews, writing for Spokane Faith and Values, saying, if a black cat rubs up against your leg in the dark, or if you hear a strange howling at the moon, that might be magical, shape-shifting me.
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