Halloween not Samhain- The case for Masquerading

Guest written by – Th’Plonk, who stuffed it into my email box this morning.

Halloween is not Samhain. Samhain is a very self-aware, very pagan holiday to observe the thin boundary between the dead and the living. It may be the origin of Halloween, but I can only think of perhaps one person I know who celebrates it. And she’s my Nemesis and therefore doesn’t count. Halloween bears as much resemblance to Samhain as Santa Claus Season bears to Christmas. Halloween as celebrated by the masses is not self aware, and is less of a holiday than a carnival of shadows and mortality.

It’s that carnival where people dress up as the things they fear. Most of these fears are buried under day-to-day living, and people would not admit to them in the daylight, but they bring them out one night a year when they dress up…

…as Werewolves. We struggle on a daily basis – both Christians and pagans – with anger, lust, greed, and a hundred other animal urges. Sometimes it feels that intellect and conscience have less control over what we do than the phases of the moon. What if one day, the urges took control of us? The werewolf story is scary because it’s attractive – giving in to the animal nature of temptation seems, well, natural. Except for the part where you maul your friends, family, and yourself with your destructive actions.

…as Zombies. There are almost eight hundred thousand bodies in this city, but one knows only a few of them. Many people feel alone in a sea of blank faces. The pressures of work and culture force us to conform. And throughout the mass culture is the unmistakable smell of decay. The zombie story is about you and the few people who you actually know hanging on to your identity in the shambling, shuffling, unthinking, unfeeling horde. What if you can’t hold on? What if someone you love for their uniqueness becomes infected? What if you give in? What if the city eats you? It’s scary.

…as Vampires. A lot of people feel lonely and dead inside, with a terrible hunger to be loved. If you could just stop caring about anyone else, you could simply suck the life out of people. You’d have power over them, and no one would hurt you. But wouldn’t be real love, and you’d still be hungry for love and appreciation all the time. In addition, your victims who you exploit would find themselves lonely and dead inside, unable to open themselves up to a trusting relationship, exploiting their friends and lovers in return. I’ve noticed that stories about vampires are only ever becoming more and more popular these days, and I think it’s because with the collapse of the family vampiric “love” is endemic. It’s a worrying thought.

…as Demons and Witches, as Freaks, Cripples, and Weirds, as Ghosts and Skeletons. As Criminals and as Cops. And because Halloween is unregulated and unexamined, some people end up a morbid admiration and obsession for their fears. The Goth subculture basically tries to have Halloween year round because it feels more real to them. [And because they’re a bunch of silly angst-ridden middle class teenagers who imagine no-one understands them.] And there is Samhain and the occult and of course there are all those people who love to use the masks of a carnival as an excuse for drugs, sex, and debauchery. I’m sure the devil has a field day.

But the core of a carnival is facing your fear, bringing it out into the open, dressing it up, and taking it over the top, making it ridiculous. I think that’s what most people are doing on Halloween, if they would stop to think about it. It’s a search for catharsis. At Halloween, perhaps if only on a subconscious level, some people who ordinarily admit no weakness dress up as the scared, vulnerable, mortal men and women they know they are. And if the Christians are all abstaining from Halloween, well, there will be someone else there to talk with about it.

If I were serious about Halloween, I might dress up as an AntiVampire. I’d put on a tunic and a crown of thorns and I’d go around with a loaf of bread and some wine and offer people my own blood to drink and flesh to eat and tell them that the new life it gives them will enable them to pick up their cross and die to the world in order to truly live, which in its own awe inspiring way is scarier than all the freaks and monsters combined. But it’s a bit too serious and a bit too sacred, and I think one or two people might take it the wrong way.

So I’m going to go as a Mad Scientist, that archetype of technological fear, who searches for truth but finds madness, and I’m going to laugh a crazy laugh and break the world trying to fix it. And I’m going to be friendly and I’m going to have fun, because that’s the other thing carnivals are for. And if you pray for me, I might be a witness too, in the carnival of fears and shadows where Jesus wants to meet his lost children.

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1 Comment »

  1. A. Lurkar said

    The distinction between a holiday “Holy Day”, a festival “Feast Time”* and a carnival “Flesh Time”* is a useful one. Commercial interests want to turn every holiday into a festival. The Evil One is only interested in carnivals.
    * I am aware these are folk etymologies. I’m a just plain folk.

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