This article is about the monsters which have taken centrestage during the Western celebration of Halloween.
It is universally acknowledged that the macabre turn that Halloween has taken is entirely due to the commercialisation of the festival. Mostly by Americans. I don’t think there is any other way to put it. When it crossed the Atlantic Ocean with the Irish, it was a festival which marked the end of summer. When it came back it was a festival which was filled with eyeball candy, plastic pumpkins and jump scares.
At some stage (the middle ages), Samhain was co-opted by by Christianity, and transformed into All Hallows Eve, with All Saints Day falling on the day after Halloween. It was then followed by All Souls Day. This is a straight up day of honouring and remembering the dead.
Remembering the dead is not unique to All Souls. This is carried out all over the world. The Day of the Dead with its pretty sugar skulls and many full length animated movies can attest to this. In Chinese culture you clean the tombs of your ancestors during Cheng Beng. In many immigrant Chinese countries the honour of the dead takes place over an entire month known as the Seventh Month (yes Halloween for an ENTIRE month.) This is followed by the Moon Cake Festival, which is the harvest festival.
In Ireland, this cross day was the marking of entering a darker time of the year and with that darkness, the thinning of veils, honouring of the dead… then somehow a practice which was meant to be in equal parts reverential and celebratory suddenly became an excuse for people to frighten the living daylights out of each other.
Shout out to the Monsters
It is true that in order to come to terms with death human beings can do many odd things. One of the most extreme is to invent the idea of the undead – those non or no longer humans. The laundry list of these creatures long – from the barely living like the Golem and Frankenstein’s Monster – to Nosferatu, the vampyre and zombies. Then there are the subhuman, like the werewolf and changelings, and those which deal with dodgy magical practises such as witches and warlocks, voodoo witch doctors, which inevitably will perform their animal or human sacrifices, Black Masses and Satanic rituals. It would also seem that each and every culture has their equivalent.
Asian ghosts in particular are quite gruesome. In fact there is such a panoply of ghosts in Asia which are completely and utterly believed that Asian horror takes creepy and suspense to a new level.
All of these do have quite serious origins – their stories each tragic and misunderstood or repressed. For instance witches were women who had been falsely accused of consorting with the devil. In an unprecedented act of genocide, thousands of women and men met with a grisly end. In St Andrews in Scotland in one particularly blood soaked year there was almost one death for every day!
Then you have your straight up ghosts. Ghosts are beings who have unfinished business. Whether it is the unfinished business of the ghost itself or that lives in the mind of the one who has been left behind, ghosts occupy the liminal spaces warning us of our limits, the border between life and death which we cannot cross and which they have. They have powers which have come into their own since they have abandoned their bodies. They are able to defy time and space, warn or lure, exact revenge, restore a balance. There are many types of ghosts of course, far too many to go into here, but what they do share in common is that they, once upon a time, were alive. So you could have ghosts of people as well as animals.
It is such a shame that in the modern age we have allowed our lack of reverence to almost cheapen the meanings of each of these powerful archetypes and the longings they point to. The debt we owe each of these creations and how we have twisted and bent them so out of shape that they are unrecognisable as the shadows of our own minds.
Instead they now appear as the most hideous projections which as their grotesqueness increases seems to diminish their power. It is as if making our fears literal we have diminished their effectiveness.
Perhaps the greatest fears we have are really not the monsters out there, but the monsters which we must live with – the unrecognised, unacknowledged ones. The ones which walk beside us daily, that can torture us from time to time without anyone knowing.
Do join us for a peaceful Samhain
Whatever it is, it is not where we are going with our Halloween celebrations at the Quarries. The celebrations will bring a little balance between the secular and the sacred – the unseen and seen. It hopes to restore, a little, the mystery and wonder of this time of year. We hope you will be able to join us.