To the Autumn People:
`Tis All Hallow’s Eve. The skies are grey and a chill wind blows.
I’ve come across a few Halloween treats to offer today and so I thought I’d combine them all into one post. Enjoy!
SKELETON FOUND IN OVERTURNED TREE
Hurricane Sandy blew an ancient oak tree over and workers found a skeleton intertwined within its roots.
In 1992, the BBC had over 30,000 phone calls thanks to an ultra-realistic fake news broadcast about a haunted house. Before BLAIR WITCH or PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, GHOST WATCH pioneered the faux-documentary horror movie. To add to its realism, it utilized actual BBC news anchors. If you’re looking for a nice creepy movie tonight, you’d do much worse…
The Horror Writers Association has been running a series of articles all month long on all things Halloween. Head on over and read Lisa Morton’s piece on the true history of Halloween, my own piece on the ghost stories of M.R. James, or one of dozens of other short yet brilliant articles.
“Jack Lichtner is the genius behind Hell Manor, America’s most successful Halloween haunted house. Mazes, scare zones, live actors, special effects, crazy gore…Hell Manor’s got it all. But Jack gets in over his head when he hires Maeve, a mysterious woman with a penchant for bloody magic and murderous kin who want her back. This Halloween, Jack must use all his powers of illusion to fight off the real magic of the ancient tricksters who have invaded Hell Manor.”
Lisa Morton is a multiple Bram Stoker Award winner and one of the world’s leading Halloween experts. Her last book for Bad Moon Books, MONSTERS OF L.A., earned her a seventh Bram Stoker Award nomination, and the American Library Association’s READERS ADVISORY GUIDE TO HORROR recently named her one of the top five female horror writers. She lives in North Hollywood, California, and can be found online at http://www.lisamorton.com.
COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS OF HORROR
Do you fall victim to one of the common misconceptions the public has about the horror genre?
Google’s home page is a fun little haunted house. Try clicking on everything…
Our friends at Cracked.com have compiled a list of the creepiest places in the world. Mass suicides, churches made of bone, and entire abandoned cities. And you thought Aunt Irma’s house was creepy.
I recently got together with friends and fellow authors Lisa Morton, John Palisano, and Jodi Lester to discuss what frightens us, the horror genre, the writing biz, and all sorts of other interesting goodies. Here’s Part 1 of the discussion:
Q: What do you feel is the biggest misconception the public has in regards to the horror genre?
Lisa Morton is a multiple award winning author and renowned Halloween expert. She’s worked on dozens of films, has more short stories out than I could shake the proverbial stick at, and has recently released two books, TRICK OR TREAT? A HISTORY OF HALLOWEEN and the Halloween themed novella HELL MANOR. Check out Lisa’s site at www. lisamorton.com. You can also read an interview I did with Lisa earlier in the year here.
Lisa Morton: That horror and gore are synonymous. I always think about a conversation I had once while in line at a bank; I had on a t-shirt that featured an enigmatic graphic of a book cover, and the chatty lady in front of me asked me what the art meant. I told her it was a horror book cover, and she asked, “Is it your book cover?” I told her it wasn’t, although I did admit to writing horror. “So you like all that blood and guts?” she asked. I assured her I didn’t, and told her I was more interested in psychology. “But,” she said, sputtering in confusion, “that’s not horror.”
I think that horror=blood equation has come about largely as a result of horror cinema, starting with the slashers in the ’80s and extending through to the torture porn of the 21st century, but horror fiction has certainly fed into it as well, with the “extreme fiction” sub-genre. It’s unfortunate that non-horror lovers miss a lot of the best work in the genre because they just automatically assume it’s going to be all blood and guts. Someday I hope to have a conversation with another customer in another line where, when they find out I write horror, they ask simply, “Oh, so you like to scare people?” Because then I will nod and smile and say, “Yes, I do.”
John Palisano is prolific up and comer, the kind of writer than the old guard are both happy to have amongst their ranks and secretly afraid of. His novel NERVES is currently available. Read more about him here.
John Palisano: To me, the biggest misconception in horror has to do with sexuality. In particular, the way women are objectified. Last night I attended a horror film festival in Hollywood. Lots of good stuff, but…
In an otherwise amazing film, the lead actress falls dead on a trail. And it’s a cleavage shot. Lots of traveling shots behind the group, with this girl’s ass prominently bouncing for several seconds.
In another film, a man’s voluptuous wife is on their bed, wearing revealing lingere. He places a memory device on her head, and of course, the very first thing she’s interested in is reliving an orgasm he gave her. Like that’s true. The entire time the husband wears his suit jacket and a button up white shirt. Go figure. I’ve got no idea what they were talking about because her massive breasts took up 2/3rds of the screen and could not be avoided.
In another film, I laughed out loud as a woman, supposedly an ass kicker, comes around the corner. Guess what beats her around the corner? Her grey, missile shaped breasts. It was ridiculously telling.
Almost every filmmaker was a white guy, mid 30s-40s. So? Are these guys so repressed that all they can think about are boobs and butts? Or is it something worse. For so long, I’ve heard one needs T&A in horror films to ‘sell’ them to the audience. I find that patronizing, and immediately recognize it when it’s happening. Don’t like it. Pisses me off.
On the flip side, the films by the women I saw had almost no hint of sexuality at all. They either concerned little girls in white dresses confronting monsters with their personalities alone, or, well, that was the extent of it.
So where’s the balance?
Personally, a goal of mine is to accurately rep sex in my stories. Of course, I’m a guy, and that’s not always easy. Heck: I’m not a prude, and I love women and sexuality. However, when it’s pandering to me, and thrown in just because some wanna be filmmaker read online that’s what ‘horror fans’ want, then I get bored or I get pissed. If you’re being insincere, I’m done.
So, in the end, I just want to say there’s a ton of horror fans and horror artists who do not agree with this dull, uncreative thought of sticking cameras two inches from girl’s butts, or writing about it. It’s not scary: it’s distracting and annoying, unless it genuinely has to do with the story.
And let’s not talk about the two clowns who began texting during the second film. “Put those away,” I said. “Now.”
“Sorry, sir,” one of them said. “I was just checking the time.”
Time for horror to step up and speak out. Let’s evolve past this nonsense and frighten people. Leave the nudie shit to the blue industry. They do it better, anyway.
Jodi Renée Lester is a writer, editor, and transcriptionist. Her short story “Casting Lots” will be appearing soon in the anthology Songs of the Satyrs and “The Guixi Sisters” can be found in Midnight Walk: 14 Tales of Terror and Suspense. She is currently working on a novel as well as several editing projects, and is a member of the Horror Writers Association. She grew up in Southern California and now lives in South Carolina with her husband Mike. Check out her tale in the magnificent anthology MIDNIGHT WALK or visit her on Goodreads.
Jodi Lester: That it’s superficial, that there’s no art to it. I think what immediately comes to mind when most people think of horror are monsters, gore, and nowadays torture porn. Certainly that stuff exists and obviously there’s a market for it or it wouldn’t dominate the genre as it so often does. In movies, I enjoy a lot of that when done well—heck, even when it’s cheesy—but to me, that’s usually more fun than scary. Scary to me is exploring the unknown and the unexpected. What can’t always be explained or seen with the human eye—whether it’s natural, supernatural, or psychological—is fascinating, and that’s what I find horrifying. It truly is an art form to tap into a person’s psyche, the dark places we are afraid to look and are so rarely confronted with, and really get under one’s skin. The kind of horror that creeps up on you.
Off the top of my head, just about anything by Ramsey Campbell, and though not really genre authors, Joyce Carol Oates and Patrick McGrath, will definitely haunt you. But a great example of where art can be found in horror is in the work of a lesser known author, Stephen Gregory, who is masterful in his ability to take readers down these very dark paths. It is not usually the destination where Gregory delivers the most horrific moment; rather it is an increasingly dark and grotesque walk we take with the protagonist, often an excruciating one as we witness his decisions we know will not turn out well, trying urgently to send him telepathic messages, “Don’t do it. No, just don’t. Please don’t.” The trepidation is palpable, as we know the character will ignore us, and that is probably the only thing obvious about Gregory’s work. There are often several of these crucial moments, yet it is where these choices lead us that are unexpected and grotesque, often involving the protagonist and his interactions with nature in ways that I find not only original, but fascinating as well. The ability to make me feel so viscerally engaged in a story is rare, but to me, this is where the art in horror comes from.
Horror is not just about creating the most unique way of killing, the ultimate shock, or the goriest slaughter. There is a place for that in the genre because that’s what a lot of people like—the easy scare or gross-out. But it’s an art to plant a seed of horror, and let it take root and grow in the minds and hearts of readers. It is this type of unyielding horror that truly frightens me as a reader and I believe that’s where the true gems lie.
You can learn more about me in the About section of this site, find my work in the Bibliography section, or check out my new novel DARLING here.
Brad C. Hodson: The fact that the entire genre is a slave (as far as the public’s perception goes) to the dictates of the film industry is a huge shame. I love a good, cheesy gorefest as much as the next guy, just the same as I love the occasional Van Damme movie. But, when it comes to literature, graphic novels, and other mediums, this represents such a small portion of the genre. I talk to people all the time who love Chuck Palahniuk, or books like “The Lovely Bones,” or even films like “Silence of the Lambs” or Kubrick’s adaptation of “The Shining,” never realizing that these are all horror. They don’t understand how they can be horror without some creature torturing nubile women in gory fashion in a dank, sepia tinged basement somewhere.
John mentioned the overt sexuality in a lot of horror as another misconception. Sex can be (and often is) so deeply intertwined with what scares or disturbs us, largely because of its primal nature and its ability to stir taboos. Sex is instinctual and can be dark and frightening and seductive all at once. So can fear. The two are very close to one another on the emotional spectrum and it’s natural, methinks, that they overlap some. Much of Clive Barker’s work is very sexual, for instance. If the sex were removed, would the work be as powerful?
However, the objectification and misogyny in the genre are all too rampant.
I struggled with this in DARLING. At its core, DARLING is about vice and sin and how our base impulses can fester and destroy us in horrifying ways. To leave out sex, one of the most powerful urges, wouldn’t have driven the message home as well. Given the nature of the book, it led to some places that weren’t very comfortable. When I came back to rewrite it, I had to re-examine what I was going for in those scenes. There were plenty of passages that I felt were gratuitous without adding to the work, and others that I wanted to handle better.
Rape, for instance, is a common symptom of the misogyny in horror. I tried to twist that a bit and have an attempted rape against a female character who shows strength and fights back. She gets pulled out of the situation by her boyfriend, not because she’s weak, but because she needed to turn and save him as well as they’re relationship is the only thing that gets them out of the building alive. I tried to show some of the actual psychological impact such an event would have on her while simultaneously trying not to play the scene for titillation. Those are my two big gripes about rape in fiction: the psychological impact is rarely realistic and the scenes are often written as borderline-erotic fantasies.
But that’s an extreme example, due again to the themes the book deals with. There’s so much horror that is bereft of gore, overt sexuality, or much of what the public considers important to horror. Take Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House,” for instance. That novel always crops up on lists of the best books of the twentieth century and for good reason: it’s a brilliant look into one woman’s fragile psyche. It’s also frightening as hell.
Then there are the “classic” authors that most people who turn their nose up at the genre are shocked to learn not only loved horror but actually wrote it. Henry James, Edith Wharton, Charles Dickens, Toni Morrison, Truman Capote, Victor Hugo, Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Shakespeare, Byron, Shelley, Coleridge… the list goes on and on.
It’s only been since around the mid-twentieth century that the genre became very distinct and that “serious” writers were heaped with scorn for daring to tell a ghost story. This is, of course, thanks to cheap B schlock cinema. Why no one watches a piece of trash like “The Life of David Gale” and thinks that all contemporary literature is shit is beyond me, but they’ll watch “SAW 18” and then piss on the grave of Edgar Allen Poe as the credits roll. It’s elitism, sure, but it’s a special kind of elitism born from ignorance. To me, breaking this misconception is something that needs to happen, not simply for the enjoyment of readers, but for the health of the genre. While we all write savage fiction from time to time, the misconception that all horror is “extreme” narrows the genre and weakens the opportunities those working within it have to make a living.
I think it was Harlan Ellison who once said that horror is a genre that allows readers to “explore a subject that they can only explore in dreams and through fiction.” The usual visceral reasons for experiencing fear aside, this is why I was drawn to horror. Due to personal tragedies, I’ve been pondering why people die, what happens to them after they’re gone, and what effect it has on those they’ve left behind since I was a child. While I write in almost every conceivable genre, I have found no other genre that allows me to explore those questions as well as horror.
Stay tuned for Part 2…
Every Halloween, the Horror Writers Association runs their “Halloween Haunts” series. Every day, there are a couple of new articles from writers in the field. Head on over and check out my piece on the ghost stories of M.R. James titled “Peculiar Genius.”
While there, stick around and check out articles by folk like Lisa Morton, Benjamin Kane Ethridge, and interviews with other folk like John Skipp.
“That country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain.”
-Ray Bradbury, THE OCTOBER COUNTRY
For so many of us, October is the greatest time of the year. As Bradbury points out, it is a magical time, a time filled with childhood wonder and a sense of mystery. It is a time for the Autumn People.
Who are the Autumn People? As Bradbury again says:
“For these beings, fall is ever the normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond. Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Does blood stir their veins? No: the night wind. What ticks in their head? The worm. What speaks from their mouth? The toad. What sees from their eye? The snake. What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth….Such are the autumn people.”
This is frightening imagery…
But for some of us, there’s an allure there, a seduction, a gentle hand that takes our own and guides us into the shadows, into the grey places where the light is often afraid to venture. For, you see, we ARE the Autumn People.
And we’re all around you.
Some are obvious. Some dress in black and fill their faces with piercings. Some listen to Bahaus or Cannibal Corpse. But they’re only a small part of who we are.
The Autumn People are everywhere.
We’re in offices. We’re on the subway. We’re serving potato salad at church picnics. We’re your brothers and fathers and daughters and aunts. We may wear suits and ties. We may listen to classic rock. We may drive a Prius and spend a good chunk of time at the gym. You’d never know us by looking at us.
And that is part of the magic.
For us, there is no time greater than those short days and ever-lengthening nights leading up to Halloween. There is a comfort and a solace in those aforementioned grey places and, when the eyes of the world are not on us, we slip away to our native home, to our October Country, and revel in the wonders hidden inside the shadows.
Chances are that, if you’re reading this, you may be an Autumn Person too.
Shhhh, it’s okay. It doesn’t make you lesser, though it does mark you as different. But don’t shy away from it. Don’t apologize and pretend that it’s a guilty pleasure. Revel in it. Wear it as a second skin. Howl it to the black sky at night and bask in the glow of the moonlight. This is your month. It’s OUR month.
We are the Autumn People. And, every October, we march.
There are amazing and wondrous books and movies that we seek out every Halloween season, we Autumn People, to help us find the pinpricks in the sunlit world that let us slip back into our own. There are the obvious ones, the big names, the folk that benefit from marketing and PR machines.
But I would like to take a moment to introduce you to some of the hidden, the Autumn People that brush by you at the book store and stand in line behind you at the coffee shop. Their work is just as wondrous (and often more so) than the names you know. Every one of the works listed below is breath taking and will fill your home with shadows and Jack’O’Lanterns and dark whispers.
You can hear them now. In the distance, a rumbling. Thousands of boots on the ground. The wind carries leaves across dying fields. Cold rain begins to fall. And they thunder.
Come, now, and join the March of the Autumn People.
Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween
BENJAMIN KANE ETHRIDGE
Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times (co-written with Lisa Morton and illustrated by Greg Chapman)
MERCEDES M. YARDLEY
MICHAEL LOUIS CALVILLO
And, if you’d like to check out my work that was written deep inside of the October Country, you can visit the page on this site for my novel DARLING or my Bibliography page for some of my short fiction.
Are you an Autumn Person? What are your favorite books, movies, video games, music, or graphic novels that help you get in the mood for Halloween? Please post them in the comments section.
Audiences tuning into the second of three debates between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney last night were expecting what one member of the town hall audience described as a “knock down, drag out fight.” They were disappointed.
“It wasn’t what we wanted to see,” said Debbie Watkins, a college student from UCLA who watched the debates on television. “We wanted to see blood.”
Instead, the debates derailed just a few minutes in as the two candidates realized they agreed with each other on major issues.
“What I’m coming to realize,” the President said during a question on the economy, “is that Governor Romney is a good-hearted, intelligent man who only wants the best for this country.”
Governor Romney, a tear in his eye, thanked the President. “I have to say,” he added, “that the President has accomplished quite a bit in his four years in office that we don’t give him credit for. Mr. President, I have to apologize.”
After a tear-filled exchange, the two men embraced. The audience was quiet as they began to publicly discuss how to improve the economy, job growth, and enact immigration reform. Half-way through what should have been a debate, when the two candidates realized that half of the crowd had left the auditorium, they laughed.
The President then looked straight into the cameras and issued a controversial statement. “Governor Romney and I, following an example set by our running mates, have decided to work together to create a plan that’s the best for America. If I’m not re-elected, so be it. What’s important is that this country thrives.”
Governor Romney nodded. “I think the President should get another four years but, if I’m voted in, I’ll make sure that the plan we come up with together is what’s enacted.”
“The important thing,” the Governor added, “is that we worry about what’s best for America, not what’s best for our party.”
The two then retired to work through the details of their plan.
Outside the town hall, Republican and Democratic attendees began to riot. A police car was overturned and a nearby preschool was set on fire.
“NOOOOOOO,” one man yelled. “We can’t have this! We have to crush the Democrats! They’re evil!”
A woman then clubbed him in the side of the head with a board ripped from a local church that had been desecrated in the violence. “Death to all RepubliKKKans,” she screamed, the triple “K” somehow enunciated.
News commentators were also aghast. Fox News ran a headline titled “Romney: A Modern Day Benedict Arnold,” while MSNBC commentators simply grunted and flung feces at one another.
Today, the country still reels as violence sweeps across the nation. We’ll have more news as it becomes available.
Brad C. Hodson is a writer living in Los Angeles. His novel, DARLING, will be released at the end of the month. For more information on his work, check out his Bibliography page.
Last night, millions tuned in to watch the Vice-President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan square off at Centre College in Danville, KY. Viewer expectations were mixed, with those on the right anxious to get a first look at Paul Ryan’s debating prowess, and viewers on the left wanting to see Biden bring a tougher challenge than the President did in his first debate against challenger Mitt Romney.
What no one expected to see, however, was how the debate played out.
“It was surreal,” said stay-at-home Mom Connie Wilkes, 39, of Lawrence, KS. “I mean, I expected sparks to fly, but not like that.”
Connie is referring to an event at the end of the debate.
Throughout the debate, Biden interrupted the challenger while simultaneously displaying a grin that many saw as condescending. Ryan, in turn, seemed to flounder during the foreign policy section but went on to attack the Obama administration throughout the debate. The two men seemed completely at odds, which is why it was so surprising to millions of Americans when, at the end of the debate, the two contestants began to engage in what many commentators called a “serious make-out session.”
The event began when Biden approached Ryan to shake hands. When the two gripped one another, the sweat still heavy on their brows from the hot lights and the hour spent vigorously at odds with one another, their eyes locked and they stood there, the auditorium still, until Biden reached his free hand up to caress Ryan’s cheek.
In a swift, explosive move that brought Secret Service Agents rushing to the stage, the Republican Congressman threw an arm around the Vice-President’s waist and drew him into a long, passionate kiss.
Following the debate, the two held hands as they ran through the hallways of Centre College, darting this way and that to avoid the media and the Secret Service, before security cameras caught them slipping out through the cafeteria. Once outside, the two hopped onto Biden’s vintage Harley-Davidson motorcycle, where Ryan slipped his arms around Biden’s waist and rested his head on the VP’s shoulder. They drove off into the night.
Their whereabouts are still unknown.
Brad C. Hodson is a writer living in Los Angeles. His first novel, DARLING, can be purchased from Amazon or directly from the publisher. For more of his work, check out his Bibliography.
My first novel, DARLING, is available from Bad Moon Books. So I thought I’d do a little series on some of the creepy real life legends that make appearances in the novel. `Tis the season, after all…
“‘To that Providence, my sons, I hereby commend you, and I counsel you by way of caution to forbear from crossing the moor in those dark hours when the powers of evil are exalted.’”
-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles
The folklore of the British Isles is filled with its share of things that go bump in the night, but few are as ominous or as frequently sighted as the Black Hounds. Read More
The nation gathered around their television sets last night for the first debate in the 2012 Presidential Election. While the suspected topics of health care, the economy, and Cthulhu took up a large portion of the debate between President Barrack Obama and his challenger, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the surprise topic was PBS.
As part of his strategy to reduce the budget, Romney said: “I’m sorry, Jim. I’m going to the stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too. But I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it.”
Big Bird immediately responded to the statement via Twitter. “Mitt – U no wut I wud luv? Kikin the shit outta u.”
The tweet exploded across the internet, some in support of it, many more coming down on the large avian for what they felt was crude and a direct threat to a Presidential Candidate.
Bird Bird went on live television this morning to address the issue. Speaking with “Today” show host Matt Lauer, the normally docile and friendly bird flew off the handle.
“Who the [censored] does he think he is? I’m [censored] Big Bird. You got that, Mittens? I’ll stick this size 18 foot straight up your [censored] ass.”
Wearing a pair of sunglasses and sipping from a dark bottle containing what he simply called “Bird Juice,” Big Bird broke into a fit of laughter. “I’m sick of this. You know that? Everyday, I have to put up with whiny brats, diva guest stars, and [censored] Oscar the Grouch. Have you ever smelled that thing’s breath? It’s like he went down on a dead squid.”
Later in the interview, he interrupted Lauer during a question regarding what letter comes after “M” to go on a tirade. “In ancient cultures, I was worshiped as a god. Indians called me a [censored] “thunderbird.” I have Charlie Sheen blood in my veins, man. I’m a rock and roll warlock with an eight ball of coke for a heart. My feathers will grant you fertility.”
When Lauer tried to calm Big Bird, the Sesame Street performer told him to “shut the [censored] up and listen to the Bird. Okay? Jesus [censored] Christ!” He then stood, threw his chair at a cameraman, and stormed off set.
PBS immediately released a statement stating that Big Bird has been “struggling with substance abuse and will be entering a rehabilitation program today.”
Brad C. Hodson is a writer living in LaLa Land. His novel DARLING will be released on October 26th from Bad Moon Books (http://www.badmoonbooks.com). To see more of his work, check out his Bibliography. You can also follow him on Twitter@BradCHodson.
The following is a post that originally appeared on author Benjamin Kane Ethridge’s site. Check out the Bram Stoker Award winner’s work here: http://www.bkethridge.com/WORK.html
THE WAR ON HALLOWEEN
Brad C. Hodson
Imagine it’s the eighties. An overweight only child, one parent dead and the other in prison, sits in front of the television in his laboratory-goggle-sized glasses while a cool autumn breeze kicks up leaves outside. He repositions to put his shadow between the soft orange light sneaking through the window and his television, where the setting sun’s glare might obscure Dracula as he welcomes Jonathan Harker into his home.
The child waits for the sun to set completely. That’s when the fun begins. For this one night every year, he can don a costume, joining the community as he bounds around from house to house, enjoying candy and meeting the neighbors. Halloween is a month-long festival for him, a buildup of movies and TV specials and school decorations that eventually culminates in this one night where the world seems more vivid, more alive, than it ever has. For him, and for most children, Halloween is a highlight of his year.
Flash-forward thirty years. That same kid is now an adult, has lost the weight, and his glasses have been replaced with contact lenses. He has his own family now to replace the one absent him as a child. Yet this one season, this magical mysterious month of October, is still his favorite time of the year. It’s stuck by his side ever since his childhood like a great friend, always there when he needed it.
And people want to take it away from him.
Okay, maybe I’m being melodramatic. The kid, of course, est moi. But it’s true I love Halloween and I do believe that there is an ill-conceived and mean-spirited assault on my favorite holiday.
You hear a lot of overblown hype about the War on Christmas. However, even were it all true, I think Christmas is going to be fine. It’s got a much stronger position and is part of a global cultural phenomenon.
I’m not worried that Halloween is going to disappear, mind you. There will always be Halloween and there will always be people championing it. But what I’ve noticed, year after year, is that Halloween seems to weaken a bit, become diluted. When I was a kid the entire month of October was Halloween-centric. Now it’s been relegated to a short period of time leading up to the holiday itself. Rare are the massive month-long movie marathons on television, the paper Jack-O-Lanterns and ghosts seem fewer and farther between, and Trick-Or-Treat is being replaced with more and more “Fall Festivals.” This gets my inner Mr. Hyde all riled up and ready to roam the streets.
First off, I think anyone in the twenty-first century should have enough logic at their command to realize that Halloween neither encourages nor condones anything negative or evil. The stories of people hiding razor blades in candy are urban legends and twelve-year-olds aren’t performing the Black Mass in the elementary school playground. Instead, they are engaging in social rituals, cementing the bonds of community, while practicing a kind of role-reversal with adults as they can, on this one night every year, dress up, go out at night, and demand things be given to them (at least, I hope this is the one night parents let them do this…).
So, what’s the problem?
The fear of paganism.
Personally, I find this idea so idiotic that it makes me pray to Dionysus that my next bottle of wine will obliterate it.
Man, that Dionysus loves to party!
I’m not going to get into a cultural look at paganism. Needless to say, it’s not devil-worship and Wiccans aren’t going around sacrificing babies on altars of human skin. But the idea that we can get away from all things pagan is quite absurd. Our culture is a direct outgrowth of ancient Roman culture and almost everything we do in this country can trace its roots back to pagan religions and rituals.
Much has been made of the pagan roots of Christmas and Easter celebrations, so there’s no need to delve into that. However, here are a few other areas that the people who decry Halloween should re-examine if they’re truly trying to avoid pagan influences.
What? What’s more all American than sports?
Well, organized sporting events have their roots in pagan religious festivals. For the Greeks, all sporting events were held as rituals to honor the gods. For the Romans, they originated as Etruscan funeral rites to ensure passage to the Underworld. For the Aztecs, it determined who would be sacrificed (the losing teams had their hearts removed – kind of like what British soccer hooligans do today).
So next time you Godly folk enjoy a football game, remember that you’re participating in an ancient pagan ritual.
Yep, here’s Dionysus again.
Whether it’s wine, beer, or rum, alcohol came about as a way for pagan peoples to become more connected to their gods. From the Greeks to the Vikings to Native Americans, mind-altering substances offered a connection to the other side. Think of that while guzzling your next Bud Light.
It doesn’t get much more pagan than this. Cake? Check. Candles? Check. Presents? Check. Making a wish? Even celebrating the day itself? Check and check.
All relics from pagan rituals.
“Wait,” you might say. “Our wedding is purely Christian/Jewish/Secular/etc.”
Well… Not really. The white dress, the ring, the bridesmaids and groomsmen, all of these were established during ancient Roman weddings. Each are pagan rites that serve a very specific purpose in ancient pagan religion.
THE DAYS OF THE WEEK
“Happy Friday,” you might say to your co-worker, completely oblivious that you just said a prayer to the Norse Goddess Freya.
Every time you say or write “Wednesday,” you are offering homage to Wotan (or Odin, if you’re nasty). Thursday? Oh, you mean THOR’s Day!
You and the kids got anything planned for Saturn’s Day this weekend?
Oh ho ho, you people are so pagan and don’t even know it.
My word count’s running low, so here’s a quick list of other pagan rituals you likely observe. Do some Google-Fu if you doubt their pagan origins:
-Saying “God bless you” when someone sneezes
-Thanksgiving and any other large dinner feast at a holiday
-Funerals (especially tombstones, flowers, and eulogies)
-Putting flowers in the house
-Placing photographs anywhere (image-based magic goes back thousands of years before photography and directly led to our cultural practice of keeping images of living and deceased loved ones around)
-Sleeping on a bed instead of the floor
-Naming a child after a dead relative (this is Ancestor worship in its purest form)
-School (Yep, even organized education goes back to pagan rites)
So next time you’re tempted to attack Halloween for being pagan, leave my favorite holiday alone and go and enjoy your incredibly pagan American lifestyle.
Brad C. Hodson is an author and screenwriter living in Los Angeles. For more of his work, please visit brad-hodson.com, or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.