Hello, October! I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m happy to see my favorite time of year rolling back around.
We recently passed the Autumn Equinox (Sept. 23rd), also known as Mabon. This is one of two days in the year when there is equal light and darkness. We say farewell to the insipid, sunny days of Spring and Summer and gain the encroaching, impenetrable darkness of Fall and Winter. In other words, horror fans, this is our time!
You all know I love dark fiction, my chosen writing genre and chief source of entertainment. I’d like to share my appreciation this month for the countless artists who produce works displaying a similar love of the twisted, from books to film to music. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy something saccharine and cheery every once in a while, but this certainly isn’t the month to reveal those secret guilty pleasures.
I plan to discuss what I love best about horror, dark fiction, and anything else slinking beneath the umbrella of the Creepy and Weird. Forgive me if I get carried away, because I am known as a bit of a rambler. I encourage you to leave a comment below if you have an opinion to share. Or, maybe you’d like to see something specific in this October-Halloween blog series. I’m eager for any feedback so don’t be shy. After 25 years in the service industry, I promise you my skin is thick.
So let’s begin with the obvious. What is the best part of October? No, not pumpkin spice. It’s Halloween!
Halloween is a magical night, originating with the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain. But, nearly all cultures have a day of the year where they honor the dead. And, not so coincidentally, it’s usually during the Harvest season.
But why? What’s so special about this seasonal change which connects diverse people around the world? The answer is surprisingly easy, agriculture.
Ancient people were closer to nature than us, depending on their crops for food and prosperity. And when the final Harvest arrived people were thankful for its bounty. But they remained aware of the impending approach of a bitter Winter, frightened for what awaited them in the dark part of the year.
How many crippling storms are expected?
Do we have enough food and supplies until Spring?
Will illness strike when we’re trapped in our homes, snowed in and cut off from civilization?
These worries were manifestations of basic fears about survival in a time before electricity, modern medicine, and overstocked grocery stores filled delicacies year-round. But fans of mythology won’t be surprised by these fundamental fears. Humans traditionally used myth as metaphors in an attempt to explain nature’s mysteries, at least until science banished our terrors with the gentleness of a parent telling a child there is no monster under the bed.
Harvest festivals celebrate the bounty of the land, offering thanks to the gods and goddesses who gifted us with nourishing riches. But at the same time, these festivals prepare us for future dangers. When the cold wind blows over barren fields and food no longer grows, then we must huddle together and ration our stores until the long night melts with the approach of Spring.
(See my blog on Persephone, another interesting story about the origin of the changing seasons).
Samhain is a lovely holiday, despite the healthy dose of mortal fear streaming beneath. The Celts lit bonfires and offered food to invite and appease their beloved ancestors, but they also sought to ward off evil spirits. For on Samhain, the Pagan Celtic New Year, the doors to the Otherworld open wide. We might commune with lost loved ones, a miraculous blessing. But on a dark night, alone and separated from the safety of a community bonfire, we might be set upon by bloodthirsty and monstrous fiends that feasted on the flesh of unwary travelers.
The Celts believed any major seasonal event thinned the veil between worlds, but Samhain was the ultimate holiday for this phenomenon. For one night, spirits were free to mingle with us just as we were able to wander their realm. Think of the creepiest tales of W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory that spoke of unsuspecting people losing themselves to the Fae Realm. They might escape but not unscathed, because time runs much faster on the Other Side. A young body might wither to dust after passing back through the veil to the Mortal Realm. Or worse, they would return home to discover decades passed and everyone they knew and loved was dead.
Fortunately, our modern celebrations of Halloween are more light-hearted. This is a party holiday, but we’re wise enough to heed the lessons of our ancestors. We hide behind costumes to scare away ghouls, and we offer treats as bribes to protect ourselves from potentially dangerous masked visitors. Underneath our merry laughter, we know all too well what might be lurking in the darkness of Halloween night.
So have fun, Halloween fans. Live it up with your parties and masquerades, or snuggle with loved ones as a horror movie plays on TV. Maybe revisit your favorite scary book and discuss it with friends. Or you could overindulge with foil-wrapped candies and delectable baked goods, even taking a hearty sip of the numerous Pumpkin Spice beverages available (don’t be ashamed, some are good!).
Celebrate now while you can, and be safe. Death and danger haunt every human, and we’re most aware of that during the dark half of the year. But we’re alive in this moment – assuming we avoid abandoned places, spooky strangers, and all the things that go bump in the night. Make the most of the brief time we have on this earth, and revel in the magical mystery of the world around you. A healthy bit of fear gets the blood pumping and makes us scream with delight, even as our subconscious quietly prepares for the inevitable end. Autumn, it’s both the Season of Death and a wonderful time to be alive.