Oh, the horror! The horror! It’s a bright sunny morning now but later, when night falls, all will change. I have just finished my degree in writing and publishing at Melbourne Polytechnic (formerly NMIT). Three years of blood, sweat and tears have left me bruised and bloodied but unbowed. But barely have the wounds crusted over and the pain to ease then that I have begun to consider further study. Am I a masochist? Maybe. The perversion is not without its attractions. However, in my case life is a quest and the prize is knowledge. I am also partial to the idea of making more money than I could possibly spend in the time left to me.
Such idle musings have led me to reflect on Halloween.
Halloween aka Allhalloween, All Hallows’ Eve or All Saints’ Eve has mixed pagan and Christian origins. But scholars argue whether it originated independently of the Celtic Samhain or has solely Christian roots. Whatever the case, it matters not to the kids in costume who will turn up for trick or treating this evening with parents hovering as bodyguards against the spirits of the night. Thankfully the lighting of bonfires (of vanities or otherwise) is strictly regulated by local authorities. Rumour has it that there are at present no pagans on the council. Even so, apple bobbing may be practised in secret and thousands of pumpkins may be sacrificed to do service as jack-o’-lanterns. There will be parties, drinking and much watching of horror films. Such is the popular taste.
But away from the costumed kids, bobbing apples, hollowed out pumpkins and inebriated adults there are other sides to Halloween. Darker and more spiritual sides. There are religious observances that include church services and the lighting of candles on the graves of the dear and not so dear departed. Saints and martyrs are also remembered. At the same time goblins, fairies and god knows what else will make merry.
I like to fancy myself as a rational being with an open mind. However, I have always struggled to forget my maternal grandmother and her superstitions. Despite her undoubted love for her grandchildren she could not refrain from scaring the bejesus out of us at the most inappropriate times with her own version of tales of the unexpected. When I was a child of about seven years of age my Nan was walking us kids home as a storm was closing in and the skies grew dark. Suddenly a swarm of fruit bats flew overhead shrieking like the damned. Nan could not resist. ‘Those are the souls of the dead,’ she intoned. Boris Karloff was never half so frightening. We cowered like ducklings under Nan’s protective wings and hurried for the safety of home. But that was not the limit of my grandmother’s scary playbook. We lived in a late Victorian two storey terrace on Sydney’s lower North Shore (rented not owned). There was a space under the stairs that was used for storage. According to Nan, that was where the bogeyman lived. The said bogeyman was partial to eating kids. If we ‘played up’ Nan had no qualms in suggesting that the offending kid/s would find themselves locked in the dark space beneath the stairs. I can tell you from personal experience that five minutes in the lair of the bogeyman was more than sufficient. If that were not enough, there was a ghost who haunted the top of the stairs. It’s job was to stop kids from venturing up to the bedrooms which were off-limits until bedtime. Fair enough, you might say. I always had my doubts about this particular story but I lacked the courage to test it. Another favourite ploy of my grandmother’s was to make us huddle under the gigantic old dining table in the kitchen during thunder storms. This was so the thunder god couldn’t get us. Maybe Nan enjoyed our screams? I don’t really know. Small wonder that I emerged from childhood with a well developed fear of the dark, bats, bogeymen, ghosts and thunderstorms.
This brings me back to Halloween. This year I have decided to do the Christian thing and ignore the costumed kids. Originally I had wanted to dig a deep pit full of spikes and covered with false grass in the approach to our front door. Cop that for a trick, I thought. However, to my utter disbelief I found that the the non-pagan council have strict rules against such developments. I was prepared to argue that it was only a mere fixture but got howled down by the other members of my household. This means I will just have to retreat to the back room and turn up the telly. I will also keep my fingers crossed that a swarm of fruit bats passes overhead at the crucial moments. Perhaps a thunderstorm will arrive?
I’ll leave you on that positive note. After all I have an application for further study to complete.
Enjoy your Halloween. If you can?