Sunday, November 01, 2009

Burn the Witch!


I had to go through through The Lanes, Brighton's old town, yesterday evening, it was full of ghouls and witches getting drunk on the streets, they weren't children but young adults, I was tempted to cry out, "Burn the witch", but that seemed a bit protestant outside of Germany.

When I was young Halloween was pretty low key, on a par with St Agnes' Eve , learning from our American cousins it has grown in retail significance.

I wonder if there is also something hidden going on, a yearning for "communion" with the dead. With no heaven or purgatory the dead become an object of fun or something on which to focus our hidden fears. In Catholic countries Halloween was a time for a certain un-Christian cult of the dead, like Carnivale it was a time of misrule but it was balanced and contrastred by All Saints day which offered a vision of the future and All Souls Day which offered the present reality of the faithful departed dependant on Christ and on us and the saints.

I am intrigued by why the misrule anarchic aspects of Christian Feasts are kept, when the feast itself is neglected.

18 comments:

Malcolm Kemp said...

I commented on my Facebook page that, the other day, I saw an iced Hallowe'en cake in Forfars. I wondered whether the world had gone mad and got its priorities wrong or whether I had turned into a grumpy, boring old f***. Some of my friends may say that both is true.

Another sign of the secular society in which we live, and no doubt good fuel for the current debate on whether Brighton is "Godless".

Monica Edith said...

It seems to me that through Natural Law, we have a "knowing" that there's a God, even those who vehemently deny it. And they're so angry about it, but their anger might actually be fear. They want to be their own god, thus, they take what is holy and turn it into the trivial to prove they're in control.
I've been thinking that since they're legally redefining marriage, if they can do that; I wonder what would happen if they repealed the law of gravity :)

Richard said...

I honestly can't see any "hidden" meaning, or indeed any deep meaning at all, in the modern Halloween.

You are right when you talk about its "misrule anarchic aspects" - for 99.99% of people who dress up, there is no more to it than that.

That's why the (usually evangelical) Christians who object to Halloween are widely regarded as nutters, because they are taking seriously something that is entirely frivolous.

On your point about losing the "balance and contrast of All Souls Day", isn't that one of Chesterton's repeated theories - that the secular world always takes one aspect of Catholic culture and exaggerates it, without also taking the essential balancing aspects.

Crux Fidelis said...

Hallowe'en has always been a big deal in Scotland and Ireland. The Americans took it from the Celts, commercialised it and sold it to the English. Unfortunately, the American practice of "trick or treat" has supplanted the Scottish tradition of "guising".

gemoftheocean said...

I suggest that TV has blown ALL of this way out of proportion on that side of the pond.

When I was a youngster, it was ALL about the candy and the costumes for the younger kids, The youngest children might be taken out by a parent for an hour or so, you had a "princess" or "pirate" costume, you went around to any neighbor's houses with a lit porchlight (a common signal then whether one was "participating" or not. the kids a little older from about 9-13 would go in groups, but with trusty flashlights and usually a pillow case, borrowed from mom, -- usually after a hassle, with promises that you certainly weren't going to lose it, or drop it in the mud. Either way you had your butt home by 9. About 2 weeks were in giddy anticipation of planning the costume. NOTHING gory, or God Forbid "sexy" such a thought would not have crossed our minds. The older grandmother/fatherly types would make carmel apples or hot cider if you were really lucky, or best of all caramel popcorn balls. But the run of the mill "treat" was penny candy.
There was no "trick" in this set. You always thanked them and it would have been considered uncouth, not to say unheard of to ask for money. Although sometimes kids in the 60s and 70s used to also carry a small box for "trick or Treat for Unicef" which was then turned in back to the school or other organization, then on to the children's international relief fun.

There was nothing REMOTELY satanic about it. Pumpkins were carved, it was a seasonal thing. It would have also been considered ungrateful to complain that this or that person had given X instead of Y. A THANK YOU was always given.

Now teens might get together and hang out on the corner and smoke cigarettes, or play a trick on a friend, like Toilet paper their house...which parents if not tolerated, realized it was a sign that their kid WAS popular, because only someone with a lot of friends who were good sports would have had this visited on them. The point was no"trick" was to be MEAN.

This is the way hallooween STILL is outside of hollyweird, or places who just don't have a freakin' clue. IT's a bit of a precursor to the fun at thanksgiving too -- a chance to decorate the house with something seasonal, and maybe break out that first pumpkin pie, and decorate with scarecrows, corn from the fields, etc. It's a sign that fall is in full throttle.

As far as scary movies? In my day we didn't have "Friday the 13th type" things -- but who doesn't like the occasional "things that go bump in the night" or a chance to have a bit of fun making a haunted house? Who hasn't snuck up behind a friend and said "BOO!"just to watch them jump?

What freaky people in San Francisco do to prevert an innocent fun time for kids and adults has nothing to do with Halloween is really celebrated.

It's all about having a bit of fun. Period. FUll stop. and to paraphrase Mark Twain "anyone holding any pretences to deep cosmic meaning ought best be drawn, quartered and nuked." Or whatever he said in Huckleberry Finn.

We just do Halloween with a lot more fun than you do.

So forget about what you see in the street, the Brighton people have picked up some weird media presentation which has ZIP to do with the spirit of how it's really celebrated by 95% of the normal people here. It's the 5% of the freaks which got the media attention.

It would be like thinking everyone in America can find a parking space in front of any place they visit right away, because that's how it's always done on TV. [and of COURSE no one here ever says "hello" or "goodbye" on the phone here either, OBVIOUSLY, because no one on TV does it.]

Patricius said...

Not necessarily the anarchic aspects of Christian feasts, Father, just those aspects with money-making potential - as with Christmas. Entering my local Tesco's recently I was overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of Halloween fancy dress for children. When I was at school Halloween was, like Thanksgiving, something peculiar to Americans that one read about or saw featured on "Blue Peter".

Clare said...

Brighton was full of people dressed as Zombies last night (not witches)... There is a massive Zombie cult at the moment perpetuated by lots of zombie films. All started with Night of the Living Dead and now lots of spoofs like Shaun of the Dead etc.. It is all supposed to be very light-hearted..

Edward P. Walton said...

The tradition of Halloween evolved from the Celtic New Year, Samhain. The tradition of children "dessing up" and knocking on doors started in Irish neighborhoods and in time, spread to other areas.

Independent said...

They are just confused like the Japanese Department Store which I once read exhibited a crucified Father Christmas in its front window.

Shepherd said...

The passion for modern day Halloween celebrations stems, I am sure, from fear of death.
We mock what we fear the most.
As Catholics we do not have a total fear of death and we know that death is only temporary; if we lead the life of Christ on Earth we have hope of an eternal life in Heaven. That is why Halloween holds no interst for us.

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

I think Patricius has it almost right, though I don't think it's just about money-making opportunities. Rather, with Richard and ultimately with G.K. Chesterton, I think it's simply about wanting to have the pleasure without paying the price. So we have Carnival or Pancake Tuesday without Ash Wednesday, Easter without Good Friday, Hallowe'en without All Saints Day, and Christmas without, well, Christianity. Likewise we can have marriage without binding commitments, sex without the possibility of procreation, and so forth...

(Hello, by the way. I've been reading a long time, but don't think I've ever commented before. I've also never managed to make it to your church whenever I've visited Brighton, but I plan to rectify that next time.)

nickbris said...

Halloween,Macdonalds,Coca Cola and all the other rubbish that has got around the World are all products of the American genius for Marketing.

The rest of us had Empires which we were all taught until we were black and blue were a way to civilize the savages.

We got away with it for half a millenia and now we are subject to "real marketing" and it works.

Bill of L.A. said...

I can't think of a better symbol for the juvenilization (and sexualization) of our culture than Halloween. It was once an innocent children's festival, but no more. Of course, the retailers are making a killing.

The satanic angle would have never occurred to us. In fact, we used to go down to the convent to show off our costumes to the appreciative sisters.

GOR said...

Yes Father, as with Christmas, Easter and Shrove Tuesday, Halloween as the “Eve of All Hallows” has lost its significance for most people - if they ever even knew what the day was that followed the eve!

Unsurprisingly, the commercial world, seeing the opportunity to “make a buck”, has capitalized on this and thus we have the excesses that have become commonplace with all these occasions.

In Mexico and Latin America “El Dia de los Muertos” – originally intended to honor the dear departed – has become a three-day festival much like Mardi Gras. One wonders how many people actually remember to pray for the dead in all the extravagances of the festival?

We’re told that the timing of some Church feasts was determined to offset the old pagan rites on those occasions. One gets the impression today that we may have come full circle…

gemoftheocean said...

Bill, yes, we did too! And the nuns gave out treats as well!

Let the kids have their fantasy, and candy for heaven's sake -- if anyone's messed this whole thing up it's the ADULTS.

Simon Cotton said...

Isn't it an illustration of the remark attributed to Chesterton, "The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything" ?

gemoftheocean said...

Simon, our nuns believed in addtion to teaching us our catechism in leetting us have a good time without sucking the fun out of everything.

Sorry you've been fed a load of codswallop over there about the holiday was ALWAYS celebrated without hassle before the weirdos muscled in and the evangelicals (who had ALWAYS celebrated with the rest of us,) until rank stupidity took over amongst them became prevalent.

It may come as a shock, but it IS possible to go out for candy in costume one night and go to Mass the next day.

Because some weirdos put an 80 foot santa on their dumb house doesn't make you stop giving presents, does it? And if you're going to b*tch and moan about paganism, then PLEASE don't have a Christmas tree either -- pagan origins, that. Ditto the yule log, and a daresay if I wanted to make a federal case out of it, you should be on your knees the whole time and forget thosechestnuts roasting on an open fire, to say nothing of going a waissaling or comin' through the rye for that matter.

JoannaB said...

I think it is just a bit of fun to brighten up the ever darkening days and a a chance to have lighted pumpkins before the onset of Christmas. For children the only thing they are interested in is the sweets! And perhaps something a little scary like skeletons and spiders which they are know are not really going to do them any harm. A bit of country folklore thrown in.