Tag Archives: halloween

Ethical horror for Halloween

At this time of year, the Halloween tat comes out and the shops are full of low quality, throw away rubbish for us to spend money on that we can’t really afford, and then send to landfill, which the Earth really can’t afford.

Here are some more (and less) sensible suggestions for spooky seasonal decor, without buying plastic rubbish.

Welcome those autumn spiders and let them make webs for you!  

Go a bit Miss Haversham with dried flowers and dead plant matter. Nothing says gothic like dead roses. Also these can be composted when you’ve had enough of them.

Actual bones. Source your dead things carefully and make sure they are clean because you maybe don’t want to go so far as actual maggots… but dead things are better for the environment than fake plastic dead things. 

If you like the colours, the patterns, the look – you can buy cotton fabrics with Halloween vibes online. Consider investing the time in making your own seasonal objects. Eldritch bunting is always a good look. Decorate with seasonally appropriate table or altar cloths made from natural materials, and re-use them next year.

Don’t buy cheap and nasty costumes made from synthetic fabrics. They don’t last, they will end up in the bin. Buy vintage, buy from people who make costumes, buy your own fabric and improvise wildly. 

Make a lantern out of a swede or turnip, these are cheap and proper hideous, and the more wrong they are the better.

Make disgusting food. Marzipan slugs. Worm and eyeball soup (noodles and small whole onions) use tomatoes and beetroot for blood. Smear raspberry jam about. Ice fangs onto things. 

Buy things from artists and artisans – it will cost more up front but you’re helping a creator survive and you’ll get something really cool that you will want to live with for many years. 

Horror doesn’t have to be mass produced and shipped around the world at a high environmental cost. Horror can be sustainable. You can source your horror ethically, you can make your own.

All Hallows Read

It is Neil Gaiman’s most splendid idea that Halloween should be the time to give someone a spooky book. (You might consider Hopeless, Maine as a good candidate, if you know someone who doesn’t have a copy.) Mr Gaiman himself is the author of The Graveyard Book, which is a fine piece of child-friendly creepiness, and ideal for the season.

Talking about death and fear is important. Acknowledging the unknown and the anxiety of living. We don’t do it enough, our culture preferring to drown out the dread with ever louder background noise and bright shiny things. People who get to grips with death are a lot less afraid to live. A creepy book can be a good way into that, a safe place in which to explore and encounter fear and come to terms with it.

I’m fascinated by the fake and unfrightening ‘scares’ that Halloween puts on the supermarket shelves. Made of plastic, brightly coloured and sanitised, they can scare environmentalists, destined as these objects are for an early burial in landfill. Otherwise what commercial Halloween mostly does is turn horror into something safe and unthreatening. That’s rather counterproductive. We need to fear and respect death in order to live well. We need to look into the darkness now and then so that we can properly appreciate the light. We need to own our fears rather than trying to bury them. If horror stories can tell us anything it is that trying to bury alive things (like fear) is not actually a very good idea. They always come back, the gnarled hand reaching up through the piled earth of the grave, ready for another go.

I love gothic work. I’m not a huge fan of more visceral and bloody forms of horror – it gets dull after a while. There’s only so many severed body parts and unspeakable monstrosities a person can take before apathy floods in. A good creepy story sneaks in, and does not allow complacency. It turns the mundane into the uncanny and unnerving. It reminds us that mystery lurks around every corner and uncertainty abounds. Creepy fiction encourages us not to get too comfortable in our assumptions. Anything could turn out to be other than it is. If we can balance that with the art of not getting too paranoid and frightened, it’s a good lesson to learn.

By way of a contribution to All Hallows Read, I have a free story for you. It’s short and available as a PDF from http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/NimueBrown I wouldn’t give it to a younger child, but it’s no worse than the later Harry Potter books for overt scariness, (children tending to miss the layers…) although there are a few rude words in it! You were warned.

All Hallows Day

Halloween comes to us from the Christian calendar, and is an abbreviated name for All Hallows Eve. It also used to be called ‘all souls night’ while the all Hallows bit refers to November the first being All Saints Day. As a consequence it always amuses me to find misinformed, anxious Christians talking about the dangers of Halloween, that well known festival of all things evil and occult. Sorry folks, it was your festival all along. Yes, Samhain falls at the same time, but once you start poking the Catholic calendars of old, it’s pretty hard to find a date that isn’t potential cause for celebration. Every saint has their day and people can celebrate the day of the saint they were named after, if they are so inclined.

Once upon a time, the Christian church understood that death was a powerful force and that people need to set aside time and contemplate it, and make peace with it. The Mexican day of the dead festivities are a fine case in point. I don’t know if the rise of visible Paganism has gone alongside the Christian fear associated with this, their festival. The rise in commercial exploitation hasn’t helped.

For the fearful, it’s a slippery slope. You start by letting kids wear pointy hats and carve pumpkins and before you know it, they’ll be worshipping Satan and dabbling in dangerous occult practices. Satan, it is often forgotten, is a figure from Christian mythology. He may parallel certain goat footed Pagan Gods but that’s a whole other story.

When did the Church start trying to be so clean and safe? All Saints day, today, would have honoured the saints. The majority of people ‘blessed’ with the title got it by dying in strange, grotesque, horrible ways. The kind of deaths that modern torture porn films could really get their teeth into. Its odd, really, that this material has never been mined for entertainment. The mentality that would draw a big crowd to watch someone being hung, drawn and quartered is alive and well and sitting in a cinema near you, waiting for the strange catharsis of gore. Mediaeval Christianity was full of the dark and grotesque. Tombs depicting decomposing corpses, horrible faces in the church roof – all the material of fear and reality, right there. The depictions of Hell used to be pretty wild, too, all naked flesh and horrible torment. But again, we have the cinema for that, we don’t go to church expecting to see people having their breasts torn off.

Religions evolve. All Hallows Day has all but vanished, and Hallow ‘een as take over, and been kicked out of the Christian calendar to become a strange, secular rite involving costumes and chocolate. Next time someone tells you that Paganism is somehow invalidated by its youth, or by not being the same as ancient Paganism, hold this thought. The Christianity that decries Halloween today would not make the slightest sense to the people who celebrated as a Christian festival it not so many generations ago.

Samhain and the dead

There were a couple of witches on the towpath last night, off to a Halloween party. It’s the time of year to play with macabre images, pretend to be a zombie, make a game out of death. In some ways I see how this works – it’s a way of making some alarming stuff a bit more manageable, and of course plenty of people like their creepy thrills. We have a culture in which real death is kept out of sight, while pretend death is ever more present. From violent movies to shoot em up computer games, fictional horror can be a feature of daily life. It’s an odd juxtaposition to say the least. For me there is no supernatural. Everything, by definition, is within nature. I have thoughts about our degree of understanding of ‘nature’ and that for a long time anything we can’t explain has been ‘supernatural’. These days we tend to go for whichever buzz term around the wilder ends of physics is in vogue. These days, if we can’t explain it, we make noises about quantum. In folklore this is the time of year when the veil between the worlds is thin, the dead walk, the wild hunt rides, the faerie courts move from their summer to their winter halls. Tam Lin’s climax is set around Halloween. It is a good time to think about people we’ve lost, and our ancestors as well. Most of our ancestors are not known to us, but we wouldn’t be here without them, after all. My ancestors have been in my thoughts a lot this last year, both immediate and distant ones. How much of who we are owes something to where we came from? I don’t think background can ever be used to excuse or justify, but it so often helps in the making sense. Understanding is a good thing, you can’t have too much of it. I’m hoping to get an actual ritual in some time soon. Time to stand in the darkness and honour the darkening days, the shift towards winter, the bright colours of the leaves and the bare branches to come. Time to think of those I’ve lost. There have been no funerals in this last year for me, but death is a constant presence. Death constantly in the news, acknowledged on the radio. This is also a good time to think about what dies within us as part of our own cycles of growing and stripping back. Inner deaths can be a gift as much as a loss and either way they create the room for new starts and fresh opportunities. Without the dying, there could be no new things. I’ve watched a whole facet of my personality dying over this last year. An aspect created defensively, so survive external pressures and make sense of impossible things. Now that those pressures have receded and there is nothing incomprehensible to rationalise, I don’t need to be that person any more. The letting go is a slow process, one day to the next. Eventually I may even be able to forget some of it, which would be a huge blessing. That part of me should never have been, and it is good to let it die. It’s like pulling a giant leech off my psyche. There are things that should be allowed to die. Things that need to die. Recognising them, and allowing them to pass is a very important process. Hanging on to that which should be declared dead, only increases the pain. Trying to force life into any dead thing seldom works and as all the traditional stories tell us, things that come back from the dead often aren’t very good for us. Not everything can be healed, not everything should be continued. Time to pause and contemplate what now needs releasing.