Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Halloween is not what it seems.

It's Halloween. A night when things are not as they seem. People put on masks and costumes, but not the masks and costumes they wear every day. People play tricks, give treats and get them, with strangers, with children, and it's all okay; what's strange is to behave the way you would every other night. Some traditions hold that tonight the dead and living are closer together, the veil between the worlds gets thinner, people and spirits can slip back and forth. We dress up as terrifying, powerful, otherworldly creatures in order to be scared and we are happy to be frightened; witches, warlocks, demons, devils, ghosts, ghouls, skeletons, vampires and zombies wander the streets and inhabit every home and we scream and laugh and love it all. Our carved pumpkin Jack O' Lanterns signal welcome, not warning; we sanitise trick or treating by only giving out sweets, rarely playing tricks or exacting revenge with a sinister punishment if our demands for treats are not met. Increasingly we have made our symbols of this spooky night seem benign: a smiling pumpkin face, dishes of tempting sweets.

IMG_6351 pumpkin with sweets

But on Halloween things are not as they seem.

IMG_6347 tiny plasticine pumpkin

The sweets are plasticine, the carved pumpkin is tiny.

This night we encourage ourselves to be other than we seem, other than we normally are. We are allowed to dress up as the beings of our darker imaginings. And in doing so we take away some of the power of those hidden, sinister, shadowy creatures, the things that go bump in the night, that lurk beneath the surface, behind the curtain, just out of sight. By bringing out into the light the things that scare us when we glimpse their existence, we disarm them, they become spooky or scary or frightening, but not dangerous. These demons, vampires and zombies cannot really hurt us. We know they're not real. Even if the light is dim or firelit or candlelighted, even if this Halloween night is dark, we can see them. We know what we're looking at.

IMG_0908 pumpkin

We have their measure.

IMG_0909 little pumpkin with finger pointing at it

But we are wrong. What we thought one thing is another; very small or far away; belonging not to one realm of reckoning but another. Tonight we deliberately bring dark things out into the light and think we understand what things are and what is going on. This is a night to do that, to challenge and expose the unknown or the half-imagined, to make the dangerous merely spooky, to laugh at the demons that walk among us, to make them real and thus powerless. I think this is a powerful desire of humans. We want to understand. We want to know. And we particularly want to know about the things that frighten us. We want to break the silence, shine a light into the dark, name the fear. And be better for it. Expose it, pin it down, comprehend it, overcome it. We want that. We're healthier for it.

But usually we don't do it. Our society doesn't. Most societies don't. We don't try to understand what is really going on. We don't bring out the hidden harms so that they can be healed. We don't tell the truth. We know, or at least suspect, that things are not as they seem, but we let the demons rule, just out of sight. We know there are dangers we have not named, have not acknowledged, have not exposed, so they go on harming us. Those who do not want the dangers known or the harms healed deliberately mislead us. And we mislead ourselves. When we are not outright lying, we distract. We look away. We turn our backs. We laugh into our screens and away from the screams. Away from the people who have been truly hurt, who are being hurt right now, who are suffering, who are dying, who are already dead. We distract ourselves, including from ourselves. Sometimes we need to do that - we can't focus on the pain all the time, even our own pain - but sometimes we are still looking away even as the zombie's teeth gnaw into our brains or the vampire's fangs bite in to our necks. We refuse to look at what is going on even as it is killing us. We don't know what is happening. And when we first try to look and to know we think we understand but we do not. We are not judging the scale correctly. It is both much bigger and much smaller than we think. It is immediate and personal and about each of us, and about all of us, humanity, the planet. We need to know what is going on. What is really going on. We need to know the ghosts that still haunt us, the skeletons in all our closets, the devils that delight in destroying what is good. I think we want to know. I applaud the people and organisations and efforts that try to tell us. That try to bring the scary things out into the light, so that we may see them, and know them, and make them disappear. We want to know. So that we may heal the hurts. So that we may live with our demons and ghosts, but not be so frightened of them any more, make them laughable, not deadly. We know there are deep wrongs here that hurt us more because they are hidden. Because we don't know. We want things ultimately to be what they seem, or to know what lies beyond what seems. This Halloween let's see behind the curtain, through the veil, beneath the surface to what is truly going on. Not what seems, but what is. Tonight is a night for the living and the dead. Tonight is a night for truth.


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