Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

So. It's Halloween. What do you do?

Party! Of course!
Why not?

Historian Nicholas Rogers, exploring the origins of Halloween, notes that while "some folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia, it is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain, whose original spelling was Samuin (pronounced sow-an or sow-in)". The name of the festival historically kept by the Gaels and Celts in the British Isles is derived from Old Irish and means roughly "summer's end". It was linked to festivals held around the same time in other Celtic cultures, and was popularised as the "Celtic New Year" from the late 19th century, following Sir John Rhys and Sir James Frazer. The date of Samhain was associated with the Catholic All Saints' Day (and later All Souls' Day) from at least the 8th century, and both the secular Gaelic and the Catholic liturgical festival have influenced the secular customs now connected with Halloween.- Wikipedia

So it's been around for a long, long time. And, it's kind of cool, it's fun, kids love it, adults love to dress up and get foolish for a day or a night, or both. And why not. Life is stressful and we need a reason to cut loose and get a little crazy. Now a days Halloween for adults seems to be dressing up in ways you would never consider dressing up. Guys dress as their heroes, or even as women; women dress as nurses, sexy French maids, slutty girls or prostitutes, sexy witches, sexy demons, sexy cat ladies, sexy whatever (yes, you can see the direction they have gone). Really, we've gotten mostly away from the truly scary aspects of it. It's turned into living our fantasies out, letting go and being who we would never be in real life. Not that we want to be that, but we want to break out of our boxed in proper lives. It's what Marde Gras is all about in New Orleans and can understand why it's so popular.

And it's fun to be scared. Sometimes. Why? It's like a rollercoaster, you are scared out of your mind (well, that's the idea anyway), but you know, in the back of your mind, that you are really safe, no matter what, when you get off the ride, you will be alive, safe, and unharmed. Maybe a little less blood in the veins in your face, but you will have experienced the extremes of "fight or flight" (mostly the flight part) without any seminal worry about being eaten, because that's where it all comes from, death and dying. Falling from a tree, or off a distance high enough to kill you or escaping from a predator larger and meaner than you are.

And so, experiencing that fear, and knowing you will (should) survive, is a form of entertainment. And so we have amusement parks, extreme sports (not so safe perhaps but mostly), and Horror and Thriller tales and movies. At one time we were terrified of these things, but with modern technology such as books, radio, movies, we have learned that we can be brave and stare death down. I'm fearful of bunge jumping, but not sky diving. I don't like looking over a cliff, but I will climb up or down one with the right equipment (like a rope and some carabiners).

I can't count the number of times I've stared death in the face and lived to tell about it. I've had guns pointed in my face close enough to touch them (and thankfully not fired), hung from cliffs and gone "cliff surfing" (you leap off a cliff onto a steep slope of dirt and rock and try to surf on your feet), jumped from planes thousands of feet in the air, ridden motorcycles where they weren't originally meant to go (dirt biking), raced cars (sometimes on roads not meant for that kind of thing with a 1,000 foot drop on one side on a curving road with a steep cliff going upward on the other side), and as I said, I lived to tell about it.

We're perhaps, in a way, more brave than many of our ancestors. And less brave in other ways, for them it was existence, for us, entertainment where we expect to survive, but they expected to die, a huge difference.

But if I had to choose, whether I could experience real danger or supposed danger, I think mostly I woud choose supposed danger, hanging from the cliff, with knowledge, skills and equipment appropriate to the task. It allows you to expience shere terror in a safe environment. Would I rather experience Call of Duty on a video game, where it seems real, or live it in a real war zone? If you asked me that in my 20's you'd get a different answer than now.

And so that is in part what Halloween is now all about. Fun. Some parents think it is damaging to the immature psyche. But I think if handled correctly, it can be a growing event. We need to have some degree of being able to handle the fearful, even the terrifying. When a fire is burning a family alive in your neighborhood, do you want to raise kids who will run away, or help? Surely you won't want them to blindly run into a burning building, even though those are the moments that make heroes. And surely, we need heroes at times. But the essence is in calculated risk. IF there is a possibility of saving lives and living, wouldn't you want to do it? Wouldn't you want your child to try to save your younger child, in a dangerous situation? Of course you wouldn't want to lose both kids, but isn't it worth a risk to save both?

That is a question we all have to live with. We never know when you will be called on to risk your life to save another. And a good understanding, a good experience in what is scary, is part and parcel of that. So I think Halloween is a healthy and good holiday. We need to be able to face our demons in so many ways in life. And Halloween is one way to start that journey.

Aside from that, it can simply be fun. I've heard many religious people claim it is all about demons and anti God elements. Yes? What's your point? To hide from them? Or to experience them so your child will stand up to a demon in the name of God, or whatever? Isn't hiding from the truly scary a wimpy servant of your God? I think it is. Halloween really isn't glorifying demons, it is showing them for what they are. Fears deep within our psyches, fears we need to deal with, not hide from, and if possible, make light of and if they ever come to be, we might have that edge that lets us stand up and be counted. And beat down the demon.

If that demon is a pedophile murderer stealing a child off your neighborhood streets, we need to deal with that demon. Because honestly, regardless of your religious orientation, most, if not all, of aour demons, are real people. Evil in people, or situations. Situations that need to be confronted, and handled appropriately. Typically in ways that require more people to be involved, transparency and action to right what are wrongs.

So, enjoy Halloween. Enjoy exploiting your fears and out surviving them. And just maybe, our world could be a better place.

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