October is that wonderful magical month wedged between the start of autumn and the beginning of winter, the 10th page on the calendar, the month we choose to celebrate those things that scare us. Ghosts and goblins and witches and werewolves, all of the fantastical, supernatural and mystical dark creatures of ancient lore come out to decorate our homes and offices and all manner of businesses. Pumpkins are the vegetable de jour, found in everything from lattes to cereals. We teach our children from their earliest memories that October is the month we can dress up in a costume, knock on a stranger’s door and they will gift us with candy for that effort.
It’s almost as if we convince ourselves that if we pay homage to these fearsome dark creatures once a year we might be immune from any fearful things the rest of the year. In ancient times, amulets were created to protect the carrier from any evil force or illness or any other bad thing that might cross their path. The celebration of Halloween mostly came from Celtic paganism in ancient Ireland and the British Isles, when they celebrated their feast of Samhain, the new year. They believed it was the time when ghosts and spirits came out to haunt, and they could appease the spirits by giving them treats. Today the reality is that the majority of us revel in the spirit of this magic month. In fact, Halloween in one of the most lucrative holidays celebrated in the country today. Decorations, costumes, baked goods and candies, pumpkin patch mazes, haunted houses, scary movies and TV shows are everywhere and I confess… I love it all.
October seems the right time to poke the beast that scares us. It’s wonderful to reassure ourselves that the vampire reaching out to grab us will never reach us but we relish the delicious thrill we get when they do. It’s fun to dress as something funny or scary just to be in the spirit of the season. I myself am partial to witches and witch lore but I do love vampire tales and their long history as well. It’s hard to say where this fascination had started but it has been with me as long as I can remember.
The truth is we are all seduced by the dark side. It’s part of human nature. It’s just that some of us go further into the darkness then others and some of us really like it there. One of my favorite songs, both lyrically and musically is Bruce Springsteen’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town”. In that song, Springsteen writes that there is a cost for wanting things a person can only find in the darkness but he was willing to pay that price. I understand that attraction and I also understand the scary feeling for having that attraction.
What scares me this October? On the street and in the news there is the daily erosion of civility, respect, human kindness and understanding. There is an erosion of truth, the constant barrage of lies and tales that unbelievably some people choose to believe. There is the ugliness of words and deeds and the complete disregard of human suffering as it has become a subject of ridicule and ugly humor. What scares me even more is that these things will not be put away once October is finished. Unlike the empty candy wrappers and discarded decorations, they will not disappear from sight when the month turns.
My son once told me it was good to scare yourself from time to time. What he meant was we should push ourselves out of our comfort zone occasionally just so we stay on our toes and don’t get complacent. In October we playfully poke the beast, that thing that can make us scared but only enough so we can run away and take shelter. But this October there is no shelter from the ugly things crawling through this country and running the government. This October there seems to be a lack of understanding of the power of words. As a writer, I know I can use words to inspire or encourage but I can use those same words to wound or destroy. Words can be a balm or they can be a battle cry. And like that genie in a bottle, those words cannot be put back once they have been unleashed.
This October looks the same in many ways. I pass by my neighbors homes festooned with scarecrows and lights and things that go bump in the night decorating the front stoop. I expect children in costumes to ring my doorbell and gleefully call out “trick or treat”, confident that I will drop a sweet into their out stretched bags. But the darkness I see on the edge of town this October is not one I am tempted to walk into. I am afraid of what might still be hiding there. I am haunted by the creatures that have been crawling out of spaces long thought to be contained. Instead I will fill my home with candles and light and I will hope, like those ancient Celts, that I can keep the demons at bay, at least for one more year. I hope.