Friday, October 31, 2008

All Hallows Eve

As a kid, I loved the mysticism of Halloween. I knew that the origin of the day lay in the Irish myth of All Hallows Eve, which states that on October 31 the boundary between the living and the dead dissolved, and spirits could walk the earth. If you asked me, I could relate this fact to you and laugh at its implications. And the laughter would continue...until the sun went down. Then, terror would slowly creep into my soul.
What if it was true?
As I walked through my neighborhood trick or treating I was aware of every sound - real or imagined - that came from the wood around us. Was it spirits? Or was it a nocturnal beastie making his way about? It was probably the latter but I wouldn't rule out the former, either. And it could be anything out there rummaging around in the dark? It could be anything. After all, traditional Halloween symbols obviously include ghouls, witches, owls, crows, vultures, pumpkin-men, black cats, spiders, goblins, zombies, mummies, skeletons, and demons. For me, I always had a particular fascination/fear with scarecrows and pumpkin-men.
Autumn in New England finds pumpkins everywhere. We didn't live on a farm, although there was one not 100 yards away from my house, but pumpkins were everywhere. I used to believe that the spirits of Halloween just loved to inhabit scarecrows with pumpkin heads and animate them to do their bidding. For me, the idea of an animated scarecrow was terrifying. the glowing eyes lit from within, the horrible carved grin, the rustling sound one would make as the hay stuffed inside its tattered clothing shuffled along in their horrible gait.

As awful as this was for me, there was still a legend that haunted me more: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Is there anything more terrifying than them maniacal laugh of the Headless Horseman as he bears down upon the hapless Ichabod Crane?

"As yet the panic of the steed had given his unskilful rider an apparent advantage in the chase; but just as he had got half way through the hollow, the girths of the saddle gave way, and he felt it slipping from under him. He seized it by the pommel, and endeavored to hold it firm, but in vain; and had just time to save himself by clasping old Gunpowder round the neck, when the saddle fell to the earth, and he heard it trampled under foot by his pursuer. For a moment the terror of Hans Van Ripper’s wrath passed across his mind—for it was his Sunday saddle; but this was no time for petty fears; the goblin was hard on his haunches; and (unskilful rider that he was!) he had much ado to maintain his seat; sometimes slipping on one side, sometimes on another, and sometimes jolted on the high ridge of his horse’s backbone, with a violence that he verily feared would cleave him asunder.
An opening in the trees now cheered him with the hopes that the church bridge was at hand. The wavering reflection of a silver star in the bosom of the brook told him that he was not mistaken. He saw the walls of the church dimly glaring under the trees beyond. He recollected the place where Brom Bones’s ghostly competitor had disappeared. “If I can but reach that bridge,” thought Ichabod, “I am safe.” Just then he heard the black steed panting and blowing close behind him; he even fancied that he felt his hot breath. Another convulsive kick in the ribs, and old Gunpowder sprang upon the bridge; he thundered over the resounding planks; he gained the opposite side; and now Ichabod cast a look behind to see if his pursuer should vanish, according to rule, in a flash of fire and brimstone. Just then he saw the goblin rising in his stirrups, and in the very act of hurling his head at him. Ichabod endeavored to dodge the horrible missile, but too late. It encountered his cranium with a tremendous crash—he was tumbled headlong into the dust, and Gunpowder, the black steed, and the goblin rider, passed by like a whirlwind."
To this day, the idea of the Headless Horseman sends a fantastic shiver down my spine.
The Disney version scared me for years. This may be one of the Disney Studios most effective scenes ever. Pay close attention to the animals and their warnings...

I love Halloween.
On this most mystical of days, when the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead dissipates, if only for a night, I will take great care when I am out and about. Tonight I will listen close for any whispers on the wind or the sound of rustling hay and I will look for the glint of life in the light of a pumpkin's eye. I will remember the fun and fears of All Hallows Eve.


Blogger Bridget said...

We ran into some great characters tonight on our rounds. One of the best was a very tall-looking invisible man, with a hat and glasses "floating" above his suit jacket. Riley's bloody tooth costume was a great hit at the town parade, but turned out to be a very difficult affair for trick-or-treating while navigating stairs and doorsteps. After one block we scooted by our house and we reverted back to the old cat costume stand-by. A great time was had by all and now I have WAY TOO MUCH CHOCOLATE in this house! Happy Halloween.

10:33 PM, October 31, 2008  
Blogger Fox In Detox said...

I love Halloween too, and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow is one of my all time favorites. Christopher Walken made a particularly ghoulish headless horseman. Nice post friend.

8:34 AM, November 03, 2008  

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