Monthly Archives: October 2011

Pregnant women control birth to avoid Halloween

Fright night just got a little bit spookier. Pregnant women have their own little trick on Halloween – they seem able to time the delivery of their baby to avoid giving birth on this day.

Rebecca Levy at Yale School of Public Health and colleagues examined 1.8 million US birth records from 1996 to 2006, and found that birth rates dropped by 11.3 per cent on 31 October, when compared with the two-week window surrounding the date. The significant declines in deliveries on Halloween applied to natural births as well as scheduled caesarean and induced births….

Levy suggests that Halloween’s associations with death and evil are in direct contrast with the idea of creating life and may subconsciously affect a woman’s desire to give birth.” (via New Scientist).

The lure of horror

Horror eng..

Mind Hacks pointed me to this fascinating article from the current issue of The Psychologist, which explores the psychology of horror, why we like to be scared, and whether a greater psychological understanding could even guide horror writers and directors into even scarier territory. I would welcome that, as long as my cardiovascular health can tolerate being frightened out of my wits. I have always been a fan of horror films and relished the feeling of the eerie, but it has been a long time since I have been truly, disquietingly, scared by a movie-viewing experience.

Day-of-the-Dead-themed sand sculpture tribute to OWS

This is from a Padre Island sand-castle sculpting contest. The artist, Carl Jara writes, “Calavera del Toro… depicts Occupy Wall Street in a Day of the Dead satire. Created last weekend at Sand Castle Days in South Padre Island, Texas. A banker and a politician sit comfortably toasting their overflowing champagne flutes to the skull of their recently slain Wall Street bull, draped in a Golden Parachute.” (via Flickr, with thanks to Boing Boing)

Hallowe’en mannequin prank

Jack-o-latern

“This 2009 video shows off a curiously effective Hallowe’en prank: the pranksters dressed a child-sized mannequin in a skeleton costume, then posed it, holding a candy-bag, in front of houses, rang the bell and ran off. The homeowners opened their door to find a silent, staring, motionless, costumed “child” — creepily clever. ” (via Boing Boing).

Giving the F.B.I. What It Wants

The Seal of the United States Federal Bureau o...

When Maryland educator and artist  Hasan Elahi was erroneously flagged as a would-be terrorist and investigated by the FBI, he decided to cooperate and given them all the information they needed to clear himself… and more, much much more. He found that overwhelming them with irrelevant meticulous edtail about your life protects your privacy as well as trying to hide. It sort of reminds me of what some people did to resist the draft in the ’70’s, trying to paralyze and overwhelm the system by sending tons of data, or even bricks, for inclusion in their Selective Service files. Elahi conceived of it as an art project, and more:

 

BlogOpen 2011: Hasan Elahi – Identity and Priv...

“What I’m doing is no longer just an art project; creating our own archives has become so commonplace that we’re all — or at least hundreds of millions of us — doing it all the time. Whether we know it or not.” 

(via NYTimes)

Happy Samhain

A reprise of my traditional Hallowe’en post of past years:

It is that time of year again. What has become a time of disinhibited hijinx and mayhem, and a growing marketing bonanza for the kitsch-manufacturers and -importers, has primeval origins as the Celtic New Year’s Eve, Samhain (pronounced “sow-en”). The harvest is over, summer ends and winter begins, the Old God dies and returns to the Land of the Dead to await his rebirth at Yule, and the land is cast into darkness. The veil separating the worlds of the living and the dead becomes frayed and thin, and dispossessed dead mingle with the living, perhaps seeking a body to possess for the next year as their only chance to remain connected with the living, who hope to scare them away with ghoulish costumes and behavior, escape their menace by masquerading as one of them, or placate them with offerings of food, in hopes that they will go away before the new year comes. For those prepared, a journey to the other side could be made at this time. It is fortunate that Hallowe’en falls on a Monday this year, as there is evidence that the pagan festival was celebrated for three days.

With Christianity, perhaps because with calendar reform it was no longer the last day of the year, All Hallows’ Eve became decathected, a day for innocent masquerading and fun, taking its name Hallowe’en as a contraction and corruption of All Hallows’ Eve. All Saints’ Day may have originated in its modern form with the 8th century Pope Gregory III. Hallowe’en customs reputedly came to the New World with the Irish immigrants of the 1840’s. The prominence of trick-or-treating has a slightly different origin, however.

The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have originated not with the Irish Celts, but with a ninth-century European custom called souling. On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for “soul cakes,” made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. At the time, it was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by strangers, could expedite a soul’s passage to heaven.

Jack-o’-lanterns were reportedly originally turnips; the Irish began using pumpkins after they immigrated to North AMerica, given how plentiful they were here.

The Jack-o-lantern custom probably comes from Irish folklore. As the tale is told, a man named Jack, who was notorious as a drunkard and trickster, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of a cross in the tree’s trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down the tree.

According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to Heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied access to Hell because he had tricked the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember to light his way through the frigid darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer.

Folk traditions that were in the past associated wtih All Hallows’ Eve took much of their power, as with the New Year’s customs about which I write here every Dec. 31st, from the magic of boundary states, transition and liminality.

The idea behind ducking, dooking or bobbing for apples seems to have been that snatching a bite from the apple enables the person to grasp good fortune. Samhain is a time for getting rid of weakness, as pagans once slaughtered weak animals which were unlikely to survive the winter. A common ritual calls for writing down weaknesses on a piece of paper or parchment, and tossing it into the fire. There used to be a custom of placing a stone in the hot ashes of the bonfire. If in the morning a person found that the stone had been removed or had cracked, it was a sign of bad fortune. Nuts have been used for divination: whether they burned quietly or exploded indicated good or bad luck. Peeling an apple and throwing the peel over one’s shoulder was supposed to reveal the initial of one’s future spouse. One way of looking for omens of death was for peope to visit churchyards

La Catrina – In Mexican folk culture, the Catr...

The Witches’ Sabbath aspect of Hallowe’en seems to result from Germanic influence, and fusion with the notion of Walpurgisnacht. (Familiar with the magnificent musical evocation of this, Mussorgsky’s Night on Bare Mountain?) Although probably not yet in a position to shape mainstream American Hallowe’en traditions, Mexican Dia de los Muertos observances have started to contribute some delightful and whimsical iconography to our encounter with the eerie and unearthly as well.

What was Hallowe’en like forty or fifty years ago in the U.S. when, bastardized as it has become with respect to its pagan origins, it retained a much more traditional flair? For my purposes, suffice it to say that it was before the era of the pay-per-view ’spooky-world’ type haunted attractions and its Martha Stewart yuppification with, as this irreverent Salon article from several years ago [via walker] puts it, monogrammed jack-o’-lanterns and the like. Related, a 1984 essay by Richard Seltzer, frequently referenced in other sources, entitled “Why Bother to Save Hallowe’en?”, argues as I do that reverence for Hallowe’en is good for the soul.

“Maybe at one time Hallowe’en helped exorcise fears of death and ghosts and goblins by making fun of them. Maybe, too, in a time of rigidly prescribed social behavior, Hallowe’en was the occasion for socially condoned mischief — a time for misrule and letting loose. Although such elements still remain, the emphasis has shifted and the importance of the day and its rituals has actually grown.…(D)on’t just abandon a tradition that you yourself loved as a child, that your own children look forward to months in advance, and that helps preserve our sense of fellowship and community with our neighbors in the midst of all this madness.”

That would be anathema to certain segments of society, however. Hallowe’en certainly inspires a backlash by fundamentalists who consider it a blasphemous abomination. ‘Amateur scholar’ Isaac Bonewits details academically the Hallowe’en errors and lies he feels contribute to its being reviled. Some of the panic over Hallowe’en is akin to the hysteria, fortunately now debunked, over the supposed epidemic of ‘ritual Satanic abuse’ that swept the Western world in the ’90’s.

The horror film has become inextricably linked to Hallowe’en tradition, although the holiday itself did not figure in the movies until John Carpenter took the slasher genre singlehandedly by storm. Googling “scariest films”, you will, grimly, reap a mother lode of opinions about how to pierce the veil to journey to the netherworld and reconnect with that magical, eerie creepiness in the dark (if not the over-the-top blood and gore that has largely replaced the subtlety of earlier horror films).

In any case: trick or treat!