Wednesday, October 16, 2013


by Janis Patterson

Halloween! The time of skeletons, ghosts, cookies shaped like bats and scary stories. We wear costumes of witches and zombies and pay money to have frightening things jump out of the dark at us in haunted houses.

So why? Some of the prime directives hardwired into our brain are to survive, to stay safe, to avoid danger. Again, so why on Halloween do we try to scare ourselves witless?

Because it is all play-like. No matter how much we scream and jump in the haunted house, we know that it is only an actor or a mechanical illusion. If we were really hurt by something, everything would stop and care would be showered on us. We wouldn’t really eat a bat, but a bat-shaped cookie is a harmless bit of set dressing – to say nothing of being tasty. The sinister monster or axe-murderer in the corner at the party is really your harmless neighbor from down the block. No one would like to live in a house with skeletons hung around or a mummy in the window (ok, I do know one who does, but though weird she’s basically harmless), hung in thick cobwebs and crawling with velveteen spiders. It’s the same reason we read horror stories at any time of year. We are scared, yes, but we can control the circumstances and therefore control our fear.

Perhaps that is the prime point – control. We know the skull cups aren’t real, because one, they are made of cheap plastic and two, we bought them at the local discount store a couple of days ago. Probably if at any other time of the year anyone offered us a bubbling, fog-shrouded drink in a cup made of a skull (real or fake), we’d scream and run like the dickens. At Halloween we know it’s all make-believe and therefore just part of the fun. Sort of like reading mysteries or thrillers where – no matter how scary or exciting the action is or how much the world is threatened – we always know all the way through that everything will be all right in the end.

Some things seem to be so intrinsic to us as humans that they are universal; we fear the spirits of the dead and believe (even if just a little) in curses. So did the Ancient Egyptians and Babylonians. In spite of our sophistication and knowledge and advanced culture, put us in a shadowy place and let a cold hand touch our flesh, or even just see an amorphous form of white vapor go past and we’re gulping and cringing and perhaps yelling, whether we profess to believe in ghosts or not.

Personally, I am firmly ambivalent. Intellectually I cannot accept the idea of a recognizable specter, head tucked securely under his arm, trotting down the corridor of some ancient pile on a regular schedule. Such a possibility goes against both logic and religion. On the other hand, I have had a few personal experiences that not only cannot be explained by either logic or religion, they were scary as heck! (And those of you who know me personally know that I do not scare easily.) I was alone, there were things going on I could neither explain nor control, and it was flat spooky. I couldn’t wait to get back to the safe world of normalcy.

Therefore, even though I prefer a solid world of rules and explainable phenomena, I will enjoy Halloween to the fullest, wearing wild costumes and eating yummies made to look distinctly unwholesome. I will dance with Death (who is reality is an accountant), laugh at ghosts who flit through the dark and hand out lashings of candy to all kinds of small hobgoblins.

At least, I will as long as I can control the light switch!

Happy Halloween!

And – Boooooo!


Pamela Stone said...

Boooo! Hi Janis. I love Halloween too. Love all the kiddos dressed up as everything from the traditional ghost or pumpkin to the latest superhero. Fun time of year with all the fall colors and falling leaves.

Fantasy Floozie- Kenya Wright said...

I shall dance with death with you!!

I usually don't celebrate Halloween much but this year I plan to have fun with my little ones and dress up.

Loretta C. Rogers said...

Very nice article, Janis. Although I write paranormal western romance, I don't celebrate Halloween. My grandmother was a seer. I grew up with that stuff and prefer to leave it to those who enjoy it.

Rose Anderson said...

Fun post. :)

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

When my kids were at home, we celebrated Halloween in a big way with wonderful homemade costumes and a scary way for the neighbor kids to get their candy. Now all are grown and we no longer celebrate the holiday. We live in the country and if anyone is brave enough to come down our dark long lane, past all the dogs, we do have treats ready.

Susan said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone - I know not everyone celebrates Halloween, but I love it - it's just about my favorite holiday of the year, right after Christmas and Thanksgiving! Candy and dressing up... yum!
Janis, aka Susan

Jacqueline Seewald said...

People do like to think that they can cheat death. Halloween is the holiday for scary stories. My mystery novel THE THIRD EYE is set at Halloween for that reason among others.

Alyssa Maxwell said...

I miss New England this time of year. Halloween is also the time of the harvest and fiery autumn leaves, of cooling temps and crystal clear Indian summer days. I remember looking out at the oak treeline behind my house at dusk and easily imagining witches flying across the sky. It's harder to get into the spirit here in Florida, so we really need to use our imaginations. I guess that's why Floridians tend to over-compensate no matter what the holiday is. :-)

Larion aka Larriane Wills said...

I enjoyed Halloween when I was a kid, when my kids were home, extended it into enjoying it with my grandkids, and miss it once they got too old for grandma to tag along. pure fun

Janni Nell said...

Longing to know your personal experiences that couldn't be explained. Want to share?

Sydell Voeller said...

Yes, my curiosity is also piqued about your paranormal experience. I've had a couple, although they were more comforting than scary.

Anonymous said...

Like you, I've always enjoyed being scared. Reading scary books, watching scary movies, I'll do that year round, but Halloween is a really fun time to be scared by children who are having so much fun with their play acting. Nice article.

Sandy Cody said...

Nice post, Susan. I admit to being a wimp. I like being scared just a little. As for paranormal experiences, I believe in them generally. It seems arrogant to think we know all there is to know about the world. However, when I hear about something that doesn't fit the norm, I assume there's a rational explanation. Maybe that's why I write mysteries. I have to find the answer to he puzzle.

Morgan Mandel said...

Halloween and scary TV shows and movies are a fun way to get scared and know everything will still turn out all right.

Morgan Mandel