Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Capitalism, Death Penalty, Dracula, Frankenstein, Halloween, Heroes, Justice, LGBT, Metaphor, Oppression, Patriarchy, Poverty, Red Riding Hood, Scary Stories, Storytelling, The Walking Dead, War, Werewolves
“Our fight is not against people on earth but against the rulers and authorities and the powers of this world’s darkness, against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly world.”
Paul’s words from his letter to friends in the Ephesian church often get trotted out at this time of year. Those sharing them intend them as a warning. “Stay away!” “Don’t be tempted to celebrate evil!” “Protect your children!” “Flee! Hide! Resist!” But I fear that due to their misunderstanding of the nature of Story, their resistance is aimed in the wrong direction.
Because this is truly the time of year most embedded in Story, the time of year we are most deeply wedded to metaphor, the time of year we use Story to defend, distract, protect and bring Hope. The long and convoluted history of Halloween (From Samhain & Mischief Night to the Christianised All Hallows Eve and now Trick or Treat and Commercialised tool of Capitalism to make yet more money from the masses) is much documented elsewhere and by more determined and informed scholars than I. But the essential spirit of Storytelling during and around the festival cannot be shaken. And it’s a deep and abiding demonstration of how much we need Story and how much we’ve truly forgotten about it.
What “need” is being fulfilled in the stories that abound on Halloween? It’s the idea that our deepest fears and those powers of “this world’s darkness” are indeed so terrifying and seemingly undefeatable that we must distract ourselves with ghosts, goblins and monsters; that we must convert those terrors into metaphors to truly deal with them on a mental and emotional level; that we must “terrify” ourselves with stories of zombies and flesh eaters and vampires and witches so as to not become immobilised with fear in the face of the true horrors (war, poverty, disease, oppression, exclusion, violence….) we face every day; that we can somehow reduce the power of these terrors by lampooning them, by making fun of them, by “storifying” them. There is of course also the element of “there but for the grace of god…”. And we populate these stories with slayers and priests and heroes to give us hope that the terrors can be faced and defeated.
There’s also a strong theme of moralising and warning in our scariest of stories. Not just our ancient tales, but most evident in the rise of The Urban Myth and the Horror Films of the 20th Century. It’s the idea that only the virginal escape (Patriarchy Claxon!), that you must not wander from the path (yes Red Riding Hood, I’m looking at YOU), that if you give in to emotion or strong passion that you may be overcome by the inner wolf, that you must be either very wary of or very kind to strangers in need and that elders must be respected and never challenged (second Patriarchy Claxon). There are warnings on going against the natural order and placing yourself in a Godlike position, warnings against how we treat nature and our fellow inhabitants of the planet and warnings against making deals you cannot keep. And these warnings are needed, these are ideas that we must continue to “dream” about in our communities through story, these are ideas that need to be questioned and challenged and re-interpreted and retold.
And there’s the idea that sometimes we just need to be scared. That surge of adrenalin when a monster jumps out helps us remember we’re alive and that we want to be alive. That moment when a character is in peril reminds us of our own humanity. And when they triumph we are reminded that monsters and dragons and demons can indeed be overcome – but care must be taken in their defeat that we do not become the monsters ourselves in the battle (the overarching theme of The Walking Dead among other stories).
There is of course a debate about the level to which our stories take us, the level of violence, the level of unremitting hatred, the level of unrelenting gore, blood and guts. Phrases like “desensitisation to violence”, “value of life” and “care of what you let into your mind” are important components of this debate and I believe are important drivers in our motivations and decisions on this. Personally, I think scary stories are good for us. But I do not think seeing heads constantly smashed open is. We don’t need to open ourselves up to scenes of violence we could hardly imagine in order to use story to distract, defend and give hope. In fact, the less we see, the scarier.
But more than anything, let’s not get too distracted by ghouls and skeletons and pentagrams to be able to fight against the real powers of this world’s darkness.
For those powers are real, they are everyday and they are opposed to everything that disciples of Jesus stand for. They are the bombs dropping on Aleppo – and the greed for Capital derived from Oil that drives them. They are the Death Penalty – and the devaluation of humanity that lies behind it. They are FGM and Prostitution and Traffiking and Domestic Violence – and the Patriarchal Control that underlies them. They are the Israeli government violently subjugating its Palestinian residents and Palestinians in turn commiting violence against Isrealis – and the ancient family feud powered by pain and rejection and jealousy that feeds them. They are notes pushed through Polish doors telling Vermin to go home – and the fear of the Other that fuels such racism. They are the bullets riddling LGBT bodies in a Florida Nightclub, the pack turning on a supporter of equal marriage, the parents who turn out their Trans son, the church that recognises your Preaching gift but “politely” says no thanks, the unrelenting vocabulary hurled at teens and adults which slowly crushes your spirit until suicide seems a logical option – and the spirit of fear, hatred, rejection, legalism and exclusionism (oh and if you missed it, more Patriarchy) that upholds them. They are benefit sanctions and legal loopholes and tax laws that benefit the rich and “the deserving poor” narratives and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” that leaves no room for Grace or the strong lifting and protecting the weak – and the utter self-preservation, unlove and dark spirit of Capitalism that ensures “I acquire and retain my capital at all costs”.
If you want a horror story that depicts the terrifying and soul destroying consequences of not opposing the powers of this world’s darkness, spend some time watching “I, Daniel Blake”. That’s the darkness that too many are facing and the indifference and implicit approval of Daniel’s horror is the very spirit of opposing Jesus (aka Anti-Christ).
Or just have fun at Halloween, tell a ghost story, carve a Turnip (or more accurately a Swede – a lot tougher than these namby pamby Pumpkins) and emboldened that the Vampire can be defeated, go out the next day and celebrate All Saints day by gearing up and fighting the real dark powers that want to crush this world.