Friday, October 31, 2008


the awful deadMelancholicus is not sure which day he despises most—St. Patrick’s day (March 17, and a holy day of obligation in the dioceses of Ireland), or today, Hallowe’en.

Both days are—at least in their origins—religious festivals of unimpeachable character. But their celebration today has been robbed of all recognisably Christian content, whereat they are perverted to the level of bacchanalia in a spectacle of which words such as ‘orgiastic’, ‘frenzy’ and ‘excess’ would not be an unfitting description.

The feast of St. Patrick, the apostle of Ireland c. 500 A.D., is today an occasion for inebriation of a kind to which even the drunken Irish are unaccustomed. The so-called “St. Patrick’s Day Parade” held in Dublin (and mimicked elsewhere throughout the country) has nothing to do with St. Patrick, or with the coming to Ireland of the light of the Christian faith, but is an unedifying spectacle reminiscent of Mardi Gras and (public nudity excepted) with a similar degree of wild abandon. The only remaining religious aspect of the day is the Mass, but even this has been infiltrated by the same kind of trivialising frivolity that has given us enormities such as green beer in the pubs and green milkshakes at McDonalds. Melancholicus has even seen the liturgical abuse of green vestments being worn during the celebration of the saint’s Mass.

But enough of poor St. Patrick, and the degradation to which celebration of his feast has sunk, for today is your blogger’s other most hated day.

The name Halloween (more properly Hallowe’en) is a contraction of All Hallows’ Even, namely the vigil of the feast of All Saints (1 November). Melancholicus traditionally celebrates Hallowe’en by reciting First Vespers of All Saints, after which he pours himself a double gin and tonic, then enjoys his dinner and—external factors permitting—relaxes by the fire. He has no time for the neo-pagan mummery now associated with Hallowe’en, or for the glut of horror films typically shown on the television, nor for the pagan apologetics and sympathetic publicizing in the media of hazards like wicca, and he has absolutely no time whatever for the frenzied youths that run wild, shoving matchboxes filled with excrement through people’s letterboxes, or inserting fireworks up the exhaust pipes of parked cars (or even in the fuel pipe in an attempt to ignite the contents of the tank), or hurling explosives at those unlucky enough to be compelled by their employment to be out in public on this night.

The association of Hallowe’en with the preternatural world is in its origin Celtic, since 1 November is Samain, which begins the dark half of the year and functions as a kind of Celtic new year’s day. What makes Samain particularly auspicious (or inauspicious, as the case may be) is that it is a junture of particular importance. In the Celtic reckoning of time, it was not days and nights that were regarded as particularly important with respect to the preternatural, but the divisions between them. Boundaries between different places were invested with a similar significance for the same reason. According to this belief, one is most likely to encounter a ghost not at night, but at dusk, since dusk is the boundary between night and day. Similarly, one may meet with greatest misfortune at the boundary between this world and the síd (otherworld), rather than in either one or the other.

So the eve of Samain is a juncture of particular danger, because many different boundaries co-incide at once. Once the sun has set but before darkness has fallen completely, it is neither day nor night; we are neither in the light half nor in the dark; we are neither in the old year nor in the new. At such times the boundaries between this world and the other are blurred, the tides of chaos are loosed and preternatural forces have free play with the world of men. Hence the origin of the association of Hallowe’en with ghosts and spectres and hauntings and that sort of thing.

This night is indeed a night of horror, but not owing to Celtic superstitions; Melancholicus is far more concerned about a potential confrontation with those who walk on two legs in a living body than with the spirits of the dead. It is prudent to keep an eye on one’s car until the chaotics have gone home to bed and the nocturnal fracas has died away. If one has a household pet such as a dog or a cat, one MUST keep the animal indoors on this night; dogs, particularly, with their amplified sense of hearing, suffer great distress on being exposed to the noise of fireworks (which, incidentally, are illegal in this country, but the law is in no wise enforced). The chaotics have been known to throw smaller animals onto bonfires, deriving a sick amusement from such cruelty. Other animals have had fireworks strapped to their bodies, or inserted into their orifices. This is the busiest night of the year for the emergency services; the police, the fire brigade, the ambulance service (and doubtless the ISPCA) will be kept going all night.

The celebration of Hallowe’en was not always so lawless and fraught with peril; it used to be, as recently as Melancholicus’ childhood, a gentle evening of fun and entertainment (with mild scariness) for the benefit of children. Today it has been taken over by the yob element, whom one cannot safely ask to move on elsewhere, never mind remonstrate, for fear—literally—of being killed. I do not exaggerate.

Excess is tolerated in our society, and from some avenues even positively encouraged.

This is the fruit of social inversion.

No comments: