Holding Still

For some people today is the start of the “holiday season.”  Thanksgiving begins what often becomes a rush up until Christmas.  Moods tend to be more festive, if not carefree.  As for me, I always save up vacation days so that I can make my own mini “semester break” late in December.  From the onset of the holiday season I can see far enough to be able to make it through the rest of the year.  For me the season seems to begin at Halloween.  It’s not a federal holiday and I don’t know anyone who gets Halloween off of work, but I take holidays seriously, and Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are all anticipated days.  And in the spirit of the day, I’m thinking of the many things for which I’m thankful.

Family, friends, and health go without saying.  I really don’t need a holiday to remind me to be grateful for these things.  This year I’m thankful to have made it back from Denver unscathed.  Since it was over twelve hours of travel (less than three of those hours spent in flight) to get home, it was a long, weary, mask-wearing day of travel.  Denver Airport is nearly an hour from downtown.  The American Airlines agent was able to get me an earlier flight to Chicago.  My reading was disrupted by sleepiness and the fact that the woman next to me was watching Jordan Peele’s Nope on her laptop.  I’ve been meaning to watch it again, so I hope I wasn’t obvious when I didn’t strictly observe the custody of my eyes.  The most grueling part, however, was the four-hour layover in Chicago’s O’Hare.  

No matter what the owners do, there’s a limit to how comfortable airport waiting can be.  You have to keep a constant eye on your bags.  Very, very few people are wearing masks.  And two days before Thanksgiving is a busy travel day with people trying to avoid the busiest travel day of the year (yesterday).  I’m thankful to have gotten home and not to have been too much the worse for the wear.  And I’m thankful to spend a day not having to wear a mask.  It’s funny how having to wear one for five straight days all day long can become a point of dread.  I like being able to take a drink of water without having to pull down a mask.  Returning to life as usual will take some adjustment—it always does.  So much travel after spending years not doing it is a bit of a shock to the system.  I’m reminded of one of the most colourful place names we encountered in the highlands of Scotland, and it is my theme this Thanksgiving: Rest and Be Thankful.

Rest and Be Thankful, unknown photographer

Not Over

It’s not over, you know.  Halloween, I mean.  We may have made it through the actual night of trick-or-treating with all of its build-up, but like many holidays from olden times, Halloween was, and still should be, part of a complex of holy days.  People have long believed that something was transitioning at this time of year.  Halloween spun off of its more sacred sibling, All Saints Day.  Before Christianization, Samhain perhaps spanned more than one day.  As a result of relentless capitalism with its parsimonious counting of days off, like pre-conversion Scrooge, has made all holidays one-day events.  Sometimes you need some time to sort out what’s happening and this three-day complex is one of those times.  Día de los Muertos begins today—this holiday’s just getting started.

I’ve frequently suggested to the few who’ll listen that we need to take holidays seriously.  Culturally we tolerate them as days of less productivity.  Who actually gets Halloween off work?  And how many of us work in places where “Happy Halloween” is a regular greeting on the 31st?  I don’t know about you, but in all my Zoom meetings yesterday nobody was wearing a costume.  And yet, at Nashotah House I learned that today is a “day of obligation.”  Attending services isn’t optional (of course, it never was optional at Nashotah).  But this one was really serious.  The Catholic Church moved All Saints Day to November 1 to counter Samhain celebrations encountered in Celtic lands.  People are reluctant to give up their religion, however, and the day before All Hallows allowed for Samhain to retain its identity.  And even today’s not the end of the season.  Tomorrow has traditionally been All Souls Day.  But what company’s going to give you three days off at this time of year? We’re gearing up for Black Friday.

Holidays serve to give structure to the passing of time.  Winter with its privations is on its way.  This autumnal complex of holidays, whether celebrated as Samhain, Día de los Muertos, or Halloween-All Saints-All Souls, reminds us to take a pause and ponder what all of this really means.  And not only ponder, but also celebrate.  Halloween is fun with its costumes and candy and spooky decorations, but it’s more than just that.  It’s a season of existential questions and of preparing for the inevitable cold days ahead.  We ignore such things at our own peril.  There are reasons for holidays, but those who find meaning only in mammon see no reason to offer even one day off, amid a season we most deeply, intensely need.


This Halloween

This year I’ve been making a conscious effort to appreciate autumn.  It’s admittedly difficult when you’re forced to sit in an office, even a home office, for most of the daylight hours five days a week.  (At least I have a window here, which I never had on Madison Avenue.)  Seeing the blue skies and colorful leaves, each individual one of which is a singular work of art, or watching the moody, cloudy skies, I wish for freedom.  Every night before falling asleep, if I can remember to do so, the last word I whisper to myself has been “September,” then “October,” to remind myself of the wonder of this time of year in which I’ve been privileged to live.  Since America is driven by money alone, often in the guise of religion, Halloween is practically over before it begins.  Stores have sold their candy and spooky decorations, now it’s on to the more lucrative Christmas season.

Do we really believe that holidays have any power anymore?  Is Halloween really, perhaps, a time when the veil between worlds is actually thin?  Or have we ceased believing in the other world, the one behind all the money and sham?   Holidays are liminal times.  In an ironic way, it’s my heartfelt appreciation of Halloween that led me to write about The Wicker Man, although it’s set half a year away.  Nashotah House was hardly an ideal place to work, but prior to an administration change, it was the best place I’ve ever lived to celebrate Halloween.  A campus with an in-house cemetery, and surrounded (at the time) by cornfields and woods, was adjunct to really believing.  It was a haunted place.

Out on late nights or early mornings, I often felt it.  Trying to photograph a comet down by the lake by myself, woods on either side, in the total dark.  Or dragging a lawn chair through the trees to the edge of a cornfield at 4 a.m. to try to catch a meteor shower.   Hiding in the graveyard on Halloween night, dressed as a grim reaper to follow the hay wagon of kids that the maintenance director would drive through on that night.  Those memories remain as highlights of my foreshortened teaching career.  Since Harry Potter was in the ascendant, students had taken to calling the seminary “Hogwarts,” and, I was told, I was the master of Ravenclaw.  The leaves, miniature Van Gogh’s each one, are fast falling from the trees.  There’s a decided chill in the air.  Something might, just might, really happen this Halloween.


Hallowed Tradition

The more I learn about the movie industry the more complex I realize it is.  Take Trick ‘r Treat, for example.  It was released to some film festivals—and backed by a major studio—in 2007.  I wondered why I’d never really heard of it, and the reason seems to be that it never had a theatrical release.  Until this month.  It is now playing in theaters.  The thing is, it’s already available on streaming services because it gained a cult following when it was initially released fifteen years ago.  I came to know about it by wandering into one of those Halloween pop-up stores recently.  There were plenty of Sam costumes so I did a little research and discovered a Halloween movie I’d never seen.

I have to say, the first time watching it was confusing.  I didn’t realize it was four or five separate, but interlaced stories.  I kept waiting for a central plot to emerge, but it didn’t.  At the same time, I wasn’t aware that it was a comedy horror either.  I have no problem with comedy horror, of course.  I just like to know that before I get into it.  Once I’d figured these things out, I could see the draw.  It is fun and seasonal.  Clearly it’s holiday horror.  In fact several websites list it as being essential October viewing.  It’s certainly different from many Halloween movies in refusing to be taken seriously.  It’s like adults having fun instead of kids enjoying the holiday.

Perhaps the most self-aware Halloween film, it constantly reinforces that you need to obey Samhain etiquette.  Those who are killed (and there are many) die for having violated the rules of the holiday.  I appreciate the fact that it insists that we do these things for a reason.  Wearing costumes, handing out candy, carving and lighting jack-o-lanterns, these all serve a purpose.  The movie suggests we need to do these things to stay safe from Sam.  Sam, of course, can’t be killed which means that a sequel may be in the works.  Trick ‘r Treat gets full marks for staying focused on the holiday.  Holiday horror has been a fascination of mine for some time and this movie has it in spades.  Even if it’s a little confusing at times, it’s a fun way to celebrate the season.  And this year you have your choice of seeing it in the theater or streaming it on your most convenient device.


Love for the Sky

People long for the sky.  We look at birds with envy and we have historically treated the weather, or the sky itself as divine.  To get oneself into the air is an expensive venture, no matter how it’s done.  One of the earliest forms of overcoming gravity was the hot air balloon.  The principle’s pretty simple: hot air rises.  Trap that hot air in a container large enough and it will lift a person, or people, to the sky.  Today ballooning remains popular, although not generally used for long-distance transit.  Still, to be in the sky is a consolation all its own.  Various hot air balloon festivals tour the country, but the Lehigh Valley Spooktacular Hot Air Balloon Festival was the first time I’d ever been close to an actual hot air balloon.  While not asking, I’m sure it is quite pricey to own and operate one.  Given the number of people there, it’s a safe bet that others are fascinated by the sky too.

Apart from one vampire balloon, two things made this “Spooktacular.”  One was the fact that it’s midway through October, the month for scares.  The other was the vendors selling Halloween merchandise.  Options for disguises have come a long way since my childhood.  Blinking LED lights dangling from tentacles and battery-operated masks of black that show patterns in glowing colors on the faces of the wearers were both popular among attendees.  And not just with children.  Although the festival runs all day for Saturday and Sunday there are those of us who came for the evening finale—a mass inflation of balloons followed by a laser show and fireworks.

Such shows as this obviously require a ton of tech and a lot of set-up, but I couldn’t help but think as I watched that the sky, so eerily lit up at times, that in ancient times this would certainly have been considered as a theophany, an appearance of the gods.  Projected onto the sky itself, or penetrating that very sky, the lights could be made at times to dip, creating the impression of something large descending from above.  It was a show worth seeing.  As we drove home—it was past my bedtime and I had the passive role of passenger—I spotted a large bird winging through the night, dark against a low cloud.  Too dark to identify (although probably an owl), I thought how birds have a view that’s still rare among land-dwellers.  Theirs is the realm of the gods.


Halloween Mothers

There’s an irony in seeing Samhain returning back to Ireland as Halloween.  One movie that ties its Celtic roots in particularly well with the denizens of the Otherworld is You Are Not My Mother.  Written and directed by Kate Dolan, it’s an intensely creepy film set in Dublin as Halloween approaches.  A dysfunctional family of grandmother Rita, mother Angela, and daughter Charlotte have a family history of changelings.  As the tension grows in the family the viewer, and Char, must decide whether to believe her mother or her grandmother.  Particularly disturbing are the actions of Char’s classmates as they bully and threaten her in truly horrific ways.  All of this happens as Halloween nears and adds to the uncertainty.

I really don’t want to give too much away as this is a movie well worth watching.  It satisfies an October itch.  It’s also a fine example of both “elevated” horror and folk horror.  Although filmed in Dublin, the landscape—particularly the river, plays an important role in the story.  The film even helps us out by having a museum tour explain what liminal spaces are and although much of the action takes place indoors, these outdoor places are essential.  There’s an awareness of landscape and what it implies regarding the Otherworld.  As with much intelligent horror, there’s little bloodshed but plenty of tension.  And the moody atmosphere of overcast Irish skies makes it possible almost to feel the chill in the air.

The families shown in the movie are working class, which adds to their emotional resonance.  Houses are lived in and not spic-n-span.  Work provides enough to get by but not much else.  In a strange way, having the Otherworld break through in such circumstances isn’t all that unusual.  Here is something to anticipate, to look forward to.  Something that might lift you out of the mundane workaday life.  Folklore began long ago and served a similar function, I suspect.  Surviving is difficult work.  Even the tradeoff in modern times of giving most of our waking time to our jobs is a reflection of this.  It’s not difficult to believe that there’s something a bit more stimulating, if dangerous, out there.  Something we want to avoid but that we can’t help but be fascinated by when we encounter it.  Horror offered by women directors is often thoughtful in that way.  You Are Not My Mother will help to set the mood for Halloween, as it’s done in the old country.  In its own way, it’s a changeling.


Scary Holidays

One of the real wonder of books is that they can spawn ideas outside their specific topics.  While revised dissertations can be somewhat difficult to read, Derek Johnston’s Haunted Seasons: Television Ghost Stories for Christmas and Horror for Halloween contains quite a few such moments of birthing ideas.  While being largely British-focused, it nevertheless explores holiday horror, a phenomenon that I’ve been researching for some time.  Not really a television watcher (not any more—as a child things were quite different), I don’t really keep up with many programs.  Still, I learned a lot from this book.  One of the main questions it addresses is something I’ve long wondered about—why is there a connection between Christmas and ghost stories in England?

Johnston points out that Celtic areas tended to have Halloween or its precursors to supply an occasion for otherworldly thinking.  The English, not wanting to think of themselves as these outer-lying cultures (I’m simplifying and abstracting a bit here), developed their own tradition of the Christmas ghost story.  It pre-dates Dickens and probably goes far enough back in history that there’s no way to trace it.  Telling ghost stories around the shortest day of the year makes its own sense.  Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was perhaps the most famous example, but M. R. James’ habit of telling ghost stories (later published) to students and fellow enthusiasts on Christmas Eve also plays into it.  In Britain this led to a series of BBC Ghost Story for Christmas shows.  Meanwhile, in America, where there was quite a lot of Celtic immigration, a taste for Halloween grew.

There are so many ideas that swirl around holidays.  I’ve been exploring the topic for nearly two decades now.  Publishers, always with their eyes on the bottom line, don’t produce much like this, figuring people will only buy it one season a year, and for books that means usually the first year only.  Some people (yours truly, for one) will buy books about holidays out of season.  So much of life is preparing for special times.  I suspect that ancient people also fell into humdrum daily existences also.  Humans require stimulation, we like variety and novelty.  Holidays are a great solution—they don’t occur every day.  If they did they wouldn’t be special.  They bring something different into our workaday world and, in modern times especially, we brand them so that each one is at least slightly different.  I don’t mind seeing the seasonal displays so early in the stores—it reminds me that haunted seasons are just around the corner.


Hollow

Now that we’re officially in September, it’s kosher to talk of Halloween horror (I’ve seen Christmas decorations in the stores already).  Well, around here we don’t really need an excuse, but since it’s handy I’ll use it.  Regular readers know I’ve been on a Sleepy Hollow kick lately, and I’d been wanting to see The Hollow.  Released as an ABC television movie, it had a fairly modest budget of only about $900,000 but managed to pull in stars with name recognition.  A pre-Penny Kaley Couco also appears as the new version of Katrina Van Tassel.  Let me back up a bit.  This is set in the present day.  Halloween eve.  Karen (not Katrina) is watching a Sleepy Hollow retelling being done by Ian Cranston, but her bored escort, Brody (Brom, anyone?), goes to the graveyard instead with some of his friends.  Two of them are killed.  Oh yes, there will be spoilers.

It turns out that Ian, who’s just moved to the area, is the last remaining descendant of Ichabod Crane.  You see, after Ichabod fled, and settled in New York City, he changed his name for fear that the Horseman would find him.  Now that a Crane is back in town, the Horseman rides again.  The teen-rivalry between Ian and Brody plays out at Karen takes a shine to the newcomer.  A descendant of Hans Van Ripper, who unaccountably talks like a pirate—lots of “ye”s thrown in—realizes that the Horseman’s after the young Cranston.  Since he’s the town drunk, though, nobody really believes anything he says.  On Halloween the town has a haunted hay ride in which each side of the love triangle is involved.  Brody plays the Horseman, but suddenly there are two of them—uh oh!

Cranston, who’s on the fencing team (to the everlasting shame of his football-coach father), is able to engage the fiend in swordplay and eventually destroys him.  He gets the girl and impresses his father all in one predictable way.  There are some laughs along the way, but for the most part this is played as teen drama.  Some racy scenes (and head-chopping) led to an R rating, but there’s little that’s surprising here.  For anyone who’s interested in the various ways Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” has been repackaged over the years, it’s a reasonable enough diversion.  When Halloween draws closer, however, it may well be time to try something a bit more appropriate for the harvest season.


October Early

Still feeling that August is the new October, although that particular day happened to reach over ninety degrees, I watched Halloween.  Not the John Carpenter original; I’ve seen that one a few times before.  No, I watched the 2018 version only to learn it’s a retcon.  If you’re like me you’ll wonder what a retcon is.  It’s a portmanteau of “retroactive continuity.”  That’s where a sequel goes back and makes adjustments, or simply ignores, story elements from the original to take the story forward.  I haven’t followed the Halloween franchise.  There are too many movies I want to see that are original, with fresh ideas, to be spending my time trying to find my way through an emerging mythology of a serial killer.  Michael Myers, as horror fans know, inexplicably killed his sister as a child.  As an adult he terrorized Haddonfield, Illinois  one Halloween and Laurie Strode was the final girl.

What drew me to this sequel was that Jamie Lee Curtis was back as Strode, all grown up.  Michael predictably escapes again and goes for an even higher body count in Haddonfield.  Laurie, meanwhile, has gone NRA and booby-trapped her entire house in anticipation of this day.  You can see the draw, I hope.  You kind of want to see how this ends.  The original had Michael’s apparently dead body disappear at the end.  In the retcon he was arrested after that and re-institutionalized.  The thing is, you can never really kill a monster.  Original scenes and scenarios are revisited, and those familiar with the Carpenter story are rewarded by situations that subvert expectations.  Where is he hiding this time?  You always watch the credits roll wondering how “the authorities” don’t realize that a guy shot, stabbed, and incinerated and keeps coming back might be something other than human to be put in an asylum.

I should know better than to watch these kinds of movies when I’m home alone, but I don’t.  So it’s a good thing that I try to piece all these things together.  We have three strong women—three generations of final girls here, and the obligatory basis for a sequel.  (At least two, in fact, bringing the franchise up to thirteen movies.)  Laurie’s granddaughter is among the virginal, non-drinking final-girl prototypes.  Her less Puritan friends are killed off, although her worthless boyfriend survives the night.  You’ve got to love the endless self-references of such situations.  That’s why we keep on coming back.  We’ve seen it before but we still want more.  Even if it’s only August.


Horror Week

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November,” the old rhyme goes.  Earlier this week I advocated for Halloween being the start of the holiday season.  There’s been a lot going on this week and I’m now reflecting on how Halloween also took some of its identity from Guy Fawkes Day (or more properly Guy Fawkes Night), here on November fifth.  Halloween, as we know it, incorporates traditions from Samhain (actually November 1), All Souls Day (November 2), as well as Guy Fawkes (November 5).  All the while the Hispanic world is observing Dia de los Muertos, a multi-day holiday whose origins are somewhat uncertain but which shares similarities with Halloween.  In other words, it’s a veritable week of spookiness to get our November started off right.

Ironically, at least in corporate America, none of these are work-free holidays.  For the Celts Samhain was the most important day of the year.  A day when the dead might wander into our realm or we might stumble into theirs.  For the modern person it’s a day of checking email, making deals, trading and evaluating how well we did at it.  Pretty mundane stuff.  The message of all of these holidays is that there are matters of deeper import going on.  We should perhaps look up from our monitors and see.  Just as that veil between the living and dead thins at this time of year, so does that line between work and personal life, when our laptops are as omnipresent as a haunting deity set to keep our minds on the sin of not working.  

Guy Fawkes is about rebellion.  More specifically, putting down rebellion.  Keeping the status quo.  Halloween and its siblings are all about challenging the way things are usually done.  I often wonder what it would be like if people took it seriously.  The costumes are fun, yes, and the trick-or-treating, but there’s something more serious underneath.  Perhaps symbolically we pretty much ignore All Saints to Guy Fawkes, or Dia de los Muertos as pleasant diversions.  There’s some spiritual heavy lifting going on behind the scenes, however.  It’s not all about fun and games, because fear is always with us.  We know there are problems but it’s more comfortable keeping things as they are.  Guy Fawkes, perhaps for a cause we see as obsolete—restoring a Catholic monarchy—was trying to change things for the better.  What’s more, his motivation was religious.  There are spooky parallels here, even today.  It might be good to take a day off work to ponder the implications.


Holiday Season

Halloween, in some ways, is the unofficial kick-off of the holiday season.  This was made clear to me when someone recently played the song “Soul Cake” in the context of Halloween.  I’d only ever heard the song in a Christmas context before, and a little research led to the discovery that asking for soul cakes originated as a Halloween custom (before it was called Halloween, even) but was considered appropriate anywhere from All Hallows through the twelve days of Christmas.  The common thread here is, of course, gift giving.  We tend to keep our holidays discrete for commercial reasons but there is a natural continuity from All Hallows Eve through what used to be known as Epiphany (now Insurrection Day).

Holidays help us prepare for things that we know are coming.  For the Celts, Samhain—which led to our Halloween—was the start of winter.  With no Daylight Saving Time to oppress them with the changing of their clocks and throwing everything off for weeks at a time, this was the dark part of the year.  Holidays are helpful in getting through times when natural light is lacking.  From Halloween you can almost see Thanksgiving.  At Thanksgiving we anticipate Christmas.  The winter solstice holidays see us through the shortest, darkest days of the year.  I’m no fan of capitalism, but as long as we’re stuck with it I wonder why we don’t advocate for Halloween as an official holiday.  The start of the holiday season.  In my local town the Christmas lights went up on November 1.

East and south Asian religions spend considerable energy teaching that change is the only permanent aspect of life.  Western cultures, on the other hand, focus on the status quo, the assumption that once something is established, it will, or should, remain as it is.  Time reminds us that change is constant.  We can allow entropy to win by sitting by and letting things fall apart, or we can try to build something useful to prevent a collapse.  Holidays change over time and over religions.  Halloween was a pre-Christian new year celebration.  From there it changed into a solemn holy day to remember saints and then the dead.  Incorporating aspects of Samhain and some customs such as soul cake begging and guising, it grew to a more fun celebration.  Now it’s a commercial occasion to rival Christmas.  The year is constantly changing.  Just when I start looking for my sweaters I see my light summer clothes haven’t yet been put away.  I look forward to Halloween as the start of the holiday season until we get past the longest night just before Yule.


Spirit of Halloween

So it’s Halloween.  It’s also Sunday.  I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the spirituality of this particular day.  Now it’s often treated as a trick, a consumerist holiday with too much candy and befitting spooky decorations.  Like all holidays Halloween has evolved from its origins to how we celebrate it today.  Other than Wiccans and Neo-pagans, however, not too many take it seriously.  At Nashotah House, and therefore likely at some parishes scattered around the world, All Saints Day—which is tomorrow—was a day of obligation.  What we call Halloween was the day before this major festival of praising the faithful.  There is some evidence that All Saints was moved to November 1 to counter the lively celebration of Samhain, or the Celtic fire festival marking the onset of winter.

The Celts included an intellectual class known as Druids.  Druids seem to have been the “theologians” (oh, that word!) of the Celts and they mandated that their teachings not be written down.  A great deal of information was passed on by intensive memorization and only became known to us outsiders because after Christianization it began to be written down.  Their idea of the afterlife seems to have been that it was being born into the other world.  In the otherworld life was different and apparently in some respects better.  When our time there drew to a close, our death led to our birth into this world.  The cycle continued on and on.  Samhain was the time when crossing between worlds could occur.  Death wasn’t a cause for sorrow since the otherworld awaited.  Birth into this world was more problematic.

Fear of death seems natural enough to us.  Even though it’s inevitable and this world’s graveyards are full, somehow we seem to think we can avoid it ourselves.  Our evolved survival instinct runs out of control since we’ve eliminated many of the causes of death that have plagued our species (and many other species) for millennia.  Eons.  As we’ve done so we’ve distanced ourselves from death—dying in hospitals, our corpses prepared in funeral homes, buried and eventually forgotten.  To me, the Celtic idea, from a world where death was likely much more close to hand, seems a more healthy outlook.  Instead of fear, why not consider it a day of wonder and celebration?  To many, I know, that is a spooky thought indeed.  It’s more than a day of masks and candy, however.  And we might learn from it if we stop and ponder.


Interview Two

October turns the northern hemisphere mind toward Halloween.  It must be strange to receive northern media while living in the global south—Halloween occurs just as spring is getting underway.  I guess that’s what May Day’s for.  In any case, in the United States Halloween thinking is in nearly full swing.  My last two books, while not Halloween themed, look at horror films which, in keeping with October, are on everyone’s mind this season.  And it’s been quite a week for interviews.  The second half of my podcast interview on The Incarcerated Christian was posted yesterday.  If you want to hear more fun Q & A with Robin and Debra, click here.  I’ll post more about this Friday, but tomorrow my interview with Eric Ziolkowski of Lafayette College will air as part of the Easton Book Festival.  The festival’s going on right now, so be sure to check out the offerings online.

One bit of advice that I give as an editor: if you want to make it as an author you need to promote your own work.  Some of us were reared to believe that it’s in poor taste to do this, but in the internetted world it’s pretty much a requirement.  Something I learned from political activism is that every election is local.  Getting noticed also has to start in your own backyard.  I love doing interviews.  It’s always flattering to know that someone’s read your book and wants to know more about it.  I’ve started to explore the newish area of religion and horror.  From what we see in the news, it seems like it’s an area that’s likely to take off.  But only if those who work in it get their stuff out there where it can be seen.  (Or heard.)

Neither Holy Horror nor Nightmares with the Bible have sold very well.  They’re expensive, and academics, who will spend money on books, are still trying to decide if this area’s worth exploring.  I admit that there’s a puerile kind of naughtiness to taking monsters and “low brow” entertainment as a subject of study.  Horror, however, has lots of fans.  Perhaps not in the academy, but in the real world.  I like to think such marginal areas bring people together.  Horror, like demons, isn’t going away any time soon.  Instead of running away from what you fear, why not try embracing it?  If not even that, please consider the free content available on The Incarcerated Christian and the Easton Book Festival.  After all, Halloween’s just about here…


Discount Nightmares

Now that we’re past the equinox it’s officially okay to obsess with monsters, right?  (Any excuse will do.)  Nightmares with the Bible was officially a pandemic book.  Academic publishers (especially) found out that books released in 2020 tended to flop.  People weren’t thinking about much other than the pandemic (or crying about losing an election fair and square).  Books, of course, take a long time to write and a long time to produce—it’s not as simple as it looks.  And if your production schedule falls during a pandemic, well, be prepared.  In the case of Nightmares there was the added burden of price point.  When all you’re thinking about is survival, cashing out a Franklin to read about demons seems hardly wise.

Just yesterday I received a flyer, that I’m passing along to you, for the book.  It has a discount code on it (look at part 2 below) so that the book is merely expensive rather than very expensive. Nightmares is part of a series titled Horror and Scripture.  The series, published by Fortress Academic and Lexington Books, is now coming out with its third volume.  The publisher, starting to recover from the pandemic, is promoting all the books in the series.  You see, Nightmares was not only a pandemic book, it also missed that highly sought-after pre-Halloween release.  Books that deal with horror get a boost during the holiday season.  Ironically the same thing happened with Holy Horror.  Both books came out in December when nobody but Charles Dickens is thinking about scary things.

Academic book pricing is based on a model that’s beginning to crumble.  It’s that capitalistic trope of what the market will bear.  The market is academic libraries, and it has been demonstrating lately that even they aren’t made of money.  I don’t know if libraries get to use discount codes or not—it can’t hurt to ask your librarian.  Fully employed academics, however, will sometimes pay a hefty price for a book they really want or need.  My shelves upstairs are filled with books that were overpriced but were required for the books and articles I wrote when it was an expectation of my job.  My next book, which is now in the negotiation stage with the publisher, will be more reasonably priced.  It will likely have a smaller appeal, but you’ve got to start somewhere.  I sincerely hope I’m through writing hundred-dollar books.  Please pass the flyer along to all your rich friends—it’s just in time for the haunting month of October.


Mabon

Given the immense popularity of Halloween, and the attention lavished on the solstices, it’s a little odd that Mabon is so infrequently observed.  Unlike its twin, the Vernal Equinox, the Autumnal Equinox has really only recently been added to the natural calendar observed by Wicca.  The ancient Celts, from whom many Wiccan traditions are drawn, celebrated Samhain, which became our Halloween.  Their other holidays divided the year into seasons, but perhaps the Autumnal Equinox was a little too subtle to merit much attention.  Or it simply fell between their own four-fold divisions of the year.  Starting today, however night will be longer than day, a situation that will last until the Vernal Equinox.  In other words, we’ve entered the dark half of the year.

As someone who enjoys horror, I often ponder the benefits of living in the dark.  Theologically the dark is often cast as evil compared to the light.  We have taken that metaphor and made it literal.  This makes sense, I suppose, given our natural fear of the dark.  The only real predators in the night, however, are now of our own kind.  The dark can also be peaceful, a time for contemplation.  One of the things adulthood has on offer is disrupted sleep.  Many of us find ourselves awake at some point in the night.  We need to become comfortable with it.  I’m not a Wiccan, but I appreciate the naturalness with which Mabon acknowledges the fact that half the year is darker than the other half.  It’s also a harvest-themed holiday, one of the many that stretch to Thanksgiving and on to living off the stored supplies through the winter.

No doubt there is some melancholy associated with Mabon.  The lessening of the light brings a chill with it.  Summer’s ease is at an end and we will need to start layering our clothes and adding blankets back on our beds.  Already it is dark when I begin work, which means the brightest part of the balanced day and night is spent indoors at the computer.  I will need to leave the harvest, so obvious in the fast-approaching October, to others.  Mabon and Halloween aren’t company holidays, but that fact won’t stop the encroaching dark.  There’s a wisdom associated with acceptance and even melancholy can been sweet.  The leaves, while still mostly green, have begun to turn.  The bright songbirds of summer have given away to ravens and crows.  We need to learn to walk in the dark again.  Perhaps it’s time to consider what Mabon can mean.