I am from New England, where we take Halloween really seriously. In Massachusetts, the ghosts of the past are part of our everyday. We speak in magic, we still believe in curses. We hold poetry readings in graveyards under the light of the Harvest Moon. We say 'wicked' a lot. Our gothic spires look like a page straight out of the Harry Potter books. J.K. Rowling even chose Mount Greylock in my hometown as the setting for Ilvermorny, the Hogwarts of North America. So it is that I come from magic and stardust, legend and lore.
In the land of witch trials and wizarding schools, Halloween is so much more than a holiday. Here it is a whole season: one that begins on the fall equinox, as the balance between daylight and nighttime begins to shift and plunges us headlong into darkness. It is the season of autumn nights, when the cold creeps in and skeleton trees reach eerie fingers to the sky. It is a time of whispers, a silent prayer for all those who walk a land of shadows.
This one's for the ghouls: for there is an unspeakable power that wells up from the blackest depths of our soul. It rattles in chains, it haunts our nights, until something inside us breaks.
We try our best. We hope and plead and pray. We struggle, we fight to overcome.
Halloween is the one night a year when we can stand and revel in our darkness. In the fear that lives inside of us and the pain and frustration just trying to get out. We get just one night, to be fire and menace and mischief. To be something wild and boundless and free. To break out of the trappings of the ordinary and let our demons escape to the sky. To dance with spirits. To drift like clouds up, away from the world on a starved moonless night.
In Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, Jack the Pumpkin King sings,
"Oh there's an empty place in my bones
That calls out for something unknown
The fame and praise come year after year
Does nothing for... these empty tears."
Halloween is the realm of anyone who knows what it is to hurt, to dream of something more in a world gone grey. Like Jack, some of us see light in the shadows, colors in the dark. And so, we stay up all night: trying to find some moment of clarity in our midnight humanity.
Jack Skellington longs for beauty in the world he knows.
I believe in the unknown, in the things not yet discovered, in the unseen that we sense in our hearts but have not yet found a way to form into scientific theories or pretty words. That longing is part of the tragic beauty of the human experience. It is part of us and that's okay. Deep in the night, we all long to lose ourselves in a far-off midnight world: to dance with goblins, to make friends with the wild things. For as Guster achingly explains, "a demon cannot be hurt."
Tim Burton explores this haunting sense of wonder in his latest film. From the ashes of a ghostly ruin, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children brings the creative vision of Ransom Riggs' best-selling novel to the big screen. The story reminds us that there is beauty hidden in the shadows: that the world is a far better place when we are courageous enough to embrace our strangeness. For when we deny the ugly and cast out the dark, we cast out part of ourselves.
"Blessed are the weird," writes Jacob Nordby in his visionary new book on art and emotion. "The poets and misfits, the artists, the writers and musicmakers, the dreamers and outsiders--for they force us to see the world differently." And so, as we stumble, as we search for answers in the great beyond, the things that move us soul-deep become the bonfire to which we are breathlessly drawn.
There is a magic in words. They steal our breath, burn into memory, until they become in time not lyrics in a song, but the words to our own stories. The music of this season of flame and frost is a soundtrack for the things left unsaid, the pain pushed down, the despair that is brimming to the surface. There is mystery and meaning to be found in the cracks between darkness and light. As smoke curls up and leaves drift back to earth, lines of poetry can catch us in the fall.
Long winters take a toll on the northern soul. When the sun sinks low in the sky and daylight dies out, restless spirits begin to roam. There is a song by Third Eye Blind that laments this creeping sense of loss, "After Halloween, everything starts fading / I'm losing everyone, I go down like the sun..." But for one glorious night each year, we embrace the black of night and are set free. We herald the winter to come and accept the darkness in our hearts that we know too well.
Halloween is the time when we can fully and unapologetically embrace our shadow selves. When we can revel in the things that creak and creep, when we come face to face with the ghosts that haunt us. Somewhere, far away, a clock strikes the witching hour. A blood moon rises over our suffering, our promise. In the dark, we are hellfire and dreams. We rise with the night. We are written in the stars. We are faster than the demons and stronger than we know.
Ready to rock out your inner monster? Check out my Halloween playlist, feat. The Plain White T's, Taylor Swift, The Killers, Dalton Rapattoni and more.
GIFs: Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas via GIPHY