Halloween: Monsters and Heroes

Winter is coming, so they say; the clocks have gone back, the nights draw closer, we enter into Allhallowtide, a liminal season where past and present and future and worlds both visible and hidden start to coalesce.


It’s at this time of year, the ancient whispers go, that the veil between worlds thins. This isn’t a curtain I tend to poke behind, but the winter seems so dark this year; the spectre of old wars and the clatter of lying keyboards haunt the landscape as powerful men rape and pillage their way through their self-declared empires, everyday encounters turning into metaphorical slasher movies. Never mind Halloween, the veil has been thinning apocalyptically for a while now. I can’t say I like it.

But maybe that’s something to think about this Halloween. Maybe we need to catch a glimpse of another world – not a world of wraiths and abandoned graveyards, a world lit only by flickering pumpkin-light, but a better world, somewhere more peaceful, somewhere more just, somewhere more dynamic and real than the trolls under the bridge, than the strawman scarecrows, than spiders spinning lies. Now is not the time to disguise ourselves as monsters so the monsters cannot break us, now is the time to stare through the tear in the curtain and catch a glimpse of hope instead.

Because as the world slips into the dark, hope’s the only thing that will keep us going, the only trustworthy will o’ the wisp willing to light our way. Stick to that path, lest we put too much trust in ghosts. Stick to that path, and don’t invest your savings with the huckster demon hunters selling burning torches made in sweat shops. People are not demons, no matter what the sales pitch says.

I would say that now is a time for heroes, but maybe that’s not quite right. ‘Hero’ carries a tome-full of implications, images of capes and Campbellian journeys, vampire slayers and giant killers. That’s a lot to live up to, no matter how much a geek like me loves the mythology.

I’m adopting the picture at the top of this post as my Halloween icon for the year. There’s Mary, a teenage Middle Easterner trying to rip the Devil’s head (or mask?) off. I love the image, but its truth is in the imagination and metaphor of the piece. How did Mary fight the darkness? She raised a child and she sang a protest song. Enough of us can do that, can do the human things that ward off monsters. That’s not a Halloween thing – the real spectres live with us and have their own Twitter accounts. Don’t listen to anyone promising an easy exorcism; sometimes good people fall.

But often they rise.

This is the season of all the saints and all our souls, and while we decorate our homes and schools and supermarkets with the dead and the undead, really this is a season that reminds us of a resurrection to come; at least that’s how I’m looking at it. Things may be in retreat at the moment, the hopes and fears of all the years gathering on the streets. That’s what winter’s all about, after all.

Yet spring will emerge one day, just as it always does. And while now we see through a veil, thinly, then we will see in full. That’s what keeps us going; that’s what brings us through the dark.