Why I haunt?

Why do you like Halloween so much?

I guess it comes from – I have always loved Halloween from a young age. I have fond memories as a child.  Mom would take a simple white sheet, cut holes for eyes, and I would run around trick or treating with a pillow case.  Poof, Instant ghost.  Instant thrill.  And of course, the fun of chasing my sister around in it.


Being able to dress up as anything you wanted… to be anything you wanted.  Running from house to house, the sun light failing, the leaves rustling, the thought that behind every tree there might be something there…

Then there is the memories.

The ghost stories that dad would tell.

How he would sit us down on Halloween, just at dusk, turn out all the lights in the house, and light a old oil lamp.   It still gives me goose bumps to this day to even think about it.  The shadows would dance on the walls, and he would go into  one of his stories.  Ones we had heard a lots of times before, but each time we heard them, they almost seemed brand new.

He would tell the one about Jack the Ripper in Michigan, how he and is friends would ‘capitalize’ on this story and hang from trees, banging pans together and scaring the young girls in his neighborhood when he was a kid.  

Or the famous murder story about grandpa, going to the haunted hotel in Montana, having to stay at the barbershop’s back room where there had been a murder.  Waking up to the sound of the barber “shaaaaave” (ing) and it was just a twig scratching across the window pane.

Or the chicken heart…  “thump thump – thump thump” It is coming for YOU.

Or the deep dark forest…

The room would be dark…   only the flickering light of the oil lamp, the hair standing up on the back of your neck, getting goose bumps all over your body, he would continue, then seeing two glowing eyes peering into the window.  We jumped out of our skins with fear, until we realized it was our horse, Buttercup, who was notorious for letting herself out who was looking in the window.  *laugh*

Aw yes.  Those memories.  Precious memories.

The thrill of that shiver of excitement knowing that there is absolutely nothing behind the trees as you walk home… but there could be?

Coming home after it was all over, and eating the wonderfully delicious candy corns. Nibbling the white tops off first. Because, after all, that is the best part – And Dad dressed up in just a mask – down a dark hallway – seeing him standing there – to afraid to move or speak – the only thing coming out of my mouth was “ba bha ah ah”.

There was something about Halloween night. Magical maybe?  A chance to leave the real world behind, and become something that you aren’t.  The thrill of being scared. The excitement, the anxiety of fun, fear, and wonderment all smashed into one.

I am not sure, it is hard to put into words.  Almost impossible really…

How it all started for me…

When I ‘grew’ up I started decorate more – early 20’s.

In 2000 is when I first did significant attempt at spooky decorations at my home.  

Simple spider web (which I still have to this day) that hung across the window with some purple lights.   Markus the Carcus – a light up ghoul that was in the yard – and some red lights.  Looking back, it was ‘cheesy’ compared to what I do now, but that is where it all began.

Every year since then I add some new stuff, and expand the decorations.  Add a new prop – and of course a couple pumpkins.

My costumes are now less elaborate and most of the time I dress up as the same monster as all my energy goes into better decorations, and layouts.

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…and somewhere along the line, I started paying more attention to the reason behind Halloween . I focused my efforts more on sharing the season with others than in hogging the fun for myself.

Which takes me to the history of Halloween.

Just about every culture sets aside a special time to pay reverence to its departed ancestors.

Halloween started out that way, and has mutated since it came to America – the great melting pot as it were.

The Mexican version is Dia De Los Muertos, Day of the Dead.

Like other holidays, Day of the Dead and Halloween have developed into secular holidays, and acquired a crass commercial overlay.

In Mexico there is Dia De Los Muertos – Day of the Dead, is celebrated November 1-2. Like other holidays, Day of the Dead has developed into a secular holiday, and acquired a crass commercial overlay. But private observance tends to maintain a lot of the reverence. Altars are sometimes set up at home to remember the dead. Visits are often made to graveyards, bringing the departed’s favorite foods, decorations including flowers and decorated skulls made from sugar. Some, Day of the Dead folk art, use skeletons and skulls in everyday scenes: wearing hats, playing instruments, walking the dog, getting married. It’s a healthy reminder that death comes to everybody and you shouldn’t worry too much about it.

Outside looking in – a spectacular holiday filled with rich traditions.

Next there is Samhain

A harvest festival, the end of the harvest season. “Samhain” is Gaelic for “end of Summer”.

[The “m” is silent. The word is pronounced “sowin”. If somebody pronounces it “Sam Hain”, or says that it celebrates a god of death or evil, they are exceedingly ignorant.]

Samhain was also the end of the Celtic calendar, and a time to reflect on what had happened in the year and loved ones who had passed on. [In connection with Celtic people, one often thinks first of the Irish, but technically England, Scotland, Wales, France, and Germany are Celtic in origin]

Samhain is believed to have Celtic pagan origins and there is evidence it has been an important date since ancient times. Some Neolithic passage tombs in Ireland are aligned with the sunrise around the time of Samhain. It is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature and many important events in Irish mythology happen or begin on Samhain. It was the time when cattle were brought back down from the summer pastures and when livestock were slaughtered for the winter.

As at Beltane, special bonfires were lit, which were deemed to have protective and cleansing powers, and there were rituals involving them.  Like Bealtaine, Samhain was seen as a liminal time, when the boundary between this world and the Otherworld could more easily be crossed. This meant the Aos Sí, the ‘spirits’ or ‘fairies’, could more easily come into our world. Most scholars see the Aos Sí as remnants of the pagan gods and nature spirits. At Samhain, it was believed that the Aos Sí needed to be propitiated to ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter. Offerings of food and drink were left outside for them. The souls of the dead were also thought to revisit their homes seeking hospitality. Feasts were had, at which the souls of dead kin were beckoned to attend and a place set at the table for them.

Christianity

When England and Ireland were Christianized by the Catholic church, the church took care to point out the similarities between the old and new religions. They built churches on holy Pagan sites, and moved Christian holidays to the corresponding Pagan celebrations. [Ever wonder why Christmas is celebrated in December?] All Souls’ Day was made November 2, All Saints’ Day was November 1 (All Hallows Day) and the evening before was called All Hallows Eve.

Or Halloween.

The Celts

Celtic immigrants brought Halloween to America, but it didn’t take root until the mass Irish immigrations in the 1840s. In America, Halloween lost most of the religious aspects, amplified the trick-or-treating, and was given more sinister overtones by German fears of witches spreading mischief on Walpurgisnacht (which is actually May 1, but what the heck). Americans also started making Jack o’Lanterns out of pumpkins, instead of the traditional turnips. Americans took their own spin on Halloween.

American Halloween

Halloween or Hallowe’en (a contraction of Hallows’ Even or Hallows’ Evening), also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve, is a celebration observed in many countries on 31 October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day. It begins the three-day observance of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed.

One theory holds that many Halloween traditions originated from ancient Celtic harvest festivals, particularly the Gaelic festival Samhain, which may have had pagan roots and that Samhain itself was Christianized as Halloween by the early Church. Other scholars believe, however, that Halloween began solely as a Christian holiday, separate from ancient festivals like Samhain.

Halloween has morphed into trick-or-treating (or the related guising and souling), attending Halloween costume parties, carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing, divination games, playing pranks, visiting haunted attractions, telling scary stories, as well as watching horror films.

The Christian religious observances of All Hallows’ Eve, including attending church services and lighting candles on the graves of the dead, remain popular, although elsewhere it is a more commercial and secular celebration. Some Christians historically abstained from meat on All Hallows’ Eve, a tradition reflected in the eating of certain vegetarian foods on this vigil day, including apples, potato pancakes, and soul cakes.

So why do I do it?

Oh good grief.  There’s a question for you.  

Most of my energy goes into haunting my house.  By this, I mean making a simple middle-class home into something that looks creepy and haunted.

So if I am making it look haunted, I am a haunter and what I do is haunting it.

I don’t build alters, or use witches, or have a parade.

I don’t worship the devil. (even thou I have been accused of it)

I don’t build a mazes for the kids to enjoy.

I simply set up a stage for people to walk past, look at, and enjoy.

Theatrical reminder… a nod to all the traditions I guess.

 

Part of me buys into the theory; to scare away the evil spirits…

Other parts of me says fight fire with fire.

The main attraction is always the front yard, some life size props that look scary and a graveyard, surrounded by a creepy old fence with spider webs on it.

Lights and sounds – Couple blue lights, couple of red lights, pointing at just the right spots…

Over the years I have upgraded to use DMX lighting and put that to sound.

Inside the graveyard, you can sometimes see strange things, like ghosts or skeletons sitting in a circle, telling stories. In the back, a translucent glowing ghost floats around.

Some years on top of the house is a green glowing skull that can be seen for blocks.

My haunt isn’t intended to give anybody nightmares. (Well… maybe)  I guess what I mean here is that I intentionally go zero gore, more with what your imagination will insert.

The well placed lights give you enough light; and your imagination starts to wander, after all, the fear or sensation of fear is created by your mind.  

The sound track pulses in the background.  Some times it’s in sync with the lights.  Some times it isn’t.  But the under tone of the soundtrack is always there.

The stuff that I use is really intended to scare.  But more, let your imagination wander. 

Props look real enough to make you question, did it just move?

dawwww dunt dunt dunt…

I have also included elements of humor. Grave stones that have witty humor to them.

My haunt is a lot of work.  Preparation, setup, running it, teardown, storage, maintenance.

It is also a lot of stress. I get restless and irritable. I don’t sleep enough. I worry. My mind races about being the showman on the stage I have built…  I have spent many nights up late imagining how I would dance across the yard in a monster, shuffle, limp sort of way, or questioning if that pumpkin really should go ‘there’.

So, I suspect that I’m not that nice to be around the month before Halloween.

From October 1st, through October 31st there is always lots of planning, setup, and running.

Even when the first trick-or-treaters arrive, I am still making last minute adjustments, trying to setup one last prop, getting the lighting just right, or getting the fog machines to blast in just the right spots.

There are many reasons why I haunt… I guess.

It is fun being that guy with the “Halloween House”…  My kids love to brag about that at school.

I love to be a kid myself again, dressing up and acting, being someone I am not for a day (month).

I love the thrill it gives my kids,  I know they will ALWAYS treasure Halloween.  And have memories just like I do.

Sometimes I think of it as a present that I give the local kids.

It is a way to revive the kid in all of us I guess, and help people of all ages have a good time.

There is nothing more satisfying knowing that you did a job well done, when a pack of trick or treaters start towards the house, then do about face, and cross the road!  Or a mom clutches herself as she excuses herself to change her pants…

I love putting on the show.  It feeds the suppressed Rock Star in me. I live for the “Wow your house is amazing” or “Awesome Job!”

… and then it is for those who keep the Old Ways – a nod to those traditions, it is a time to celebrate the end of the old year, and usher in the new. For those of several faiths, it is a time to reflect on our loved ones who have passed away in the preceding year.  So – yeah – lots of reasons.

… and that is what Halloween is all about for me, Charlie Brown.  

John Liss

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