The Magic of Halloween

Posted: October 31, 2014 in Uncategorized

halloween2As a kid, I loved Halloween, but it wasn’t the candy, costumes, or even staying up later than normal that did it for me. It wasn’t the creepy decorations or the scary shows on TV, although those were pretty cool. It was the spell that strange and mystifying night put me under that did it; that sense of mystery that seemed to buzz in the air with an energy and magic all its own. Each year, the promise of that night, and that night alone, held me in its sway without ever revealing the truth of its origins or power. That very wonderment – of something ancient, enchanting, and waiting to be discovered – was the biggest thrill of all.

Sunset has always been my favorite part of the day, and no other time of the year is one every more beautiful or alluring than the one that ushers in Halloween night. As a child and into my teens, I would walk due west into the ten acres of dense forest that was my own private playground and birthright. With its myriad trees, trails, brushes and hollows, it was my escape from the real-life terrors of home, school, and the mean streets of Flint’s north side. I treasured its leaf-covered canopy especially during that time of year when it turned various shades of yellow and rust and the leaves fell to the ground to become dried brown husks that crunched underfoot. They became the soundtrack for my annual “Halloween Walk.”

As was my ritual, I would slowly stroll through the seemingly endless maze of trails behind my parents home. I roamed these woods not as its master but as an equal and as such, she yielded her secrets to me. I was rewarded with a heightened awareness that allowed me to remember every sight, smell, and sound as if it were burned into my memory by the heat of an ancient Celtic ceremonial fire. Each of my favorite places – the “Odin Tree,” the swamp, and all the other hidden things – took on an almost otherworldly importance when bathed in the amber glow of Halloween’s setting sun. Oh, how I wished this sunset would last forever!

Willing to trade a lifetime of trick-or-treating for just one seemingly endless moment such as these would be worth it. I made silent pleas to whatever gods might be listening to make it so yet no matter how ardent my words, the magic of the moment could not last forever. Eventually, my mother’s voice, shrill and grating, would pierce the sense of peacefulness that had enveloped me in its autumnal blanket. The time to return home and prepare for the traditional hollow Halloween rituals always came too soon and I my only consolation was that I would have to wait an entire year to the day to once more catch but a glimpse of this glory.

Then came the night when even the empty rituals were lost to me, almost forever.

It was a Halloween that started like any other. I took my annual walk through the woods at sunset, and from there, it was back home where I dressed and went trick-or-treating with my brother and Skeeter, our neighborhood friend. It was the early 1980s and I, like many young men my age, was bitten by the Bruce Lee bug. One day, while chop-sockeying my way around the house, I stumbled upon my uncle’s old karate gi. This was the icing on the cake, as it would allow me the opportunity to finally dress the part of the invincible martial arts master that I was in the action movie reels that played inside my young, testosterone- and fantasy-fueled mind. As the old saying goes, “The clothes make the man,” and I sure believed it that night.

As we headed out into the chill of that late-October night, the three of us were blessed with a vision that was truly befitting of the Halloween spirit. Right there, illuminated by the silvery sphere of a full or new moon, a bat fluttered by. We couldn’t help but comment on this coincidence, which our young and fanciful minds took to be a sign of Halloween’s promise. And perhaps it was, for not long after, our pillow cases were nearly bursting with the sweet yummy goodness of gumballs, Bottle Caps, Pixie Stix, and a wide variety of other tasty treats just waiting to be devoured back home while watching Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Indeed, the festivities had all the makings of a perfect evening… until “it” happened.

As we rounded the corner of Montrose and Mott avenues, the distinct roar of a hot rod was heard in our vicinity. As if by magic, a 1970s Chevelle the color of Bondo roared past us and, from an open window, a fire extinguisher blasted out into the night. Before my highly-trained martial arts reflexes could muster up a flying sidekick, my comrades and I were coated in the fire extinguisher’s jet stream. There was nothing to do but freeze as the cold water penetrated our costumes and soaked us to the bones. Then, nearly as quickly, Skeeter bellowed out in pain, shouting “They hit me!” A quick check confirmed that my friend was beaned in the dome with an egg, its gooey contents coating his mousy-brown mullet. The distinct sound of laughter echoed out into the night as the car spun its oversized rear tires, spitting gravel at us, before speeding off.

And just like that, the magic of Halloween was added to the list of things ruined by the bullies who dominated the Reagan-era Hamady High social scene.

With our heads hung low, we slunk home in defeat. It would be the last of the innocence of our child-like pursuits. With our teenage years upon us, Skeeter and I drifted off into separate social cliques while my younger brother went trick-or-treating with his friends until he, too, grew tired of that “kid’s stuff.” Life changed and we changed with it in the only ways we knew how. I never donned a Halloween costume again, even for adult events; instead, I was content to be “that guy”… you know, the only one who shows up to a Halloween party in regular attire.

Now, in my 40s, the magic of October 31st seems to be coming full circle in my life. I have discovered the secret to the glamour of the Halloween sunset and why it seemed to call out to me from far beyond just my mind. Through researching the pagan beliefs and customs of my Celtic ancestors, I discovered Samhain, the original Halloween. I was pleased to read that this holiday begins at sunset on October 31st and lasts until sunset the following day. It’s easy to imagine that the genetic memories of my long-dead ancestors – those who worshipped the old gods – are encoded deep within the primordial part of my brain. Perhaps these pagan relatives were reaching out to me each year beyond the veil of time and space.

And I’m not the only one who recognizes the power of Halloween at dusk. Look at the packaging of most Halloween candies and decorations. What do you see? Usually, it’s houses, leafless trees and wrought iron gates painted black and backlit by – you guessed it – the beautiful oranges and yellows of a setting sun. Images such as these have become iconic with the commercial and entertainment aspects of Halloween and I firmly believe that its continuing popularity is due in no small part to the residual magic of Samhain that continues to be a lingering part of our collective unconscious. It’s as if the bonfires and sacrifices made by those crazy Celts have produced a sort of magical hum that continues to echo out into eternity.

I’m proud to say that I am now a believer in the magic of Halloween night, as well. Last year, I grumbled while my wife and I took our sons trick-or-treating. I was hot, tired, and couldn’t wait to get home and was just hanging in there for the kids’ sake. Then I noticed another group of people talking excitedly and pointing up into the air. As I approached them, I asked them what they were looking at and they showed me: there, at the top of the tallest fir tree in our neighborhood sat a large owl. As I looked upon it, I could see it looking down upon me, its superb eyesight and night-vision no doubt getting a clearer image of me than I of it.Laying eyes upon this majestic and rarely-seen bird sent a chill up my spine and I’m no stranger to its significance.

All in all, the experience was magical… magical enough to restore my faith in Halloween.
J.P. Ribner is the author of three novels – “Legacy of the Bear,” “Prophecy of the Bear” and “World So Dark.”

  1. lexjones1287 says:

    I really loved this post. It took me back to my younger years and reminded me of the magic of Halloween. Thanks for sharing!

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