To kick off this season of All Souls and Halloween, here are some thoughts on why these festivals are so very important (at least I think so). To be truthful, I don't much care for Halloween - I dislike it almost as much as I adore all things truly Gothic and autumnal that occur at this time of the year. The modern Halloween, the 'party Halloween' version, is a dog's breakfast of various horror themes - and also disrespectful to the dead. Or to put it another way, at this time of the year we can either ...
A) have a laugh, dress up in gore, get drunk and try our best to get frightened and hysterical.
Umm ... Yea, all right
B) explore the Gothic within ourselves and our surroundings and thereby find some reconciliation with our inner darkness - far more useful and interesting. Art, architecture, music, literature, walks, meditation can all aid us in the endeavour. A quest for Gothicaciousness. (There's a new word.)
Precincts of Exeter Cathedral.
All right, you might say' why not do both? Get all mystical and go party at the same time? Speaking from experience, I don't think that would be all that easy. The second of these options takes us further away from the Gothic, not closer. As does, almost certainly, the recent supermarket, child-friendly Halloween Zombie costume replete with fake blood and the plastic meat cleaver.
Er - no thank you.
Halloween and the Gothic
The cult of the Gothic and of all those connotations that attend it - darkness, ruined buildings, graves, bats, blood-sucking monsters of various shapes and sizes, moonlight, dark and stormy weather etc, are all things that have been with us in popular culture since at least the Gothic Revival of the late Georgian period. It reached it’s peak of excellence in the Victorian era and across much of Europe.
In a very natural sense, the end of October and start of November are times when we are compelled to consider these primal forces, the transition from all the life and vitality of Summer, to the bleakness and death of Winter (at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere). Trees lose their leaves, animals hibernate. Birds migrate; the green meadows fade. And, of course, nothing does ‘tall’ ‘dark’ and ‘mysterious’ quite as well as the Gothic in art ...
To put it in practical terms, it is the vertical line of Gothic architecture, the joining of the lower to the upper, that is the very first principal of Gothicaciousness - that word again - you saw it here first.
Earth (A) to Heaven (B).
The party version of Halloween is at the base of the vertical line. The other is at the top. The elongated lines of the Gothic join the two, but we have to be aware of the top to get there, not just the base. To be aware of the heavens, not just the gutter. Then maybe we can integrate the two. Then maybe we can do both ... maybe.
Halloween and All Souls is, at its best and most basic, a religious festival, (the word 'religion' means 're-connect,' by the way). It is an opportunity to integrate the light and the dark; our rational mind to our irrational, primal impulses: to become 'whole' in the best mystical sense. So much of the Gothic in popular culture is, after all, devoted to graves and things buried, and with very good reason. Gothic is sexy because it represents the Mysterious. It makes what is deep within ourselves visible to the rational mind.