Halloween as a deconverted former fundamentalist.
Halloween as a deconverted former fundamentalist.
Michael and I went into a Halloween shop today.
I’d never been in a Halloween shop before, and it was an eye-opening experience.
When I was five, we went trick-or-treating in our tiny neighborhood. If I remember correctly, my brother was Moses and I was Aaron — we wore bathrobes and had walking sticks. It might have been a church thing and we only stopped at the neighbors’ houses that we knew. I really don’t remember much other than that.
After that, we didn’t celebrate Halloween anymore. And I’m not really sure why.
At my Christian school in my elementary years, we did something where everyone dressed up and got judged according to our costumes. I think there was candy, too. I’m pretty sure it was a replacement for Halloween.
At home, we started going to the basement on Halloween, pretending we weren’t home. Mom and Dad would rent a tape of random Christian comedians, and we’d eat pizza (a big deal because we didn’t have a lot of money) and popcorn. It was always a happy evening, good memories.
I imagined Satanic influence everywhere, even though I don’t seem to remember things like this being taught in my denomination (despite the fact that a lot of them loved Chick tracts).
Whether it was from these tracts, from things I heard from teachers or kids at school or church, or something else entirely — Halloween nights always had a bit of fear attached to them, despite the fun and family.
I worried about kids nation-wide, whether they were being killed, sacrificed, or recruited for Satan. I worried about my neighbors, whether they were giving out poisoned or booby-trapped candy.
I worried that somehow, the neighborhood kids would find out we were in our basement instead of giving them candy, and what if they were demonically influenced and got angry and somehow demons found their way into my house?
I’d say my own prayer while Dad prayed over the food, trying to ward off any evil spirits that might enter the house. Then I’d feel better and be able to enjoy the rest of the evening.
I was never allowed to watch Gargoyles, or watch/read the Goosebumps show/books, or be interested in anything that could possibly have even a tangential connection to the occult. (Except Sabrina the Teenage Witch — that was innocuous enough to be allowed to watch, somehow, maybe because it was part of TGIF for a while.) Scary things — even things that were supposed to be scary for fun — were wrong. They made light of true evil, making it more palatable. They were representatives of the real demons, ghouls, witches, Satanists.
That was the horror — what I was taught either explicitly in ways that I can’t quite recall or implicitly from just believing in Christianity, was that those things were real. So representations of them were personally horrifying, and anyone who thought they were funny or totally fictional I deeply distrusted. After all, they were supporting true evil, so who knew what they were capable of?
The scariest thing I ever saw growing up, believe it or not, was this Mickey Mouse cartoon:
It was scary because in my little mind, those things were real. Demons were moving the skeletons. Satan was alive and active in that cartoon, and my impressionable little mind and tender little heart were shaken to their core. To this day, the music in the cartoon sends shivers through my spine and makes me taste fear.
Because it was a representation of an evil I believed to be real.
A couple of close friends like to host Halloween parties. I’ve been going to them since I was in my late teens / early 20’s, but I’ve never dressed up. The parties that we did several years ago were pretty much geeky hang-out sessions, where we played games and ate food and just hung out. The one party that I remember being truly Halloween-like, I was at BJU so I couldn’t attend.
But two years ago, I went to my first real Halloween party, complete with alcohol, drinking games, costumes and staying up late. I was so worried about it, despite my growing doubts about the reality of hell or demons or even God. I worked myself up so much that I had a massive migraine before going. But it was pretty much the same thing as the parties I went to as a teenager and early 20-something. There were no orgies, no incantations, no drunken stupors or horror. It was just a group of friends, having fun.
Last year, I thought about dressing up for the first time since 1992. I chickened out last minute, but determined to dress up this year.
I’m starting slow, just wearing a masquerade mask and my little black dress. Next year, I’m hoping to be brave enough to do a cosplay of some sort, maybe Midna or Telma from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.
Buffy: The Vampire Slayer was always a huge not-allowed-to-watch thing at my house. (Granted, so was Friends, but, you know.) After seeing so many screencaps on Tumblr that made it look awesome, I decided to watch through the show this past year. I loved it. It certainly isn’t without its problematic aspects, but there was so much good, so much positive in the show, that I was really surprised at how taboo it had been.
But many times, I had to talk myself down from the fear that would well up inside at the more horror-type aspects of the show.
Recently, I’ve started watching Supernatural. (I’m still semi-early in Season 2, so NO SPOILERS OR SO HELP ME GODDESS.) I’m finding the same sort of thing going on, but with more introspection than I had with Buffy. More realization of how 16-year-old Dani would have taken the show, or even 23-year-old Dani.
But 26-year-old Dani is enjoying it. Able to recognize that it’s not real, not even a little bit.
That brings us back to today, then. My first time in a Halloween shop.
I was really surprised to see so many little kids everywhere — and not a single one of them crying or scared. They were delighted by the scary stuff all around. Particularly one little girl, who stood dancing back and forth on the balls of her feet, pointing at a mask of a seemingly decapitated man, breathless with excitement: “Look, Daddy! Look how scary!” She was all smiles, all giggles, all energy and enjoyment, not a hint of fear or unease. It struck me as so odd, because I know how I would have felt at her age — or even just a few years ago.
These kids…they clearly could separate fiction from reality in a way that I couldn’t at their age. In a way that I couldn’t as a young adult. I envied this ability they had that I’m still working on developing. I envied their lack of fear, their pure delight, their reasoning skills.
And in the midst of what would have been a building of psychological torment for me just a few years ago, I couldn’t help but smile and feel a few more chains drop free.