Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Thinning of the Veil

This is my favorite time of year. In San Francisco, it’s the tail end of summer. We generally only have three weeks of it, starting in mid-September, but with global warming, it’s been extending well into October and even November in recent years. Still, the light has changed to autumn gold, with long shadows and harsh angles, and the nights are cooler. Not yet crisp like in parts of the world that have true autumn, sadly, but damper, with more reliable fog. (And isn’t fog the most paranormally perfect setting? I forget to include fog in my books, which is a shameful oversight on my part, living where I do, but perhaps I’ve just gotten so used to it that it’s like air. At any rate, it’s marvelous for setting a spooky atmosphere.)

My annual tradition at this time of year is watching horror movies. I start watching them on October 1 and watch as many as I can throughout the month. My favorite are ghost stories. Among my recent finds on Netflix are I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the HouseLavender, 1922, The Conjuring (attributed to demonic entities, but seems ghostly all the same), and the excellent series, The Haunting of Hill House. I’ve also rewatched favorites like Crimson Peak and Ghost Story. I’m saving one of my all-time favorites, The Others, for Halloween night.

So what is it that makes us crave being spooked at this particular time of the year? It’s not by accident that Halloween—All Hallows’ Eve—falls when it does. This descent into the darkest days of the year for the Northern Hemisphere has affected our psyches since we crawled out of the swamps. All around us, living things are dying. In Celtic tradition, the veil between the living and the dead is thinning.

But it isn’t only the Celts who felt this way. The Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead follows closely on the heels of Halloween on November 2, but the timing is still thanks to Celtic influence, via Catholicism. As with many Christian holidays supplanting pagan ones, the Catholic Church established All Hallows’ (Saints’) Day and All Souls’ Day as a means of subsuming the Celtic celebration of Samhain.

The Norse tradition, too has a “day of the dead” around this time of year, known as Álfablót, or a sacrifice to the elves. Perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch to call this a day of the dead, but there is some evidence that the concept of elves encompassed the souls of the dead. At any rate, in Nordic lands, by this time of the year, it probably seemed as if the world itself were dying, as almost every living plant returned to the realms under the earth. Another Norse celebration, Dísablót, followed, held during the “Winter Nights,” commemorating the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter and in honor of the female spirits, such as underworld goddesses Freyja and Hel. This is also when the Wild Hunt, or Odin’s Hunt, begins to ride (which sets the stage for my book, The Dragon’s Hunt, in case that tickles your fancy).

Regardless of its cultural origins, some sensitive folk believe they can feel this seasonal thinning of the veil. People who believe in ghosts report more ghostly activity and visitations at this time of year. And although the jury is still out for me on the existence of a spirit that lives on after the body dies, I’ve always felt some “ghostly” energy around this time. Around my house recently, out of the corner of my eye, I’ve begun to see what I at first take to be my cat. But then I realize he’s outside or in another room. The “cat” shadow slips about at foot level and between rooms, and I find comfort in thinking my other cat, Urd (named for one of the Norse fates), who died last year, is visiting me.

My Urdie is probably the only “ghostie” I’ve ever really encountered (if you can call a fleeting glimpse of a shadow cat that). Though I did feel my late husband’s arms around me shortly after he died, and a few years ago at RT Book Lover’s convention on a “ghost tour,” I swear an invisible child pulled my hair. I’ve also experienced a feeling of some kind of lingering energy in certain places—once at Alcatraz and once in an old graveyard I visited in the middle of the night in Arizona. I can’t say I truly believe in ghosts, but maybe, like Fox Mulder, I want to believe.

Are ghosts on your mind this time of year? Do you watch scary movies? Or maybe hold a good, old-fashioned séance and commune with a spirit or two?


Diane Burton said...

I always enjoy reading about the origin of holidays. So interesting. I don't like to be scared so no horror films or books for me. I do like Halloween because of the kids and their costumes. If the weather is decent, Hubs and I sit at the top of our driveway, with our neighbor, to hand out candy. It's so much fun trying to figure out who they are, for real, and sometimes what they are. lol

Maureen said...

Love this post- perfect for today! I also love the movie The Conjuring. That is one scary movie.

Francesca Quarto said...

What a fun post! It made the wait between Trick or Treat goblins lots more interesting!

Happy Halloween all!

Francesca Q.

Nightingale said...

The jury is still out for me, too, on the matter of ghosts. I did have two experience; one when my mother died and later when my father passed. Thanks for an entertaining post.

Elizabeth Alsobrooks said...

I see ghosts all the time...hubs too, but being a good Irish/Scotsman one expects this. Great post!