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Halloween - Something cheesy this way comes [The Franchise] [Sarah] [Ari EB] [Elanit] [ALG] [Alon] [Yutopia] [Code Monkey Ramblings]
October 31st, 2005
11:03 pm


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I wouldn't say that I hate halloween more than all of the other manufactured holidays - some others get to me pretty badly - but it's certainly up there among my major annual dislikes.

So this year, we bought some candy and waited for mostly surly people to come by and take it. There were a few notable exceptions - the little girl trick-or-treating with a UNICEF box (after the candy - hey, girl's got priorities), the two teenage girls in dorothy-style jumpers - one of whom looked at Kacy and said "she could be my Toto!" and the college-age-kid in a princess outfit who wanted to tell me about the evils of the "Healthy Skies Initiative" (their report is here - she also wanted money, but I don't give money to political causes - my vote is enough of a contribution - she was much more pleasant than the Democratic activists who came by during the '04 campaign) all stood out.

But by and large, terms like "thank you" seem to have gone away among the youth (a much worse problem among the older kids), and a lot of them couldn't quite muster up the effort to say "trick or treat" or quite grok that the bowl of candy means "take one" and not "take seven."


Anyway, my distaste of trick-or-treating is mostly because I'm a fuddy-duddy, although I don't like the underlying theme there: going door to door with implied menace demanding rewards is not something which is condusive to character-building, IMO. That's not to say that plenty of perfectly normal, decent people haven't gone trick-or-treating - of course there are lots who did - but rather to say that it's something which encourages the not-so-great elements in the human psyche rather than the better ones.

Now, my real problem with Halloween comes from my history as a Pagan: it's an exceedingly palpable reminder of a life I rejected not in part but in the whole.

I came to Paganism/Wicca after meeting a fellow named Joe (who has gone on to be a charlatan in a variety of other manners, including picking up an Internet doctorate and founding a self-help institute) - I was lonely and depressed at the University of Utah, and Joe seemed awfully wise: I didn't quite put together why someone who was in his mid 30s was hanging out at a University (I'm in my mid-30s, and I haven't the slightest desire to hang out on a campus - the parties just aren't that good, and the professors are way too boring). This was right around the time I had gotten kicked out of the Sunmasons, and I was really directionless. I'd actually argue with the fire-and-brimstone preachers we'd get occasionally - talk about pointless...

So I had had been a seeker for quite a while - I had tried a bunch of religions (Mormonism, Baptism, Catholicism, Methodism, and more) and done a lot of reading about others (Buddhism, Taoism [although my real Tao education was to come], Zoroastrianism [I was fascinated by that, but of course, one can't join a religion which really believes in determinism, so my interest stayed academic - as an aside, I met some Zoroastrians in Utah, of all places], so I was clearly looking for something, and just hadn't found it.

What Joe offered was the chance to believe in something larger than myself, along with not challenging my uber-liberalism or my hyper-relativism. If there's one constant between all of the Wiccans I've met (and ever even heard about), it's a relativistic approach to ethics - much is borrowed from Hedonism. I also fell hook-line-and-sinker for the mega-whoppers which propogate in the Wiccan world: the idea that there were "burning times" where millions of witches were burned at the stake in Medieval Europe; the idea that what is now called "Wicca" bore even the slightest resemblance to actual folk religion as it was practiced centuries ago; and the idea that only by worshipping a goddess could a man prove that he wasn't part of the opressive patriarchy.

Heh. I was young and stupid - so sue me. :)

I met several other people, and we all did the Wicca thing together, and Joe was our leader - Gwen and I dated very seriously, and lots of folks did a lot of drugs. Gwen also spent some time teaching me basics of Unix and re-acquainting me with technology - I had had an email account there a few years earlier, but never really knew what I was doing. I kept trying to put together some music: Joe and I did the "Indigo Guys" thing, and played a couple of gigs, and then I sold my comic book collection (stupid!) and bought a drumset at a pawn shop, and joe, jim, and I tried to form the "Nude Buddhas" but that never went anywhere.

In a bout of true stupidity, we decided to have a ritual (this one was without Joe) in the dorm underneath Gwen's room - a person had a hypoglycemia problem, so 911 was called. He was okay. But when the cops came, they found us in the room, with lots o'Pagan artifacts (including a single bottle of wine - ironically, Mogen Dovid Blackberry), and gave us all minor-in-possession charges (except for the 2 over-21 types [Troy and Brian], who got contributing to deliquency). When we had our court date, the cops had put in their report that we had been finishing a Satanic ritual, and that we were a bunch of Satanists, etc.

Obviously, I wasn't going to plead guilty to that, so we went to trial - and the 6 of us got 6 different public defenders (how's THAT for tax dollars at work?), and the cops on the stand were saying things about upside-down crosses (no idea where they got that one) and inverted pentagrams on the floor (wouldn't it depend on which way one was facing? duh...) but get this: they threw out the wine bottle and thus couldn't prove that any crime was committed other than us being weirdos. So the judge threw out the case, on the condition that all of us had to go to an AA meeting (!)

Anyway, it was around that time I left the U because I needed to dry out: everyone I knew was a huge stoner, and I needed to not be around it. I worked at the Subway next to the 7-11 where all the cops would hang out - I remember the manager offering me cocaine in the back room (I said no thanks), and the other employees would get stoned in the walk-in, and then laugh at the fact that they wouldn't get busted by the cops. Gwen and I had broken up the previous year, and I had had a string of unpleasant relationships (Korie comes to mind - she dumped me for Troy, and then had the hutzpah [I didn't know that word then, but it fits] to call me and complain that he wasn't doing anything for her for Valentine's day - sheesh!) I had had an spiritual epiphany while walking in the snow about becoming a better person: I honestly felt spoken-to: that I heard (not in words) "clean up your life" - that was one of the two times I've done what the AA-types call "hitting bottom." Being exceedingly willful and prideful, I wasn't the sort of person to seek outside help, so I mostly kept those struggles private.

I moved into a group house with the ironically-named Christian (who was unsurprisingly a Pagan), and traded my amp (a 4 12" Celestion-speaker cabinet... damn, that was a nice amp) for a '76 toyota corolla station wagon with 260,000 miles on it. I was listening to Crash Worship and trying to work as a security guard (Troy had gotten me the job), when I met Justine and we married a few months later. (danger, will robinson!)

That was pretty bad, and pretty stormy. My drum set got destroyed during a move, and we had a series of unpleasant escapades where I often ended up getting injured in one way or another. Justine was sufficiently messed up that she made me at that point look like a paragon of virtue and sensibility, and we left Salt Lake City in a hurry: she had run afoul of some of her business associates, and we had a very, very uncomfortable meeting in a room where too many people who weren't cops were armed. After we arrived in Maryland, we crashed at my dad's house for a month or so - that was kind of awkward, because we were in a den without a door. eep!

She got a job at a CVS next to my job at Domino's (in Falls Church, VA), and I got an offer to go be an assistant manager at a Domino's outside Baltimore. We moved up there, and ended up living in a really, really, crappy part of town: like "gunshots on tuesday," bleah. She was working at the McDonalds across the street, and that's when she got arrested.

So there I was, living in the slums outside of Baltimore, as a Wiccan. All this time, I had been trying to use Wicca as a springboard to become a decent person and lead a decent life, and it just totally wasn't working. I filed for divorce, taking the ring off my finger made me feel like a total failure - this was my second descent to the bottom. I was able to get my stuff back from the FBI (they had taken a bunch of stuff with the idea that it might have been stolen), and I had a 2400 baud modem on my Performa 550. I got an account at clarknet, and resumed posting on Usenet. Mostly, I was making stupid arguments and flames with the dorks on there (I particularly argued with a guy with a netcom.com email account who was named "Swami"). We'll see whether Google will actually remove all of those posts (yes, I've tried)...

It was on there that I met Sarah - she was curious, and I was so, so lonely. I immediately fell for her, and she put up with my paganism. (She didn't, however, put up with me not finishing my degree, so back to school I went, and much as I hem and haw about it, it was a good idea). However, I was growing disenchanted - I felt more and more alone, and while trying to learn Greek and Gaelic was a cool project, it hardly motivated me on a spiritual level.

For lack of a community, I started going to the occasional Jewish thing with Sarah (and making a total fool of myself) - the Seder at the AU Hillel (where I tried to talk to the Rabbi there about the similarities between the pagan counting song and had gadya - I had the order of influence backward, given that had gadya is something like 1000 years old...), I tried going to Adas Israel - bleah! and I tried reading. After picking up Jewish Literacy and realizing that I didn't actually know anything about Judaism, and then learning a little bit about it, I realized that there was the authenticity I had been looking for: not for the charlatans and self-important people who act like gatekeepers to spirituality, but rather a place as a single thread in a spiritual tapestry stretching back thousands of years.

So that's my problem with Halloween - it's a modern, commercial holiday with pagan overtones, and is celebrated as a holiday by the pagans themselves. As such, it represents the epitome of all those things I have come to hate - the greed, self-centeredness, materialism, hedonism, relativism, and general spiritual malaise which casts its pall over me when I was a Wiccan.

Or maybe I'm just a fuddy-duddy.

Current Mood: indescribableindescribable
Current Music: Peter Gabriel, "Solsbury Hill (live)"

(6 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:November 1st, 2005 11:56 am (UTC)
Wow! (Before reading the story I had other comments but I think I'll stick with this one for now).
[User Picture]
Date:November 1st, 2005 01:28 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:November 1st, 2005 03:32 pm (UTC)
I think I was luckier than you--I found a better group of pagans to hang out with. Keltic retro-pagans, aware that they were trying to rebuild something that hadn't existed for >1000 years, not too excessive with booze and such. The smith-god archetype does have a lot of emotional resonance for me and the circles let me connect with the arational side of existence. But even that crowd, who are the most stable pagans I've dealt with, couldn't keep jobs, relationships, and finances together. I kept discovering I was the one with the good job who got looked at when another member was having yet another crisis and asking for help. My politics didn't fit in either. So we left that behind when we moved from Los Angeles to Fort Worth. I found a local pagan group, but discovered they had the same problems (other than being child-hostile). So I've tossed it in. We're attending a Lutheran church, which is doing a lot for celticdragonfly and a little for me. I suspect "To these from birth is Belief forbidden" may wind up as my spiritual maxim.

PS. Texas seems to get a better class of trick or treaters than other places I've lived, too. Lots of costumes, lots of thank-yous.
[User Picture]
Date:November 1st, 2005 05:11 pm (UTC)
That's a fantastic poem. (and a great argument over there in that thread) :)

I've gotta say - the phrase "Keltic retro-pagans" is really amusing to me - as Dave Barry would say, "that sounds like a great name for a band."

Utah had pretty good trick-or-treaters too - maybe it's just a DC thing (customer service is poor here too).

Sorry the Lutheran service isn't doing it for you - one approach which has helped me a lot is a classical Jewish one: na'aseh v'nishmah "we will do, and we will hear (understand)" - I've found that for me, doing nearly always needs to come before understanding or appreciation. Occasionally, I'll do, and still not get it, but those are thankfully far between... Hopefully there'll be something of value there - at least the community if nothing else...

I totally know what you mean about the politics - I was the only pagan I knew who was in favor of nuclear power and space exploration :)
[User Picture]
Date:November 2nd, 2005 01:46 am (UTC)

Yes, it's good, but not for me...

It sounds as if Wicca has spoiled Halloween for you. For someone who's never been anything but Christian, Halloween is an excuse to run around in the crisp autumn moonlight in a smokin' costume (my all time favorite was when King Balthazar, complete with sabre) and to have a huge "Rally Day" party at church for Reformation Sunday

So the past informs the present, where on Halloween, our local church (Evangelical Methodist) celebrates with a parkinglot-party-with-candy (rained out this year) and a canned-food-drive for Northwest Harvest (sans candy).

And of course, being rural, I take my daughter on the long hike to the two neighbors' houses (and vice-versa) for "Trick or Treat". She was a fairy princess and I was Madame Irma Pince. Everyone said "Thank You".
[User Picture]
Date:November 2nd, 2005 01:53 am (UTC)

Re: Yes, it's good, but not for me...

Hah! Balthazar would be pretty cool - a bunch of the teenagers here couldn't be bothered to dress up as something more creative than "thug." One kid seemed to think that wearing a backpack on his front was evocative of something :P

Yeah, Wicca spoiled Halloween for me - Sarah has a blast with it (and says I'm a fuddy-duddy) - in fact, she took a whole bunch of nice pictures of the decorations in Georgetown.

Maybe time will make me more open to the idea that this is harmless silliness...
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