Friday, October 28, 2005

Trick or Treat?

It is pretty obvious as we head into Halloween and then the "holiday season" that things are not right with the world. Things have not been right for a long, long time, actually, as we all very well know but often try to forget. But this year it seems like the situation is worse; it seems like some things are getting ready to pop or rip or give way in some surprising fashion. Halloween promises to be exciting for the kids again this year and for the politicians in Washington, too.

Halloween is a unique and peculiar rite among modern people in western countries. Very few among us really understand the meaning of Halloween. The "eve of all hallows," or the vigil before All-Saints Day as it is properly termed, is a curious rite in countries that have a large Christian population, especially Roman Catholic Christians.

The original intent of All-Saints Day was to honor any saints that the church had missed along the way in its regular calendar of honoring those men and women who often died horrible deaths defending their faith or leading unselfish Christian lives. But, the day was also intended to honor people whose lives and deaths have not yet been confirmed as officially saintly ... but might soon be ... or that will never be because their story is completely unknown. In this respect All Saints Day is sort of a grab-bag remembrance of things meant well that often did not turn out that way on this mortal coil.

This grab-bag, omnibus nature gives to the dark night vigil anticipating All Saints Day—Halloween— a syncretic uniqueness perhaps best described as a brush with paganism, now in the modern age marked by the cavorting of children in the streets dressed as figures out of the current popular dark mythologies. Few, indeed, are the costumes meant to portray saints and religious figures. Some children dress to please their parents, but most prefer the iconic and neo-iconic costumes of the borderline characters of our culture, you know, witches, ghosts, goblins, pirates, gorillas, Frankenstein monsters, Nixon, Agnew, Darth Vader, Bush 43, Hannibal Lecter, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, Lt. Calley, Libby, Frist, Santorum, Ollie North, Blunt, DeLay, Benedict Arnold, and the like. It is a ritual attempt to redeem the bad in these characters by inhabiting their outward appearances with the innocence of children.

The costumes parade around the neighborhoods of America asking for sweets representing goodness, or being rejected, warning of impending tricks. The sociopathic aspects of the characters represented is never far from the surface of Halloween activities, yet the worst is submerged. Halloween is a brief stylized glimpse into the primitive imagination of a culture. It describes the willingness of the people to believe that while there is a lot of good in some people, there is some good in everyone, and even in the worst monsters of the culture a need to set them on a better path, if only for one dark night under the waning harvest moon.

It is fitting that the Valerie Plame Affair seems to be culminating this Halloween season. In reality we have in our country a group of bad guys who have been masquerading as friends of our culture when in fact they have done no end of things to subvert our culture and to deride its core values. They are the opposite of saints, and briefly they get to take cover under the strange shroud of forgiving amnesty implicit in Halloween.

Next week, our tribal rites complete, we will take them to court and then the gaols and gallows, where if they are innocent at heart (and no one on the planet truly believes that) they will be returned to the ranks of unnamed saints to be remembered again en masse in future Halloweens, but if not, to be forgotten with all the refuse of a messy, slightly insane world.

James Richard Brett