Ghouls and goblins and—saints?
If your idea of Halloween involves blood, gore and things that go bump in the night, Okanagan College professor Howard Hisdal has something to make you think.
This Friday, he will give a lecture on the Canadian Halloween tradition and the true origins of everyone’s favourite gory holiday, along with vampire and werewolf literary expert Terry Scarborough.
“Halloween in Christianity is the evening before All Hallows’ Eve or All Saints’ Days, a holy day where all the saints are commemorated in one day,” explained Hisdal.
It also has overtones of the Celtic festival Samhian, pronounced So-en, marking the start of the dark part of the year, the dead part of the year, which remembers the dead. And, as anyone who has ever set foot outside their door on Halloween can attest, that Celtic influence is pretty prominent.
Celtic tradition sees turnips carved into lanterns for the festival, rather than pumpkins, and bones burned in a giant fire—the origins of the word “bonfire.”
“I haven’t tried carving a turnip, but I have tried carving a pumpkin and carving pumpkins is hard enough,” Hisdal joked as he tried to convey the myriad of historical ripples that colour our Halloween celebrations.
Oct. 31 also marks the day Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Church door, he said. Among Luther’s chief points was a call for reformation on the practice of seeding one’s relatives through purgatory to heaven by paying the Catholic church.
Luther felt the practice corrupt in every sense of the word, contending that only God could control a soul’s path and selected All Hallow’s Eve to let the world know how he felt as he knew there would be plenty of people roaming the streets paying tribute to the dead. As with every other Christian holiday, the eve of the holiday was traditionally also nearly as important.
Dressed in a Christian alb, or priest’s robe, Hisdal says he will try to explain the connections and all while dressed in ghostly white, the colour of All Saints’ Day (celebrated on Nov. 1). While the occasion only pays tribute to saints, it is followed by All Souls’ Day, a day to celebrate the less than saintly souls who have passed on in a friendly approach to dealing with the dead that also seems to have passed with time.
In some countries, like Poland, where candles are placed on the graves in cemeteries, or Mexico, where the living share a meal with the dead at grave sites, these days are still routinely marked whereas in Canada both fell out of fashion as saints were downgraded within the church.
In our ever evolving culture, where one tradition ends, another begins, and the second half of the lecture should shed light on some of the ghostly traditions cropping up around Kelowna.
Terry Scarborough, based in the department of English, literary history and criticism, will examine Victorian ghost story traditions, werewolves and vampires. He also has a theory on the latest wave of interest in zombies sweeping North American pop culture.
With nearly as many zombies as political protesters taking over the downtown core the day the Wall Street backlash arrived on the Okanagan lakeshore, Scarborough says the two gatherings might be more connected than one thinks.
“I started thinking about this when I saw the remake of The Dawn of the Dead,” said Scarborough.
“There was this scene where the zombies are all trying to get into the mall and it looked to me like Boxing Day.”
Scarborough figures zombies just might represent a mediation of consumer culture as audiences and zombie enthusiasts wake up to the reality of a world in which the vast majority of people wander through the world literally acting like zombies and consuming at every turn.
To hear more theories and pontification and enjoy a little Halloween spirit, come to Okanagan College’s main lecture theatre Friday at noon. The lecture is free.