Halloween: If I Were A Witch's Hat
From the Whitstable Times
It's that time of year again folks: the world-famous festival of fake blood and tackiness known as Halloween.
In my local budget supermarket, called George’s Mini-Market, you can buy vampire teeth, horror masks, wigs, face paint, skeleton costumes, glow-in-the-dark fingers and vampire's blood from anywhere between 10p to £2.
You can buy all the same things everywhere else too. The windows of all the shops are full up of the stuff.
Meanwhile in one of the posh craft shops in the town they have a proper witch's broomstick in the window, obviously hand made. They also have a witch's hat. My sister went in and asked how much the hat cost and they laughed. They got it from George’s Mini-Market , they said.
The psychedelic folk rock group The Incredible String Band recorded a song called Witch's Hat on an album called The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, which you can listen to below. It is a fine evocation of the state of childhood and, although it is not explicitly about Halloween, it creates a mood that is very like it.
It's an interesting song, if a little strange.
When I was on holiday in Romania a couple of years ago I went to Bran castle in Transylvania, which is popularly known as "Dracula's Castle". They were selling all the same Halloween tat there too.
It's an international conspiracy. Why go to Transylvania when you can buy your Dracula gear from George’s Mini-Market ?
Actually the only connection between Bran Castle and Dracula is the fact that the movie Bram Stoker's Dracula was filmed there.
The real historical Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, may have spent a night there once. "Dracula" was one of his titles. It means "Son of the Dragon".
Bram Stoker based his own Dracula's Castle upon one in Scotland which he also visited only once.
So Bram Stoker and Vlad the Impaler have one thing in common. They both only ever went to Dracula's Castle once.
A few years back in England Christians used to get very upset about Halloween. They would send angry letters to the newspapers accusing anyone taking part of "occult practices".
Fortunately this kind of superstitious scaremongering seems to have died out in more recent times. Or maybe it’s that Christians don't want to be accused of being spoilsports any more, when secretly they still disapprove.
The first time I was ever published in my local paper was in a letter sent in reply to one of these letters, which I signed "Puck". I was going through a pagan phase at the time.
In pagan circles Halloween is called Samhain, and is the Celtic New Year. It is a very ancient festival indeed, and involves a meal in which an extra place is laid out for the visiting dead.
It had mainly died out in England due to its replacement by Bonfire Night, but was revived recently as an American import after the popularity of Steven Spielberg's ET, which used Halloween night as a convenient plot-device.
These days the ET costume has become a part of the Halloween tradition. If ET was around now he wouldn't have to wear a sheet over his head to disguise his identity. He could come as himself and no one would notice the difference.
Our local supermarket, meanwhile, is refusing to sell flour or eggs to under 16 year olds. Apparently this is to do with the practice of egging people's houses as part of Trick or Treat.
The English don’t really know how to do Halloween. The kids are just going round begging for money. No one puts any effort into it.
One time some kids came to my door saying “Trick or treat!” I thought I’d call their bluff. “Trick!” I said. That threw them. They looked at each other in a confused manner. “Er, boo?” one of them ventured, tentatively.
“You call that scary?” I said.
A friend of mine has the following notice on his door:
No Trick Or Treat
The kids all think he’s mad, but they daren’t knock at his door.
Just in case.
Witch's Hat by The Incredible String Band
Lyrics to Witch's Hat by The Incredible String Band
certainly the children have seen them
in quiet places where the moss grows green
coloured shells jangle together
the wind is cold the year is old the trees whisper together
and bend in the wind they lean
next week a monkey is coming to stay
if I was a witches hat
sitting on her head like a paraffin stove
I'd fly away and be a bat
across the air I would rove
stepping like a tightrope walker
putting one foot after another
wearing black cherries for rings
- An Interview with Rose Simpson of the Incredible String Band
An extract from Fierce Dancing: Adventures in the Underground by CJ Stone
More Halloween stories by CJ Stone
- Chapter 1 of La Vie D'Arthur
Samhain. Halloween. The season of darkness. Grim clouds scutter like thin grey rags under a sombre sky. This is the time of the ancestors, the time of the ancients, when spirits roam the land. The time of the dark awakening...
- Ten Thousand Days: Bonfire Night
Although in England we have moved the date to suit the anti-Catholic propaganda element, it is really an ancient festival recognising the coming of winter. It's historic date is October 31st, All-Hallows Eve, also known as Samhain.
- Shades of Other Lives: Photographs by Gerry Atkinson
And even after the children grow up and have children of their own, this picture will live on, with those playful shouts of joy still echoing in the other room on that Halloween night so long ago.
- Halloween and the Ritual of Transformation
Then would I never tire, Janet, In Elfish land to dwell, But aye, at every seven years, They pay the tithe to hell; And I am so fat and fair of flesh, I fear 'twill be mysell.
© 2008 Christopher James Stone