October is the 10th month on both the old Julian and newer Gregorian calendar. It is the first full month of Autumn where harvests are being done and in the old days, people began to make ready for the coming of winter. The southern hemisphere though October is the first full month of spring. Harvest festivals are common at this time of year along with popular ones such as the German Oktoberfest.
Also for sports fans in the US you see the popular sports of basketball, American football, and baseball converge on the calendar. Football is kicking into gear, basketball is starting up and baseball enters its championship phase culminating with the World Series.
Of course the big day is Halloween on October 31st. As it set by date, the exact day it will fall on will vary each year. When it falls on a weekday, it means kids have to be home early as they go to school the next day. Friday and Saturday are optimum as you can have longer Halloween events and stay up late watching scary movies. Halloween is not an official holiday but comes close to it. October has as its flower the Calendula and the birthstone is the opal.
All Souls Day is set aside to commemorate the faithful dead in Catholic and other Christian denominations. Most protestant denominations, with the exception of the Anglican church, do not recognize the holy day. It is not to be confused with Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) which does remember friends and family who have died but is not a Catholic or Christian religious event(though it takes place from 31 Oct through 2 Nov which coincides with Halloween, All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day).
One of the purposes of All Souls Day is to pray for those in purgatory. Purgatory is one of the places, according to Catholic belief, a soul may go after death (the other two places are heaven and hell). Purgatory is an intermediate place where people who are free of mortal sin but still in a state of lesser (venial) sin. While most celebrate All Souls Day on 2 November, Eastern Orthodox has several days during the year it celebrates the holy day. Though a holy day, unlike All Saints’ Day is it not a holy day of obligation (meaning you go to church).
One of the finest ghost stories ever written was Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. It was made into a 1963 movieThe Haunting regarded as one of the best supernatural movies in cinema history. The movie was modestly received when it first came out and scared many viewers. Using cleverly designed sets and distorted angles, the film stands out as a first rate psychological horror movie that is unmatched. A remake in 1999 starring Liam Neeson, Lilli Taylor and Catherine Zeta Jones did not capture the original film’s essence and failed at the box office. Although the 1973 movie The Legend of Hell House incorporates themes of the Hill book, it was based on Richard Matheson’s book and he wrote the screenplay.
There is no gore in the book or original movie but instead relies on the terror the people experience as the entity makes itself known. This theme inspired Stephen King for his book The Shining and later for a made-for-television story Rose Red. As the story unfolds (in the book and movie) it comes clear that Eleanor becomes the target of the entity and one point even possessed by it. The unsettling end where Eleanor dies leaves one to speculate whether it was caused by the entity or her own emotionally disturbed state. There is no doubt the house is haunted by a malevolent entity but now it has claimed a new victim whether by its hand or not. And these haunting words, a voice over by Julie Harris who played Eleanor at the end, sums it all up:
Hill House has stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more. Within, walls continue upright, bricks meet, floors are firm, and doors are sensibly shut. Silence lies steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House. And we who walk here… walk alone.
Important note to parents: Neither the book or movie is for young kids and has themes that might trouble parents.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula was not the first vampire story but certainly the most memorable. It starts out as Jonathan Harker records his trip to visit Count Dracula about property he has purchased in London. We are given fascinating details of the journey but foreboding as well. Although welcomed warmly by Dracula, he begins to suspect things are not right. And that leads him to discover Dracula is not at all what he seems but a monster that will spread evil into the heart of Europe.
Welcome to my house! Enter freely and of your own will! He made no motion of stepping to meet me, but stood like a statue, as though his gesture of welcome had fixed him to stone. The instant, however, that I had stepped over the threshold, he moved impulsively forward, and holding out his hand grasped mine with a strength which made me wince, an effect which was not lessened by the fact that it seemed as cold as ice–more like the hand of the dead than a living man.
Readers then and now are surprised at how Stoker did not hold back in what Dracula does. Perhaps the most horrific–and rarely seen in film or miniseries adaptations–is when the three vampire women at his castle are given a baby by Dracula as a meal. It shows what truly a monster he is and those that serve him as well. Stoker builds on that horror as Dracula arrives in England to begin spreading his evil. The strange illness of Lucy Westenra brings us the character of Van Helsing who suspects a vampire is at work. And Jonathan’s return helps the group that forms that they are dealing with an evil creature that must be destroyed.
But they also fail to see he is already working against them by feeding on Mina, Jonathan’s wife. They get the upper hand though by tracking down all his hiding places to sanctify making them unusable to him. He taunts them at one point and then flees across the ocean back home. The chase to get there before he does is perhaps the most thrilling part of the book. In a dramatic ending, they catch him as the sun is starting to set and he is about to have full command of his powers. The end is quick with a dagger in the throat and the heart. And then he is no more. Unlike some depictions, he goes to dust with just a momentary sight that his soul was at peace now. The evil is vanquished never to rise again.
Dracula spawned other books and movies both inspired or based in some way on the book. The famous 1931 movie with Bela Lugosi cemented a certain image of Dracula that stood out for a long time. Yet except perhaps for the Coppola movie, few show what Harker saw:
Within stood a tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache, and clad in black from head to foot, without a single speck of colour about him anywhere.
Most depictions have no moustache and Dracula neither appears old or young (somewhere in between). They also rarely show the trip to the castle (quite long as Dracula was looking for blue flames to find hidden treasure and his command of wolves). Dracula in the book can get about by day. The myth that sprung up was that vampires had to walk at night. Not so in the book at all. Dracula could get around in daylight but it constricted his abilities. At night be could use his full range of abilities but daylight limited him to whatever form he had at that time (he also had to be careful about running water).
Dracula was not conflicted nor concerned about what he became, like vampires in some modern novels are sometimes depicted as. Dracula was a creature of evil that served evil. He had no qualms about killing anyone who got in his way but despite all that, as Van Helsing observed, he was not without weakness. He could live centuries but he could be killed by staking through the heart or kept at bay with a crucifix. And when confronted with a determined group out to destroy him, he fled back home to live to fight another day.
Dracula stands out as masterful horror fiction because it reveals a story slowly, deliberately, and then like a hammer hitting anvil hits you with full fury. Reading it today is still gripping despite all the movies inspired from it. Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot follows a similar pattern of building the story up slowly until it reveals what the horror is. And it appears Stoker did his research well for he based it on a real historical figure (Vlad the Impaler) who for a time brought fear to Turks who tried to dominate central Europe. He was so ruthless that he made sure that lands were burned, wells were poisoned, and many of their soldiers were found impaled on stakes as they approached his lands.
It is debatable how much Stoker really knew about Vlad the Impaler but learned enough from the information he had to craft his vampire story. And a great one it is that stands the test of time while other vampire stories remain forgotten on library shelves.
We begin our Halloween season with a classic. Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven really caught the attention of the public back when it was published in 1845. The narrative poem is known for its musicality, use of stylized language, and its supernatural aspects. A talking raven, a distraught lover, and fallen into madness are the themes of the poem. After its initial publication, it would be reprinted elsewhere bringing him popularity (though he made little money off the poem itself it seems). It remains one of the most famous poems ever written. And made Poe famous.
Sit back and put on some spooky music (a suggested musical accompaniment is below from You Tube) while you read this poem.
The Raven (Edgar Allen Poe, 1845)
Deep into the darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word,
Lenore?, This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word,
“Lenore!” Merely this, and nothing more.
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping, something louder than before,
“Surely,” said I, “surely, that is something at my window lattice.
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore.
Let my heart be still a moment, and this mystery explore.
” ‘Tis the wind, and nothing more.”
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven, of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door.
Perched upon a bust of Pallas, just above my chamber door,
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly, grim, and ancient raven, wandering from the nightly shore.
Tell me what the lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore.”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning, little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door,
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”
But the raven, sitting lonely on that placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered; not a feather then he fluttered;
Till I scarcely more than muttered, “Other friends have flown before;
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said, “Nevermore.”
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master, whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster, till his songs one burden bore,—
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore —
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”
Thus I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl, whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o’er
She shall press, ah, nevermore!
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee — by these angels he hath
Sent thee respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, O quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore!”
“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!–prophet still, if bird or devil!
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate, yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted–
On this home by horror haunted–tell me truly, I implore:
Is there–is there balm in Gilead?–tell me–tell me I implore!”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”
“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting–
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! — quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”
And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming.
And the lamplight o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!
For those who watch the calendar, today marks the official end of summer and the beginning of autumn with the equinox today. It begins today at 13:30 UTC (go here to see the time it begins in your area). There are two equinoxes in the year: March and September. When these equinoxes occur the sun is directly on the equator, and the length of day and night is almost equal. In the Northern hemisphere, the September Equinox heralds autumn while in the South it is the beginning of spring.
For those of us in the North, it means a transition from summer to winter. During this period days start getting shorter and nights longer. Depending on where you live, you will likely have moderate warm days followed by long and cooler nights. Harvests of many crops often take place during the fall and in the old days you would make preparations to store food for the winter. Harvest festivals are very popular and in particular Halloween. Pumpkins begin appearing along with all kinds of Halloween decor culminating, of course, in All Hallows Eve (Halloween) on October 31.
All Souls’ Day is to commemorate the faithful dead and is celebrated by special mass by Catholics and other Christian denominations. Some Christian churches celebrate it on a different day. It is not to be confused with Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) which does remember friends and family who have died but is not a Catholic or Christian religious event(though it takes place from 31 Oct through 2 Nov which coincides with Halloween, All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day).
All Saints’ Day(Solemnity of All Saints,All Hallows, Hallowmas or All Saints)is celebrated on 1 November by most Western Christians and is to honor all saints known and unknown. In some Catholic countries, it is a holiday. It is a holy day of obligation for most Catholics except when it falls on a Saturday or Monday. In that case it is celebrated on Sunday. Eastern Orthodox is celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost and is called All Saints’ Sunday.