The careers of ghosts

One of Ambrose Bierce’s most famous stories is “The Moonlit Road.”  Three narrators describe the same killing.  The third narrator is the victim, speaking through a medium.  Two of the victim’s remarks suggests that Bierce had worked out some sort of a theory about what it’s like to be a ghost:

Fear has no brains; it is an idiot. The dismal witness that it bears and the cowardly counsel that it whispers are unrelated. We know this well, we who have passed into the Realm of Terror, who skulk in eternal dusk among the scenes of our former lives, invisible even to ourselves, and one another, yet hiding forlorn in lonely places; yearning for speech with our loved ones, yet dumb, and as fearful of them as they of us. Sometimes the disability is removed, the law suspended: by the deathless power of love or hate we break the spell — we are seen by those whom we would warn, console, or punish. What form we seem to them to bear we know not; we know only that we terrify even those whom we most wish to comfort, and from whom we most crave tenderness and sympathy.

A bit later, she elaborates on this:

You think that we are of another world.  No, we have knowledge of no world but yours, though for us it holds no sunlight, no warmth, no music, no laughter, no song of birds, nor any companionship.  O God!  what a thing it is to be a ghost, cowering and shivering in an altered world, a prey to apprehension and despair.

A very similar theory seems to inform the lyrics of Lila Burns’ “Young Hearts, Young Minds.”  A contender for “Ukulele Video of the Year” honors at Al Wood’s incomparable Ukulele Hunt,  the song enlists our sympathies for those who are powerless to do anything but “float around town/ just sing out loud goin oo oo oo-oo oo-oo.”  Whether Lila Burns has read Ambrose Bierce or developed her conception of the afterlife independently I don’t know.

While I’m at it, I should mention John Zmirak’s recent Halloween essay.  Who likes Halloween?  Radical traditionalist Catholics, that’s who likes Halloween.  Zmirak expresses a measure of sympathy for anti-Halloween Protestants:

Some homeschooling friends of mine confessed to me that they felt torn over whether or not to let their son dress up and go trick-or-treating; their Protestant friends kept telling them that this holiday was pagan or even Satanic. And given their theology, you can see their point: The souls of the dead are either in Heaven — in which case they’re not walking the earth and need not be appeased, represented, mocked, or even commemorated, depending on which reading you give to the way we Catholics appropriated old pagan customs that marked this time of year– or else they’re in Hell, and not worth remembering.

Only if you believe in Purgatory, Zmirak argues, can you fit earth-haunting ghosts into the world of Christian imagination.  Zmirak gladly claims the Addams family as rad-trad Catholics.  “Indeed, I think I may have spotted several Addamses at the indult parish in New York City…”  He urges devout parents not to dress their little trick-or-treaters as saints, but to give them costumes that display the eerie and frightening parts of life that Halloween is meant to confront.  He does draw the line somewhere, though:

Now, I’m very much in agreement that two-year-old children should not be dressed as Satan. For one thing, it’s a little bit too realistic. Indeed, the fallenness of children, which Augustine bemoaned in his Confessions, is so evident to everyone that garbing the little tykes in the robes of absolute evil seems to overstress the point. Nor do we wish to trivialize the serious, deadly purpose of our infernal enemy — dragging each of us screaming to Hell. If you’re feeling puckish, it’s in much better taste to dress up your kids as Osama bin Laden, Annibale Bugnini, or some other of the Evil One’s lesser minions. If you must dress your boys as saints, choose military martyrs, canonized crusaders, or patriarchs from the Old Testament. One suggestion I made as editor of the Feasts and Seasons section of Faith & Family magazine was this: Dress up your daughters as early Roman martyrs, like Agnes and Agatha, and your sons as the Roman soldiers, gladiators, and lions that sent them to heaven. Stock up on lots of fake blood for the girls’ machine-washable tunics, and let the games begin! (Alas, this idea never saw print.)

Bierce grew up in Ohio in the 1840s and 1850s; his family and neighbors were staunch Calvinists.  One of his sisters was so committed to that faith that she went to Africa as a missionary.  She was never heard from again; many Ohioans thought that she had been eaten by cannibals.  Perhaps she was an inspiration for the cartoons magazines used to run showing pith-helmeted figures in great pots of boiling water.  Bierce himself was alienated from religion; at times he made a show of atheism, at other times he cultivated a reputation for the Satanic.  The God in whom Bierce did not believe was the God of Calvin.  When he turned his imagination to the supernatural, Calvinism would have been his starting point.  Perhaps the isolated, helpless, misunderstood ghosts of Ambrose Bierce and Lila Burns represent a stage in the decay of Calvinist theology, even as the Addams family and other products Zmirak endorses represent the current stage of rad-trad Catholicism.

Trick or Treat

virtualglobetrotting.com

virtualglobetrotting.com

Rainn Wilson raises the bar.

Christians Burn Bibles on Halloween

Ukulele Videos for Halloween

Whether this post is a trick or a treat is not for me to decide. 

At the Corktown Ukulele Jam, young Jimmy the Uke plays “Monster Mash

The Vampire Song, aka “You Know a Lot About Me,” by Count Orlok and his Ukulele

Poopy Lungstuffing and Organ Failure perform “You Are My Sunshine” as it would sound if zombies sang it

Poopy does a solo version of “Little Orphant Annie.”  I think this is the best video in this post.

The Wolf in Me,” a rather grim original by Danny Korves.

Jennifer Teeter’s “Sea Monster’s Lament,” also known as “The Lesbian Sea Monster Song.”  It’s realy too sweet to be a Halloween song, but there is a monster in it, and some handcuffs, so I’m including it. 

If you are looking for a song addressed to neopagans who keep 31 October as a religious holiday called Samhain, here’s something

Some collective nouns

A herd of cows; a flock of sheep;  a pride of lions; a pack of dogs.

A murmur of starlings;  an exaltation of larks;  a murder of crows; a parliament of owls.

Just in time for Halloween, David Malki’s Wondermark offers a list of collective nouns for beings of species less well-documented than those above (click the image to read a legible version of it on his site.) 

wondermark collective nouns

Fun and Easy Magic Spells

Spells should be cast with respect and reverence. 

Keep in mind the Rule of 3: Spells cast with intent of malevolence will cause malevolence to return to the spellcaster threefold. Spells cast with intent of benevolence will cause benevolence to return to the spellcaster threefold.

Spells for Halloween or anytime:  

royalcandycompany.com
royalcandycompany.com

CHARMED CANDY  

Created by: Sir Summer ShiningStar

 Given to: the Great Puzuzu 

 
You will need: a handful of candy; a white or orange candle 
 What to do: Light the candle, and put the candies in a pile. Make a triangle with your index fingers and thumbs of both hands, and move them in a deosil (clockwise) direction over the candies while chanting:
  
“Charmed are these candy treats.
 
  Good fortune to all I merry meet!”
 
 
 
 
Then give away the candies to friends and family and three people you don’t know. 
  
————————————————————————————

 
 
 

prime.peta.org

prime.peta.org

MIND OF A FROG

This spell gives a person the mind of a frog.

Point to a particularly dense person and say:

“Higady, pigady, pong! I give you a mind of a frog.”

The dense person’s intelligence should then skyrocket to that of a frog.

————————————————————————————

allposters.com

allposters.com

LITTLE BO PEEP SPELL TO FIND LOST OBJECTS

Created by: Silver RavenWolf

Objects can be returned to you if they have not been destroyed and they want to come back. Objects carry energy too, even if they don’t “think” in the way we do.

 On a piece of paper, write a description of the object you have lost. Hold the open paper on the palm of your hand. Say the words “Little Bo Peep” three times, then crumple the paper in your hand, as if you’ve just caught a fairy- which you just did! Keep the paper closed in your hand. Search for the object you have lost. Don’t let the fairy out until you find the object.
(And you thought fairy tales were just kiddie stories!)

 Sometimes the energy of the object would be better off somewhere else. If this happens, the object will not return to you. If you can’t find what you lost within a week, be sure to let the fairy go.

 

President-Elect Obama

It’s appropriate that Election Day should come so shortly after Halloween.  As the ghosts and ghouls vanish into their occult places when day breaks, so the bogeymen and superstars of the campaign season pass out of view once the election is over.  It’s back to Alaska with Sarah Palin, back to work for “Joe the Plumber,” back to the political science textbooks with the Bradley Effect, back to a museum of the 60s with the Weather Underground.  Four years from now another set of entertainments will rise from some unknown quarter and haunt us for a season. 

The candidates themselves do not go anywhere; they cease to exist.  The winning candidate is replaced by the office holder, the losing candidates are replaced by somewhat older, somewhat sadder versions of the people they were before they ran.  That’s why there’s a richer vein of literature about losing contenders for power than about winners.  Try to dramatize the winner and the best you can do is hint at what Shakespearean actors call “the man inside the king.”  The king is a symbol, he is power, he is majesty, he is order, and he is empty.  Art and literature can focus on the king only when the symbol fails and the human being emerges.  I think the Horace illustrates that process in his Ode 1.37.  As long as she is a contender for power, Cleopatra is at best a monster.  Defeated, she is one of us. 

Here’s Cedric Whitman’s translation of that poem.  Robert Frost defined poetry as “that which is lost in translation”; I’m afraid Whitman does not manage to defeat that definition.  But it does show the major gestures in Horace’s original, and unlike some other versions it is possible to read Whitman’s aloud.  I’ve appended Edward Wickham’s edition (from his Oxford Classical Text) of the original below. 

Drink, comrades, drum the ground, now it is time

for freedom’s dance; and call on all the gods

to come, lay out their gorgeous couches,

and let them recline at the feast of Mars.

It had been crime till now to pour good wine

from the crypts of our forefathers, while ruin poised

over the Capitol, and fevered madness

was winding cerecloth round our realm-

Dreams of the queen of half-men, girt by her crew

of sickly shame, and drunk with delirious hopes

grown fat and reckless on easy fortune!

But all that glare of frenzy waned

When scarce one vessel of her fleet sailed home

unscorched by flame; her mind, long tranced and dazed

on heady Egypt’s wine, now waking

to terror’s truth, found Caesar’s oars

hard pressing on her flight from Italy,

swift hawk on downy dove, hunter on hare

in snowy fields of Thrace, and ready

to fling her into chains, a beast

of ominous wonder.  But she had loftier thoughts,

to find out death; blades could not make her cheek

blanch like a girl’s, or drive her flying

with huddled sails to lurking shores. 

Her courage soared; with placid face she scanned

her fallen palace, and valorously reached

her hands to rasping snakes, sucking

their venom’s blackness through her limbs.

Once death was fixed, the fiercer grew her mind:

Indeed, she scorned his cruel galleys, and men

who would have had her walk uncrowned,

no spiritless woman, in triumph’s pride. 

(more…)

Monster Mash

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Girly Man

Scary Halloween video!