#21: The Cauldron

The cauldron. A simple cooking vessel, more commonly associated with the occult dealings of witches. Just think of Macbeth, Act 4 Scene 1:

FIRST WITCH:
Round about the cauldron go;
In the poisoned entrails throw:
Toad that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one.
Sweltered venom, sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’the charmèd pot.
ALL:
Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

When thinking of cauldrons and witches, what better topic than Halloween, All Hallows’ Eve? Today is October 31st, and as darkness descends the streets will begin to fill with those dressed up to face the spirits believed to roam this dark and most mysterious night of the year.

Halloween is one of the more contentious holidays, because it deals most directly with that human fear: death. A holiday that concerns the memories of those lost, including saints and martyrs, gets mixed up with all the other superstitions of the night. Like all of our human traditions, beliefs, superstitions, and religions, Halloween is a messy mixture of cultures, all stirred up in one huge cauldron, boiled together to make some mishmash tradition of the 21st Century.

This is Halloween in a nutshell, bubbling away in a cauldron through the years as more and more traditions begin to merge, and to be forgotten, altered, or falsely remembered. Yet there is another definition of cauldron equally applicable to this ghostly night:

‘a situation characterised by instability and strong emotions’.

What better way than to describe Halloween itself? It is a night of instability, where the darker spirits of the world are believed to be wandering, when strong emotions of adrenaline and fear are mixed in with comforting feelings of warmth and shelter, with the delight of children at their plastic pumpkins full of candy, mixed in with the fear of masks and people dressed as things other than themselves.

Halloween is a spooky time. The time when winter draws near, and all the darkness that winter brings. The cold, short days that quickly draw into night and the crisp chills of evening air. Yet it is also a time of warmth, of a reminder of the flickering candle in the night. The lights of the jack-o’-lanterns, another disputable aspect of the halloween tradition, can represent both the attempt to frighten others, and the attempt to ward off evil spirits. To provide safety in the darkness.

Halloween is about facing your fears, not succumbing to them. We dress up as them, and the fear that we will become the monster is there and it is real. But we also know, and can reassure ourselves, that to rid ourselves of this monster we simply take off the mask, wipe off the make up. We pretend to be the monsters. Is this so that we fit in, so that the evil spirits that are wandering do not know that we are there? Or is it so that we can begin to understand the evil, so that it is no longer an unknown, and so we can claim it, control it, take hold of it, and then defeat it.

Halloween is a cauldron of emotions, thoughts, anxieties. The traditions have merged and intertwined, and the lines of right and wrong are perpetually blurred on this night, just as the wall between the real world and the spirit world is believed to grow thin. With all traditions there are aspects that we can question, that we can feel uneasy over. We must all, in the end, pick out those traditions which we treasure, and which hold some meaning for us. For me, it is that thrill in dressing up, the fun of the artist, and it is also the sense of community. Halloween is the night when children flood the streets, and though dressed up as ghosts and ghouls, there is an aura of safety. Everyone is out on the streets, everyone is fighting the spirits. They are joining together in groups of community and friendship, and when the night draws to a close and we make our way back to our homes, we see the light of the jack-o’-lantern still flickering. The light continues, and the light of the day will return, both on All Saints’ Day, and in the spring that will grace the world again in a few months time.

The mysterious and troubled night of Halloween is about entering the darkness of winter, but maintaining the light.