Season of the Witch

Kathie Gibboney

Ah, it’s the time of year when the veil is thin, the golden time of year when leaves and secrets are carried through the air, when something is whispered in the wind.

It’s a jubilant, orange pumpkin-carnival-magic time filled with promises of adventure for those who are ready to walk through new doors in these October days. How I wish they could last, with just a touch of autumn chilling the morning a candle glowing warm in the early evening fading light, and one owl hooting its haunted call somewhere quite close by, here in Topanga.

Oh, stay October.

There are, of course, scary things that slip through the veil in this season of the witch, in addition to the everyday terrors we endure. The state of my closet is a constant horror show, as is the Frontier bill that frightens the Beleaguered Husband, leaving him shattered on a monthly basis, not to mention the unidentified substance lurking in the back of the refrigerator that I’m afraid to touch. (Was it at one time fruit or some kind of pudding?)

Recently, we found ourselves scared in Solvang on a Sunday morning, surrounded by busloads of tourists set free to roam the small town like gangs. They were so busy, intently snapping photos of themselves eating pastries in front of the set-like Danish fairytale town. It was as if they feared that if not documented every few minutes, the whole place might just vanish into smoke.

After dragging the loyal mate to the Christmas Shop and standing in a harrowing line to purchase Advent calendars, some refreshment was in order and, yes, there is a bar in Solvang that serves a pretty good Bloody Mary. But these things, tourists in bad socks aside, are nothing compared to true fear.

I had the delight of seeing moments of fear in the eyes of some children to whom I was reading the Dr. Seuss story, “What Was I Scared Of?”  Not that I’m out to frighten children, mind you (well, not too much says the witchy side of me), but the story is about overcoming fear and not being afraid of something just because it’s different.

The main character, a cute Seuss-like creature, is frightened by a renegade pair of pale green pants with nobody inside them. Yes, I can see how it might be disturbing to encounter empty pants, especially of that shade of green, cavorting about, prancing willy-nilly down lanes, riding bicycles, rowing a boat, but in the end, it turns out the pants were also scared and the creature and the pants become friends. I even brought in a pair of green pants to the class and by the end the children were brave enough to give the pants a hug. One child spoke aloud to the pants, saying softly, “I love you.” It was a wonderful thing to see.

Some fears you simply grow out of, or in my case maybe I’ve just become lazy. Whereas I used to be dreadfully frightened of spiders, these days I can’t really be bothered to expend that much energy. I just grab the net, scoop the thing up and toss it outside. Granted the tarantula in the bed was another story.

These days, clowns appear to be in a category all their own. Maybe they were always terrifying but there seems to be a whole new genre of clown menace.  Perhaps they have just wisely adapted, when the jovial, happy, big-footed, goofy birthday clown went on the endangered species list. With a skill set limited to pratfalls and balloon animals, a clown’s got to do what a clown’s got to do.

Ghosts I rather fancy but I have only encountered the benevolent variety and have always been a great fan of Dickens’ Marley’s Ghost and the three other ghosts that haunt Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.” Unfortunately, the Ghost of Hamlet’s father caused a great deal of trouble. Why did he have to go roaming around at night, clattering about the battlements in his amour, moaning and groaning? Couldn’t he leave well enough alone? But then, we wouldn’t have a play would we?

I do know one scary ghost. The Ghost of My Youth. I catch a glimpse of her sometimes in the mirror standing at my shoulder, there with her gleaming smile and hopeful eyes. I want to question her, to ask, “Why weren’t you brave enough to go to New York? Why did you stay with that guy? Why did you buy the Moby Grape album instead of the Hendrix? What were you thinking?”

Another veil crasher is one of my personal favorites, the hobgoblin.

The hobgoblin is different than a goblin, being smaller and more friendly. They are often depicted, especially on vintage Halloween cards and decorations, as mischievous sprite-type creatures who frequent the hearth, hanging out, skipping and dancing about, and I am sure that is what the cat sees when he sits in front of the fireplace staring intently and batting at things that aren’t there. Or are they?

The vampire has done well for itself, certainly coming a long way from the sad and motley creature seen in the original 1922 film, Nosferatu. Now well-established as a Halloween staple, he or she has morphed into a charismatic, sexy charmer. Actually, a lot of Halloween costumes have a racy aspect to them. My daughter observed as we strolled through a Halloween store that there was now a sexy version of almost every popular character. We saw sexy Red Riding Hood, sexy Dorothy, tons of sexy fairies, provocative witches, fetching devils of both genders, and one costume, complete with ball and chain, was even labeled, Sexy Convict. I must admit the black-and-white striped ensemble was indeed enticing, but what shoes would I wear with it?

None of these costumes seemed very scary. The scary is reserved for the slasher type—crazed hatchet, chainsaw-wielding, out of control, violent psycho—but even he’s not all that frightening because you know what to expect from his demented routine and can’t help but wonder if some early childhood intervention might have helped with his issues.

That brings us to the witches. One never knows with them. I like their knowledge and power and flying around on a broom and the wind in their hair and a cat as a familiar and, always, a fine cackle. I do, however, draw the line at boiling toads and hope there’s a generic version. I often muse what fun it would be to fly past the yellow Halloween moon, swooping down from the sky, and scaring children, just one night a year!

I was truly terrified only once. I was out with a man from my acting school who was rumored to have done time in Texas for manslaughter, but he seemed like a real nice guy. It being the early ‘70s, we ingested some kind of substance and I went on what used to be referred to as a bummer. I became convinced that he was the necktie killer and was going to kill me. I was so filled with fear my body was almost paralyzed and tears rolled down my face. But he didn’t kill me. He took me safely home and I smile with gratitude to him to this day.

The only real thing to fear is evil. It can appear in many shapes: ignorance, greed, hate, apathy, cowardness, and some of its many costumes may seem slick and sexy but don’t be fooled. You know it when you see it. It can be fought. You fight it with heart, and truth, courage, art, and the belief that all children in this weary world deserve to stand hand-in-hand, happy and free.

The ancients at this time of year lit a pumpkin or gourd and placed it in their windows to keep the fearsome at bay. I will do the same as I wish you, “Happy Halloween.”


Kathie Gibboney

It has been said that Kathie Gibboney invented the Unicorn, which she neither admits nor denies, as it might reveal her true age. Kathie is an essayist, reporter, and poet for MMN with her column, "My Corner of The Canyon." She lives happily in a now-empty nest in Topanga, CA with The Beleaguered Husband and a marmalade cat.

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