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Thursday Connectors: All Things Spooky

by Farzana Hakim

Hello! It’s Farzana, here; the horridly gruesome host of this thought-provoking, goosebump-causing, hair raising Halloween special ‘Thursday Connectors’.

I’m not really horrid, nor am I gruesome, but I am hoping to scare you a little as I make special connections with writer folk from The Bahamas, Brazil and Lahore in Pakistan. A great mix of ‘Connectors’, I’m sure you’ll agree!

But first, something about my own experience of Halloween, here in London.

From as far back as I can remember, I’ve always been a scaredy-cat. I hated Halloween as a kid and I blame my primary school for this. It was built in 1842, and was a large, dark, imposing and rickety old building, with its own tower block and castle-like structure. It’s still there, standing proud 40 years on from the first time I stepped inside it. Even walking past it now, during my visits to see my parents who still live in East Ham, I cross the road! My teeth chatter and a weird sensation runs down my spine causing me to say a prayer. It’s the exact same feeling I would get as a kid, when the teacher would send me up to the head’s office with the register. Her room was on the third floor and the staircases I’d have to navigate on the way there, were rumoured to be haunted by one of Henry the Eighth’s wives. I always dreaded being picked to go to the office, because I was terrified of those rows of narrow stairways: so eerie, so quiet and so haunted. So, it was only natural that Halloween would prove to be even scarier for someone like me!

The clocks going back, which meant the nights drawing in, added to it all, of course As a teenager, I hated going to all my after school clubs because it would be dark by four pm. And in those days, our mums and dads didn’t really fuss like today’s mums and dads (as in me) do, going to pick kids up from school! I’m already scared at the thought that  after half term, I’ll have to venture outside, braving the dark to pick up my daughter . Why does the government do this to us?

You’ve probably guessed, I’ve never watched the real horror movies. (I don’t think Ghostbusters as a child counts!) I  did see one of the Nightmare On Elm Street films, once, though, and believe me, Freddy still haunts me to this day,  especially when things go bump in the night, in fact. My kids love horror, though. My boys are terrible. They scare me with threats of making me watch IT and Annabell and God knows what else…

However, I am pleased to say, Halloween has become much more fun than it once was. Unlike mine, which were spent begging my brothers to stand outside the toilet until I was done, or forcing my parents or grandparents to let me sleep in their bedrooms with them because the witches were out on their broomsticks and the ghosts were having their annual meetings in our space, Halloween now is much more child friendly, based as it is on commercial fun. I must admit, I’ve been on my fair share of rounds of trick or treating over the years, as my kids were growing up.

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Now is the perfect time to introduce our first ‘Connector’:  writer Stephen Hunt, from The Bahamas, takes a trip down memory lane to tell us how his Halloween has evolved…

Hi, Stephen. Let’s connect:

 

You had to remember a rhyme when I was a kid.

On a cool, crisp Autumn evening, the dark chased your feet up the driveway to a stranger’s door, awaiting your nervous knock. When the stranger answered, the rhyme was ready on your lips.

“The sky is blue…” you’d start, maybe with a little croak in your voice. Perhaps nerves, perhaps the cool air, “… the grass is green. Have you got a penny for Halloween?’

Some would leave it there – others would forge on with the rest of the verse.

“If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do, if you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you.”

That was it, job done, verse recited – and maybe you’d get a penny. Maybe more. Maybe a scowl and be told to get lost.

That was in northern England in the 70s and early 80s but already change was afoot. The American “Trick or treat!” was taking root, bringing with it the threat of mild mischief if you didn’t pony up the treats.

By the time I moved to The Bahamas nearly ten years ago, Trick or Treat was the UK tradition, and I found it the same here. There was a difference, though. Halloween is a time for scary stories, sure, but those are tales of ghosts and goblins and things that go bump in the night.

The occasion has its own scary stories here, as well: less pleasant ones of people doing nasty things to candy or putting razor blades inside apples. Some are urban legends, but some are true – and Bahamian Halloweens are cautious as a result. Kids go to the malls, where shop owners have prizes for costumes and sweets for buckets, all sure to be safe because no one would ruin their store’s name for spite.

They may have long spoken out against witches and warlocks, but churches  have events too. One near me has cars pull up around the church and decorate their boots (or trunks, as they’re called here) with Halloween scenes. There’s music and contests and ghoulish fun all round.

So, it’s all very different from those Halloween days as a kid, creeping up to doors with a few friends. Instead, there’s more of a feeling of community, and everyone looking out for one another’s kids.

Of course, this year it will be different again, and we’ll all be wearing a different kind of mask; not scary monsters, but one to scare away viruses. But there’s still fun to be had when things go bump in the dark, and scary stories to share with family close by and safe.

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That was fun Stephen! Thank you for connecting. And your parting words are so true: we are indeed having to replace our masks. Though, I’m sure our children will still be able to enjoy some of the festivities inside their homes with their family.

And now we take our connectors to Brazil, from where Liam Cotter also reflects on some of his earlier Halloween memories.

Hi, Liam. Let’s connect:

Happy Halloween To All

Many years ago, I had a school  called Phoenix. We were a group of teachers who wanted to work with teaching English and culture and our Halloweens were to be remembered around the city. All the classrooms were decorated with spiders and many other creatures and we had a ‘horror room’ upstairs. It was always fitted out in black from top to bottom, with dry ice and special black lights. You could see nothing, just hear me screaming at the top of my voice. Horror music was played to make your bones shiver and competitions were held for the best fancy-dress costume. They came in all shapes and sizes and brought tears to our eyes. There was much laughter, of course!

Brazilians take Halloween very seriously and believe that it all started in the USA. We gave them culture quizzes, to show them what Halloween was about. We played games and had a DJ. We would dance and eat pizzas and creepy-looking food. We all had a lot of fun and there were plenty of croaky voices the following day!

You can see around the city of Joinville that many companies allow their staff to dress up and have fun. It’s great to see people driving around and getting buses with their fancy-dress costumes on!

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Thank you so much, Liam, for connecting with us. However, I’m still in doubt as to whether Halloween started in the USA! I think many other countries will claim its origins too.

But now, putting the fun aspect of such a superstitious and supernaturally-linked festival aside, I want to connect you with a different outlook from a different culture altogether. I found this connector interesting, as I know so many people who have been affected and inflicted by forces of such darkness. Although Halloween in the Western world is celebrated as a jolly festival, many societies are being eaten up by their obsession with black magic: things like the evil eye and possession. To joke about ghosts and wizardry is, therefore, not always right. There is a whole world beyond us and, in my opinion, it’s not wise to mess with things we don’t fully understand…

So, for our final connector, Zunera Farooq, an Assistant District Public Prosecutor, in Lahore, gives us an overview of how and why people in Pakistan are in a violent struggle within themselves, their society and the unseen.

Hi, Zunera. Let’s connect:

Reign Of Fear And Terror In Pakistan

There are times when scary things can cause us dread. With the passage of time, though, our collective consciousness controls this trait of human behaviour. We might experience this ‘horridness’ as imagery or sound which gives our suspicion voice and our imagination wings. As we mature, though, we learn what is real, understanding how superficial these initial impressions actually are. Inversely, though, as our consciousness matures, we are also open to more dangerous elements of the supernatural and indeed some of the barbarism and savagery human beings can sometimes display.

A child’s senses can react to hearing a shriek and listening to loud voices. If the experience happened often enough, they can become numbed to scary things, though. In fact, in many cultures, children are tamed most of the time by creating imagery of some unknown creatures that may eat them, or take them away. The peculiar nature of animal characteristics used as a tool to make children aware and afraid of the consequences of their acts. This is a difficult aspect of humanity: by using scary tools, we try to turn rude and rough behaviour into something tamed and civilised.

Let’s now look at those human behaviours where adults are ruled by forces of horror and terror, including the lust for power, hunger, health, security, self-aggrandizement.  Narcissism is  a similar disorder, resulting in many evils. Any excess of behaviour can lead to negative results. To deal with these evils, Rules and regulations have been created to deal with these evils and ultimately, rule of Government is brought to bear.

It is worth mentioning here, that one interesting aspect of ‘ruling’ has been the way those in power have been able to create fear and terror among the public. Hunger and fear of the unknown have driven some parts of society to accept bribes and behave without respect, dignity and honour. A few coins can buy anything, making people  move beyond degrees of respect, dignity and honour. In a culture such as ours, superstition and this rule of fear can often hold sway; not determined so much by knowledge or wisdom, but instead by listening to Mullahs, a new breed of ‘mafioso entrepreneur’.

Cultures that lag behind in education and scientific research are prey to superstitions and taboos, running in the blood of their nations like malignant viruses. Where there are no supporters of independent thought and critical approach, fear can have very deep roots.

It is prevalent, among some, to resort to instruments of darkness. Some see Pakistan as a third-world country, citing the way suspicious thoughts can have an intense grip on people’s brains ,with ignorance leading to practices such as necromancy. Unfortunately, the illiterate and gullible are more influenced by such practices. And, in our culture, it is mostly women who ponder and practise these arts, caught by the spells and entangled by the evil spirits that deprive them of their basic life needs.

This fear and suspicion of black art, black magic and sorcery and its consequences, have cast mental stress and depression upon the brains of its disciples. Attached to it is organised crime, with both masterminds and acolytes earning a good livelihood out of these practices.

Here in Pakistan, it’s more of a financial game than offering any help or curative approach to  dealing with problems and vice. Our history is riven with incidents of  trauma caused to the general public by outbreaks of  magical spirits and sorcery. Those affected, are left alone in a miserable condition, desperate at the thought of being the outlet of the spread of such demons amongst them. Every day can bring new fear and terror, layering over previous events each one gaining momentum.

‘We think, therefore we are’: if we let them, beliefs can create and change our very beings. Some even think, if a thought pattern is strong enough, it can transform physical beings and physical space. What a thought – and what a prison, if the purpose of this manipulation is evil!

 

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Thank you, Zunera, for this overview. I can relate, because I know people in Pakistan who have been victims of such practitioners, who promise wellbeing and positive outcomes in return for money and materialistic demands. I also know people who would rather pay a so-called spiritual healer than go to a doctor to be treated.

How minds work and how logic is abandoned so easily is another connector for another day, I’m afraid, as it’s such a vast and interesting topic.

That’s it for this Halloween special. I hope you enjoyed our stories and connectors and I wish for you all to remain safe and sound. I promise to spook to you soon!

Don’t forget to read Issue 6 of Write On! magazine available online.

‘The sky is blue…’ you’d start, maybe with a little croak in your voice. Perhaps nerves, perhaps the cool air. ‘…The grass is green. Have you got a penny for Hallowe’en?’