Halloween is fast approaching. You can feel it in the air and see it in every falling leaf. Even on days such as this, when the weather is warm and summer-like, there's no denying its approach. Halloween is the time of year when the veil between the worlds is thinnest. It's a time of magick--a time when ghosts, goblins and ghoulish creatures from the land of darkness break through the veil to haunt our nights and inspire our worst nightmares.
For me, nothing better represents this special time of year better than vintage Halloween art--the works of artists from days of old. By old, I'm not referring to the ancient days in which Halloween finds its origins. Rather, I refer to works emanating from the late nineteenth to the mid twentieth centuries, more or less. There's just something about the material from those years that speaks of simpler times--times when Halloween was about the harvest, black cats, ghosts, witches and devils. It was an era when the flickering faces of Jack O' Lanterns stared at passersby from front porches. To walk by such a spectacle on All Hallows Eve was to sense or intuit an atmosphere--an ambiance that suggested Jack may indeed still be searching in the darkness for the way back to this world; his way lighted by a burning coal from Hell itself. We were not so technical then; it was easy to feel such things.
Let's take a look at some of this vintage Halloween art and see just what it offers.
On the right is a young child. He or she looks a bit befuddled while staring at the spectacle unfolding around the Jack O' Lanterns. A black cat (the family's perhaps?) has taken shelter with the crows' arrival. Indeed, all the signs of Halloween are about!
This piece suggests a marvelous setting. Apparently, a boy and a girl have taken a bit of time off from trick or treating in order to have their fortunes read by this old woman. Is she a witch perhaps? The artist doesn't provide the answer but judging from the expression on the face of the boy in the devil costume, it appears that something frightening is afoot. As if the cloth covering the old woman's table isn't creepy enough, take a look at the bats, jack o' lanterns, black cats and grave markers worked into the fabric of this piece as a whole.
This old poster says, "On Halloween strange sights are seen." Who can argue with this? Here we have a being with a jack o' lantern head dressed elegantly in a piece of clothing that might remind one of a kimono, or a dress a woman might wear to an extravagant ball. Notice how the rope enters and exits both eye sockets. And can anybody see the bat on the bottom left?
Speaking of going to a ball, this lady is heading for the witch's dance. The text goes on to say, "...and all the spooks from far and near will gather and make merry." Even as the lady in question makes her way toward the event, the spooks are watching her from behind the jack o' lantern, which looks quite scary in and of itself. Judging from the lady's attire, I would place this piece as early twentieth century. What do you think?
Halloween has changed over the years. With the advent of advanced technology and special effects we have new monsters, threats and devices to consider. Oh yes, there are now imperial storm troopers with their laser weapons lurking in every city even as super heroes are grouping to battle against them. Who knows? The tardis may suddenly materialize and the good doctor himself may inadvertently save the day. Could it be that although fun, the above-mentioned changes are bringing us further and further away from Halloween's true roots? After all, it used to be about the harvest, the diminishing hours of daylight and the thinning separation between our physical world and that of the dark underworld. Halloween was special because it celebrated the supernatural in conjunction with the commencement of the bleakest weeks and months of the year. Fear of the dark, of things we cannot see is one of our most primal experiences. The artists of old exploited that fear.
Of course, no one expects Halloween and its trappings to remain the same; that will never happen. Still, its vintage art from earlier times anchors us to a more traditional time--a time when All Hallows Eve was felt and understood. It was a time when artists' imagination created an atmosphere of spookiness along with a tinge of real fear.
A Happy Halloween to all my readers!