Friday, October 28, 2016

Halloween Traditions Explained

Demonology Files: Halloween

We have a lot of weird-ass traditions for Halloween. Dressing up in costumes, collecting candy, butchering pumpkins...I, for one, wanted to know what's the story behind these traditions. So this installment of the Demonology Files is a history of Halloween.





The Spookiness (re: the Origins of Halloween Itself)


Halloween (a.k.a. All Hallow's Eve) was started by the Celts some 2,000 years ago. November 1st marked the important Celtic holiday of Samhain (pronounced "sah-win"). There's some debate as to what exactly Samhain celebrated and how big of a role death and ghosts played in it, whether or not they believed our world and the underworld's borders blurred, etc. But everyone agrees that the changing of the seasons played some part in the celebrations. Harvest would be at its end with winter just around the corner. The "time for one last blowout before we all freeze to death" mentality was in effect. 

When the Romans showed up in the 40s (C.E.), two of their traditions mashed up with Samhain. One was Feralia, traditionally celebrated in late October to commemorate the dead. (So if the dead weren't already a part of this time of year for the Celts, it sure was now.) The other Roman holiday was to celebrate Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. Her symbol is the apple. As in apple-bobbing. 

Fast-forward to the 9th Century. Christianity's made its way across Europe. While many Celts practiced Christianity, there were still a lot of pagan rituals and customs the church wanted to weed out. Samhain was one of them. So they offered a replacement holiday of sorts: All Souls' Day, on November 2nd. This holiday got started in the 7th Century (by Pope Boniface IV) as the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day to commemorate Christian martyrs. It was then expanded to include saints as well as martyrs and was moved from May to November by Pope Gregory III in the 8th century. All Souls' Day was the next step, and officially became a Christian holiday to honor the dead in 1000 C.E. 

Of course, it didn't exactly work out the way the church had hoped. All Souls Day and Samhain were both celebrated in similar ways: big bonfires, parades, and costumes (more on that later). Not to mention they were only one day apart. So it was more of a mesh-up of traditions and beliefs than a replacement. 

All Saints Day was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from the word "Alholowmesse," the Middle English word for All Saints Day). The night before it, which was the traditional night of Samhain, was eventually called All-hallows Eve. After enough time, the two holidays combined completely, was moved to October 31st, and became known as Halloween.

Eventually Halloween made it across the Atlantic. It was celebrated only in Maryland and the southern colonies at first (too "pagan" for the Puritans in New England). Although there was still heavy emphasis on honoring the dead and offering prayers, slowly but surely it became more about communal gatherings and celebrating the harvest. By the 1920s, it had dropped all religious connotations and became focused on just having a good time. 


Costumes and Trick 'r Treating



You'd be hard-pressed not to find a holiday that doesn't involve dress-up and sweets in some way, shape or form. We dress up in costume and gorge on candy to celebrate Christmas and Easter, so the fact that we do it for Halloween isn't much of a surprise.

It's believed the Celts wore outfits of animal heads and pelts during the Samhain holiday. Other European cultures had "mumming" and "guising" rituals, where people would disguise themselves and go door-to-door asking for food on any day of the year. The disguises were usually made of straw, or were outfits for skits and plays the beggars would perform later. (Unlike today, even the most renowned actors were flat broke and not respected.)

And then of course there's the medieval practice of "souling." On All Saints Day (or rather, All-hallowmas, since we're talking medieval times), beggars would go door-to-door and offer prayers for the dead in exchange for food. 

America took up trick 'r treating as we know it sometime between 1920 and 1950, which makes sense when you think about the Great Depression and total war effort going on in the '30s and '40s: everyone was a beggar. There's also the baby boomers, who would've been sugar-hungry little munchkins by the time the '50s rolled around.


Jack-o-Lanterns




This one came from an Irish myth. 

A man named Stingy Jack had a bad habit of playing tricks. One time, he invited the Devil to have a drink with him, but of course didn't want to pay. So he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin to pay for the drinks. (I don't know how the Devil would've been able to enjoy his drink like that, but whatever.) Instead of paying, Jack put the Devil-turned-coin in his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back. 

Alternatively, he convinced the Devil to climb a tree in order to pick a fruit. While the Devil was up there, Jack carved a cross into the tree's trunk, preventing him from climbing down. 

Eventually, whether in coin form or stuck in a tree, Jack did free the Devil on one condition: the Devil was not to claim Jack's soul once he died. 

Of course, just because Jack didn't have to worry about going to Hell, that didn't guarantee a spot in Heaven. When Jack did die, God said, "Nuh-uh," and banned him from Heaven. 

The Devil couldn't take him. He'd made a pinky-swear never to collect Jack's soul (and he didn't want him in Hell, anyway). So instead, the Devil cast Jack's spirit out into the world with nothing but an ember to light the dark nights. Jack put the ember in a carved-out turnip to make it easier to carry and has been roaming the earth ever since. 

The Irish called the ghost "Jack of the Lantern." And then, because they're Irish, shortened it to "Jack O'Lantern." 

The living don't want anything to do with Jack, either. Back in the day, the Irish and Scots made their own lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips and potatoes and leaving them on their windows. Fast-forward a few centuries, and the colonists found that the American pumpkin was much better. And cooler. And tastier. We're awesome that way. :P

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Thanks for reading! :)

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Red Queen's Daughter - Book Review

The Red Queen's Daughter, by Jacqueline Kolosov


Bechdel test: pass
Mako Mori test: pass
Sexy Lamp test: pass
:)

*Gasp!* A book review! I haven't posted one of these in weeks! (Which is really crummy of me. Sorry.)

On the DZA Review Scale, I give Jacqueline Kolosov's The Red Queen's Daughter a historically inaccurate awesome. (Anne Boleyn did not have a sixth finger on her right hand, nor did she have a mole on her neck. But hey, it's historical fiction, not a history textbook.)




The Red Queen's Daughters centers on Mary Seymour, the daughter of Queen Katherine Parr (Henry VIII's sixth and final wife) and Thomas Seymour. All of them were real people, but that's where the facts end. In this story, Mary is a "white magician," a sorceress for the forces of good who is sent to the court of Elizabeth I to guide and support her.

(Note: Mary is an English noblewoman and not a princess, despite the fact that her mother was a queen. At the time of Mary's birth, Katherine was a dowager queen--a king's widow, and therefore possessing no real political power, basically a retired queen--and her father was an English lord. Mary gets her status from her dad. Of course, had the two been reversed--Thomas a remarried king and Katherine a noble--Mary would have been a princess, just like Henry VIII's younger kids Elizabeth and Edward. Sexism: gotta love it.)

Despite the occasional historical inaccuracy and stilted dialogue, the story was quite good. It's a fantasy romance, and the romance takes place between two cousins. Which, ick, but that is actually historically accurate. And the guy she falls in love with is the villain. It's a bad boy romance.

The book is very slow in the beginning, which is weird for a YA novel. Mary doesn't get to court until over a third of the way through, and we don't meet the villain/love interest until two hundred pages in. After that, though, it picks up lightning quick.

Edmund Seymour is Mary's cousin and a "black magician," the exact opposite of Mary. He uses magic for personal gain, even rapes a girl (three times!) to get her pregnant so she's sent away from court. Then he tries to seduce Mary to get her inheritance (even though she's not a princess, she does have a sizable income and is an only child, with no direct male relative to get in the way). Of course, they fall in love with each other...but they don't have a happy ending.

What I like the most about this book is the fact that there is good and bad in every character. Edmund especially. 90% of everything we see and hear him do is rotten. Poisoning other courtiers to further his career, stealing from the royal treasury, raping a woman to get her pregnant and so ruin her life...this man has done some shady shit.

But, he saves the life of Mary's guardian and dearest friend at great cost and no benefit to himself. He genuinely falls in love with Mary. He jeopardizes (and eventually loses) his political career to make her happy. He's not an evil caricature. He has layers.

Jacqueline Kolosov does a great job of presenting the absolute shit hand women were dealt in the 16th Century. Mary has a complete aversion to love and marriage, on account of so many women in her life ripped off, even killed, as a direct result of love. Love makes people do stupid things, and Renaissance women couldn't afford to make any mistakes. So many marriages were the result of seductions so the men could get there hands on the inheritance (see: Edmund Seymour, Mary's father Thomas Seymour, all of Queen Elizabeth's suitors, etc.)

And even if everything goes perfectly right, if a woman does marry a man who genuinely loves and respects her, things can still go south overnight. If he dies (of plague, war, famine...) she's lost the person she's completely dependent on for financial support. If she gets pregnant, there is a good chance of her dying in childbirth. And Mary sees the worst of all of it.

Of course, she still falls in love with Edmund. She resists it at first. Then Robert Dudley convinces her to seduce him with her "womanly charms" to buy him time to collect evidence against Edmund that will lock him away. At that point, Mary admits to herself that she is in love. And she learns that that is not a bad thing. Elizabeth I was in love with Dudley (at least, in this story she was; historically speaking...yeah, she was probably in love with Dudley). Mary's nerdy friend Alice (who also opposes marriage) falls in love and marries a scholar/super-nerd to have little nerd-lettes.

Of course, if you fall in love with an evil jerk, who is your cousin, whom you are going to betray to foil his plans for world domination...yeah, that's a bad idea.

Love sucks, man.

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You can purchase The Red Queen's Daughter on Amazon.com here.

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Thanks for reading! :)

Friday, October 14, 2016

Best Horror Movies of 2016 (So Far)

'Tis the season to be scary! And what better way to celebrate the upcoming Halloween than watching pants-wetting horror movies?

This is a list of the best horror movies of 2016 (so far; more come out this month!). If you haven't seen any of these yet, then grab some popcorn, turn off the lights, and start streaming (and screaming)!


Conjuring 2

Link for screaming--I mean, streaming--here.


I unfortunately didn't get to see this in theaters. However, with an 80% Rotten Tomato rating and a scary-ass nun-demon, this one's on my streaming list.



The Boy

Stream link here.


Because life-sized porcelain dolls weren't freaky enough, William Brent Bell had to make them haunted.

Well...sorta. :)

Read the full review here.



Blair Witch

Still in theaters. (I mean, I guess you could stream it via illegal download, but that's a pretty shitty thing to do. Bad reader. No cookie.)




Behold! The rare remake/sequel that doesn't suck balls!

Read the full review here.



Don't Breathe

Still in theaters. :(


Because I watched this last month just as school was starting up again, I didn't get a chance to write an awesome review. Stupid school. Costs way too much tuition and precious blogging time. :(

Anyway, Don't Breathe is created by the same makers of Evil Dead (both the original and the remake, both of which are very good). In fact, Jane Levy stars in both the Evil Dead remake and Don't Breathe, and she does an amazing job (as regular Mia, possessed Mia, and Rocky).

The premise is simple: three desperate schmucks decide to break into an old blind man's house and steal his money. Only, the old blind man is a complete psycho who spends the night hunting them down to kill and/or rape them. (Luckily no raping actually takes place on screen. Also, his definition of the crime is super outdated: "I'm not a rapist. I'm just going to impregnate you against your will with a plunger, like a gentleman.")

Highly recommended. Limited horror movie mistakes, minimal cliches, absolutely terrifying.



Lights Out

Stream it here.



Another one I didn't get to review right away. But as I've only seen it once and spent those two hours cowering behind my palm, there's not much to review, other than the fact that it's terrifying.

Basically, this family is haunted by a creature/ghost that only appears when the lights are out. So while there's a somewhat unreasonable amount of jump-scares, there's some real terror here. This ghost has been around for decades, haunting the main character's mom. But it only shows up when she's off her meds and succumbing to her various mental disorders. So the ghost has to keep up an abusive relationship, convince the mother to stay off her meds, and terrify/kill anyone who distresses her.

So, yeah. Recommended. Terrifying. Awesome.

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Thanks for reading!
What horror movies from 2016 are your favorites?

Monday, October 3, 2016

"The Shaman's Apprentice"

Another short story's out! This one a horror Goldilocks remix at Inner Sins Magazine.

Four boys out looking for trouble. One girl. Three bears.

Read the story for free here!


Sunday, October 2, 2016

Seven Rules to a Martian Jailbreak

A new short story came out today called "Seven Rules to a Martian Jailbreak," published by Aphelion Magazine.

It's a Robin Hood jailbreak. IN SPACE!!! :)

Read it for free here!