Stereotypes, Identity, Spirituality, and Halloween–e.g. word vomit

At the beginning of October, I did a post on creating meaningful costumes. One of my suggestions was to dress up as a stereotype or caricature of yourself.

Apparently I’m not the only person who thinks this is a good idea. It seems to be a theme among other witches as well. Huffington Post has a wonderful article going into depth about how this particular costume idea can be used in a powerfully beautiful way, creating opportunities for self-exploration as well as conversations with others about what the stereotype means and how it fails to capture the complexity of true identity.

Identity is a funny thing. That’s one of the first thoughts that came to mind when I started trying to write out a biography for myself when I began this blog. There are certain labels that are very important to me, and I wear them loudly and proudly.

Yet there are times when I really struggle with identity.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m a gemini or because of the trauma of coming from a cult, but I never feel like I entirely fit anywhere…nor do I want to.

Labels come in handy in trying to express something. They give a quick snapshot of a personality characteristic (like manic pixie dream girl), a belief (like witch), or group belonging (bisexual, feminist, woman).

But as soon as a label starts to feel stifling–when trying to adopt that label erases me more than it helps me be seen, then I start to chafe.

In the beginning of my spiritual journey away from the IFB, Christian wasn’t a bad word to me. I wanted to be a “Christian.” I wanted to reclaim that label for myself the way I had claimed bisexual and feminist. I spent a good three years trying to find a way to fit into Christianity on some level or another. I knew conservative Christianity would never accept me, but I had hope for a more liberal strain of Christianity.

But Christians had other ideas. Everywhere I turned, I found myself confronted with demands of what I needed to believe and do in order to be a Christian. There was nowhere that I could go within the church to work through my own beliefs and figure out my own brand of Christianity. There was nowhere I was given the space to be me.

I still mourn the loss of my religion. It was a big part of my identity, both given and chosen (or at least I tried to choose it). I walked away ultimately not because I didn’t want to believe anymore but because I couldn’t find a way to keep the label and be free at the same time.

In hindsight, I think it was good. I’ve discovered a spirituality that feels like what I was born to be, with a label that lets me define what it means for myself, not for everyone else. In fact, it’s such a perfect fit that I haven’t really even thought about my former religion with much emotion for at least six months, maybe even a year.

But as I use Halloween as a spiritual exploration of my darkness, my demons, my hell, and my identity, I’ve discovered that there is still a very deep, bitter grief surrounding Christianity for me.

My theme this year is blasphemy. Although it was meant to be and will still be incredibly fun, I am discovering that it’s more of a final destruction and burial of my former religion. This is the saddest Halloween I’ve celebrated thus far as I prepare to put on a stereotype of the only identity I ever found consistently applied to me within Christianity–sacrilegious abomination.

 

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Pissofftimist: Someone Who Hates Both Optimism and Pessimism

I’m not an optimist, and I’m not a pessimist.

I’m a creature that requires both light and dark to survive. I have a dual nature, one side that believes that Santa Clause reads my letters every year and the other that recoils from the sight of angels and little babies like a vampire recoils from a stake.

Is the glass half empty or half full? Doesn’t matter. If I’m thirsty, I’ll drink what’s there. If I’m very thirsty, I’ll complain that there isn’t more.

Sometimes I like to indulge in a little fluffy happiness, reading fairy tales or watching a Disney movie, but I can recognize that life is hardly all sunshine and roses. Sometimes I also like to indulge in dark things, like Emilie Autumn music, horror movies, and Edward Gorey storybooks.

The light and dark naturally balance themselves out, like night and day. They each have their place in the cycles of the year.

Which is why when I find myself confronted with that damned positivity movement, I want to vomit. Too much positivity is maddening, like being locked in a white room with bright lights. It’s more a form of torture than it is a form of therapy.

I don’t think positive psychology is bad. I certainly approve of a deeper approach to mental health besides responding to “illness.”

However, more and more I’m sensing that those who favor positive psychology want to ignore the “negative” altogether. Those who favor “strength-based approaches” want to pretend that weaknesses don’t exist.

It’s an artificial positivity that is annoying as fuck. The only way to sustain that kind of positivity is to either be so naïve that you’ve never experienced tragedy or to be in so much denial that you’re constipated on your own head.

Life doesn’t have to be about the opposition of two mindsets that on their own are unsustainable. I can appreciate the beauty of a tiger, but I also remember that it has teeth with which to chew me. Neither takes away from the reality of the other.

This all-or-nothing trend isn’t new, though. A hundred or so years ago, we were convinced everything was about sex. Jung criticized the idolization of Freud’s theory in his autobiography, musing that “the numinosum [e.g. worship of a theory] is dangerous because it lures men to extremes, so that modest truth is regarded as the truth and a minor mistake is equated with a fatal error” (Jung, 1963, p. 154).

Although we’ve since rejected the assumption that everything is motivated by suppressed sexual impulses, admitting that other motivations may come into play as well, it seems we have yet to learn from our actual mistake. We continue to unquestioningly embrace the next in-vogue school of thought as if it were a god.

I can only hope at some point we will swing back more towards the middle on positivity as well, preferably before we’ve turned it into a full-blown religion. In the meantime, I’m going to ward off the “100 days of happiness” dementors with a little intentional darkness.

Reference:

Jung, C. G. (1963). Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Four Ways to Add Depth and Meaning to your Halloween Costume

It’s October, which for me means that the month-long celebration of one of my favorite holidays has officially begun. Time to pull out the scary movies, sinister decorations, and fake blood. Also time to start planning a costume…which can be a somewhat daunting task.

I’m already seeing articles popping up about racism, sexism, slut-shaming, cultural insensitivity or fat-shaming in costumes, and I find myself bracing just a little bit for the onslaught of negativity. They’re not necessarily wrong—ugly elements of society tend to find their way into our celebrations in a number of ways, especially when it involves costumes. It’s important to be able to recognize the unsavory elements and talk about what they reveal about society.

But when that’s all there is, after a while it just starts to make Halloween feel absolutely hopeless.

So, I want to take a positive approach to the Halloween costume conundrum. Rather than putting out yet another opinion of what people shouldn’t wear, I want to present some ideas of what to wear. I’ve come up with four ways to make a Halloween costume that is both fun and meaningful.

Dress as someone you admire:

Do you have a favorite figure in history or a fictional character who has been particularly important? Turn your costume into a tribute by dressing up as someone whose life has been an inspiration. Obviously it’s incredible whenever someone creates a detailed, historically accurate replica of a famous person, but even if you don’t feel like you have the time, money, or talent to create Susan B. Anthony or Thomas Edison look-a-likes, you can still create an abstract or symbolic costume of the people you admire.

Queen Christina from Take Back Halloween, an awesome site that gives you tips on how to create your own costumes!

Queen Christina from Take Back Halloween, an awesome site that gives you tips on how to create your own costumes!

Dress as your totem:

If you want to go in the direction of the animal kingdom, consider inhabiting the form of your totem animal for an evening. This is a great opportunity to connect with your spiritual or primal side during Halloween and can even become a kind of mental pilgrimage if you use your preparation time to research information about your animal. The best thing about this costume is that if you don’t like to do much of the costume creation yourself, you can usually find simple animal costumes at Halloween costume shops. Some face paint, ears, and a tale—you’re ready to go! Extra points if you dress as your shadow totem.

Black Cat Mask project from Martha Stewart

Black Cat Mask project from Martha Stewart

Dress as your own fears:

In a post I did on Halloween in 2012, I talked about the value of “dark” holidays in giving us permission to approach our fears and reduce them to conquerable representations. What better way to face your fear than to create a costume of it? This is one idea that could have multiple layers. Literal representations of things like spiders or rats may initially come to mind, but I encourage you to think a little deeper. Often our fear of something mirrors an area within ourselves with which we feel uncomfortable. A fear of spiders may actually be connected with a fear of losing control or a fear of showing your creativity to the world. Finding a way to symbolize more abstract fears can add a depth to your costume. The very act of creating the costume then becomes a therapeutic act in itself.

Pennywise, the clown from Stephen King's "It" (1990). Why is a bit of face paint to create a false expression such a scary idea to us?

Pennywise, the clown from Stephen King’s “It” (1990). What is it about clowns that is so terrifying? Perhaps it has something to do with a false identity?

Dress as yourself:

But not literally as yourself because that would be boring.

Dress as a stereotype or exaggeration of yourself.

Want to bring your activism into your celebrations? Use this time of year to push the boundaries of how society perceives stereotypes. This is the time of year when some of the more hurtful stereotypes make a grand appearance, garnering outrage from any number of groups. On the one hand, we could cry foul, recoil in horror, and allow the negative energy of thoughtless people to hurt, or we could use Halloween as a time to fight back.

A few years ago, I chose to go as a witch—a stereotype of my own spirituality. I chose to do so because I feel that I have more power over how that stereotype is used if I embrace it and turn it into an empowerment rather than feeling miffed and horrified at the way others choose to use that stereotype. By dressing as a stereotype of an aspect of myself, I opened doors for interesting conversations about why I chose my costume and what my identity means to me.

Wicked Witch of the West from "The Wizard of Oz" (1939)

Wicked Witch of the West from “The Wizard of Oz” (1939)

Dressing as yourself could also involve things that don’t fall into larger identity categories. For instance, you could create a costume that portrays minor flaws or personality quirks. Explore what they mean to you. Or go as a two-sided concept like your greatest strength and greatest weakness (which often seem to be the same thing, e.g. perfectionism/attention to detail). Your friends might get a chuckle in seeing you take a jab at yourself, but more importantly, they’ll see you taking ownership of who you are, which is a pretty fucking powerful message, whether that’s followed up with a desire to change or a desire to keep on going as you are.

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I would love to hear about or see pictures of what you choose to do for Halloween. I hope these suggestions give you something exciting to work towards to offset all of the messages that tell you what to avoid. This is one of those holidays that I see as holding tremendous power, and I would love to see mainstream society take a more mindful approach to how we celebrate—which, as I’ve experienced, doesn’t mean it ceases to be fantastically fun!