On this day we asked Maja D'Aoust, known throughout the land as the White Witch of Los Angeles, to give us a li'l lesson on the meaning of Halloween. Here's what she had to say.
Put down the spoon in your Frankenberry cereal and raise your hand if you’ve actually read Frankenstein, the beautiful and tragic book written by Mary Shelley in 1818. Not too many of you, I’m sure.
Technically titled Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus, it’s an emotionally charged depiction of a scientist who reassembles parts of dead corpses to form a new body and bring it to life. What on earth was the source of this bloody, flesh-rending tale told by Mary, at the time an 18-year-old Victorian girl?
Folded between the pages of this novel is a much older tale, one thousands of years old to be precise, dating back at least to ancient Egypt. The well from which Frankenstein is drawn dregs up the stories of Alchemical Hermetic Gods. Alchemy, meaning “from Egypt,” is the study of several main concepts, including unification of opposition and the pursuit of immortality or everlasting life. Alchemy is even mentioned by name in the novel, as the main character Dr. Victor Frankenstein purports to have studied it.
Mary was hanging out with some rather roguish characters at the time and the inspiration for her story came mainly from renowned poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, her husband. Percy was enthralled with the study of alchemy and the occult, of religion (or lack thereof), of life of death and of love. He, Mary, their friend Lord Byron, and some other cantankerous characters would sit around having discussions of these sorts of things by the riverbank.
It was here on this riverbank, much like the bank of the Nile in Egypt, where the Frankenstein story emerged from an aeons-old love story of death and dismemberment. The Hermetic Gods who sired Frankenstein’s monsters are named Isis and Osiris. Except Frankenstein is sort of a reversed version of the old alchemical allegory.
As the story goes, Osiris the undying god, is killed and ripped apart, torn to pieces by Seth the serpent God, his flesh scattered willy-nilly all over Egypt. Isis, his wife, then goes about the task of hunting down all of his parts and putting him back together again. Isis searches far and wide to reconnect his broken body, which she eventually does successfully, with the exception of his penis (such a shame—she made him a new one though, so don’t worry) and he is brought back to life. In Frankenstein, the Monster is taken from the pieces of dead people and put back together. It is the bride of Frankenstein’s Monster who is ripped apart in this tale. The monster begs Dr. Frankenstein to build him a mate (to take his rib and make him an Eve, in another ancient tale of fleshy rendering) so that he can go and live in the wilderness alone with her, in an echo of Eden.
But alas! As Dr. Frankenstein is constructing her upon his table, he becomes a wild savage and rips the body apart in a gore-fueled ecstasy as the poor Monster looks on in horror. Sadly, in this fable, there is no one to repair the mutilated bride; she sinks back into the myriad deaths from which she rose in all her parts. It is the doctor and not the Monster who performs the atrocity, leaving the creature to seek revenge for this act, which leads him invariably to murder the bride of Dr. Frankenstein on his wedding night.
Being ripped apart limb from limb is a pretty horrifying thought. Maybe tearing apart dead and rotted flesh is even horrifyinger. We all hope we can keep it together, in one piece, even after we are laid to rest. So why tell us these tales of bodily mortification? What is all this carnage trying to say?
Believe it or not, there is an old sacred secret to having your flesh shredded apart: It’s the solution to everlasting life. In nearly every religion there are these creatures called the “Undying Gods,” of which Osiris is an example. These Gods are immortal, and they all get ripped to pieces and put back together. Jesus, also, is one of these. His body is even distributed and eaten (communion), and after this he has everlasting life, as do his disciples who consumed him. This same story is told of another fellow named Dionysus (now mostly known for drinking beer), who is ripped apart, eaten, and then lives forever. And a fellow named Mithra is one of these dudes as well. Go East and in India we see it told by the Tantric tales, totally before Jesus. There was a woman called “Chinnamasta” (translated as “she who self decapitates”) who performs this task herself, cutting off her own head and offering her blood and body to her disciples to eat, thus achieving an undying nature.
There are quite a few of them wandering around the annals of our human origin tales. They all try to tell us that in order to live forever we must tear ourselves to bits and let ourselves be eaten.
It is important to note that the author of Frankenstein ended up pretty dismembermenty herself. According to some folklore surrounding her life, she carried the heart of her beloved poet, Percy Shelley, with her in a page of work from her man’s favorite poet, John Keats, for the rest of her life after he died. Yes, you read that correctly, she carried his heart, not metaphorically, but the actually flesh of the thing that used to beat inside his chest. According to the legend, the heart was rescued from Percy’s funeral pyre (as it refused to burn) and was given to her in secret. Later the heart was recovered after Mary Shelley’s death and placed in a coffin all its own.
The act of carrying a piece of flesh as memory is really the theme and symbolism of all this dismemberment business. The idea that our bodies contain memories is at the heart of the tale of the Monster of Frankenstein. For the very word “dismember” contains within it “mem,” from memory. Something about the dis-member causes us to re-member. If we are to peer into the history of the word “monster,” its hidden meaning is revealed. The word monster originates from “monere,” which means to admonish, warn, or advise, also translated as OMEN. The Monster is a mindfulness reminder. It is related to “memini,” meaning “I remember, or am mindful of.” The purpose of the Monster is not to inspire horror, but rather to remind us of our own demons, to face our own shadows. Just as Dr. Frankenstein was unable to escape the repercussions of his actions through the karmic form of his Monster, we are to view these Monsters as a mirror to peer into the darkness contained in our own souls, lest we forget.
All this makes for an interesting juxtaposition, when we recall the meaning behind the word “Halloween.” Halloween (“hallowed evening”) comes from “hallowed,” which is to make WHOLE, or holy, or uninjured, good omen, and yes, sacred. How strange that this day of saints made “holy” by the church, is instead populated by Monsters. Monsters who are throwbacks to the Pagan gods of death, the same Pagans from whom the church stole this holiday from to begin with, so every Frankenstein costume really serves as a little stab in the back of the Pope for trying to obliterate ancient Hermetic Pagan culture.
Perhaps the reminder here is that there is nothing more holy than the Monster within us, just as Frankenstein’s Monster indeed proved more thoughtful and loving than the doctor who ripped apart his bride. The Monster serves as a dismembered reminder to gaze within our own nature, to not separate our demons from ourselves, for none are so holy as those who can place the darkness in their hearts in the full view of their eyes and not look away.
Perhaps our dear Frankenstein Monsters can never be holy on account of their separation and they are doomed to roam the earth in bits and pieces, forever evil and laughed at on the holy day of Halloween. Or maybe we can keep their hearts with us as we go through our day and remember our own inner monsters sealed away within our flesh and bones.