Identity Theft: the real Halloween horror story
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By Oriana P.
“Know Thyself” is one of the Greek maxims “Gnothi Seauton”, which was inscribed above the entrance to the temple of Apollo at Delphi. It has different meanings but one of them is to pay no attention to the opinion of the multitude. Through study, analyses and self-transformation we can become more aware and gain a deeper understanding of the forces of manipulation that surround us and transcend them.
The process of the way we see ourselves and our place in society happens on a subconscious level. Our beliefs, perceptions, values, and mores are taught to us through stories, symbols and rituals, which are the language of the subconscious.
The art of story telling is of tremendous importance in culture. It is through stories that the subconscious mind forms opinions and associations, which serve to form a model of the world. Communities create stories so that they can move together. It was through the explanatory and hypnotic power of myths and legends that allowed early humans to stick together and eventually leave Africa, or survive in Africa, as a group.
Symbols speak directly to the subconscious. It is the stuff magic, spirituality and religion is made from. Magic, spirituality and religion align the subconscious mind with our conscious choices by communicating in a language the subconscious can understand. We use symbols to recognize each other and our groups and to shape our identities.
Outside manipulators, such as marketing specialists, seeking to control the subconsciousness of large groups of people in order to manipulate their behavior are keenly aware of the power of symbols. The logos they create prove to be instrumental when the aim is brand recognition. Through a constant bombardment of advertisement the image gets lodged into our mind and this has an effect in the physical world: we buy their products.
Propaganda also makes heavy use of symbols.
It was no coincidence the Nazis spent one third of their budget on propaganda. The product they were selling was their ideology and they became masters at it. The fact that they were able to desensitize millions of people to the subjugation, displacement, torture and genocide of one group of people stands as a testimony.
Rituals then serve as a reinforcement of those stories and symbols. Group rituals help bring a group together and give common meaning to the symbols and stories of that particular group. Rituals become an effective means to communicate beliefs, myths or narratives about something important to the community.
One of our biggest rituals is the torch relay at the Olympic games. It symbolizes passing on the discovery of fire to different groups and future generations and our subsequent journey as humans.
Again the Nazis used elaborate rituals to forge their nation. Their ritualized public political events, eerie torch-lit processions, tens of thousands of people bearing banners and standards in perfect unison and the sound of Nazi soldiers making one collective, thunderous footfall after the other, are the fantastic ritualistic elements that are associated with the Third Reich in the contemporary mind. It all served to convey the idea of One People, One Nation, One Leader. It signified power
In contemporary Western society many of our symbols and rituals are used to reinforce the hegemony of the white Christian dominant group, which gained much, if not all, of its power through colonialism.
Marxist philosophy describes cultural hegemony as the domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class, who manipulates the culture of that society — the beliefs, explanations, perceptions, values, and mores — so that their ruling-class worldview becomes the worldview that is imposed and accepted as the cultural norm; as the universally valid dominant ideology that justifies the social, political, and economic status quo as natural, inevitable, perpetual and beneficial for everyone, rather than as artificial social constructs that benefit only the ruling class.
We see this for example played out in the cultural appropriation of the names and symbols of Native Americans in sporting events such as football, which really are just elaborate rituals. The white American settlers appropriate native culture simply because they can. It is like flexing a collective muscle, “we are in power and don’t you forget it”.
Halloween is another example.
The celebration itself is already a cultural and religious appropriation because it used to be a festival known as Samhain by the Celts 2,000 years ago. For them it was the end of harvest season and a time when the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead was thinnest. The presence of ghosts allowed their priests, the Druids, to predict the future. During the celebration, the Celts dressed up in costumes consisting of animal heads and skins and tried to tell each other's fortunes.
The first appropriation of this festival occurred when the Romans conquered the Celts and by the year 43 AD two Roman festivals were combined with the Celtic Samhain festival, Feralia and the celebration of Pomona, the Goddess of fruit and trees. The second appropriation took place in the seventh century when Christianity had gained in influence. The Celtic festival of the dead was replaced with a related but church-sanctioned Holiday, All Saints’ Day or All Hallows, a time to celebrate Saints and martyrs. Since this took place on November 1st, Samhain, the Holiday that was celebrated the night before, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.
People still dress up for Halloween, just like the old Celts did and many of the themes are still dead related but these days a lot of the costumes are stolen from marginalized cultures. We see people dressing up as a sexy Pocahontas, we see afro-wigs, Hula dancers, Mexican sombreros, Native American headdress, black face, red face and so on with all the accompanying stereotypes.
It is a blatant display of the dominant culture exercising its hegemony over the marginalized groups and the yearly ritual, just as so many other rituals in our Western culture, perpetuates the unequal power dynamics between the groups.
And this then is exactly what these rituals are for because, as we have seen, rituals serve to re-enforce the values, beliefs, and perceptions of a particular group, in this case the idea of dominance of the white privileged ruling class. By appropriating the sacred symbols of the subjugated groups the ruling group steals the identity of the subjugated groups and expresses the intention of assimilation and integration. What is celebrated is not a sacred ritual from long gone but a festival of atrocities such as slavery, genocide, torture, rape, displacement and oppression. Indeed, a Festival of Horrors after all and a cultural continuation of colonialism.
The prevailing cultural norms of society must not be perceived as natural or inevitable but must be recognized as artificial social constructs (institutions, practices, beliefs, etcetera) that must be investigated to discover their philosophic roots as instruments of social-class domination. If we are serious about creating an equal society then we must address those prevailing symbols and rituals that serve to manipulate our group consciousness into accepting the status quo of unequal power dynamics. Raising awareness about these rituals and their implications is crucial towards an emancipation of marginalized groups and any objections raised against necessary changes typically come from members of the ruling class who are simply trying to hang on to their positions of power.
The way we perceive society and its social structures is the result of hundreds of years of manipulation of our subconscious through story telling, the use of symbols and the act of ritual. If we want to make a change in those social structures and power dynamics then we need to change the way we see ourselves and therefore we need to change our symbolism and our rituals. If we don’t and we persist in passing on those values and set of belief systems to our children and grandchildren then we are part of the problem instead of the solution. Decolonization is self-transformation, from the individual but also from society. We need new symbols and new rituals and throw away the old, or at the very least revert to the original meaning of the ritual, if we are to create a new story that reflects our willingness to build a community of equality and justice for all.