Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fear and Halloween

Fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat. It's a basic reaction to a stimulus, such as pain or dangerous threat. Fear is separate from anxiety, which occurs without external threat. It means to terrify, or to frighten.

The fear response arises from the perception of danger leading to confrontation with or escape from/avoiding the threat (also known as the fight-or-flight response), which in extreme cases of fear (horror and terror) can be a freeze response or paralysis.

In humans and animals, fear is modulated by the process of cognition and learning. Thus fear is judged as rational or appropriate and irrational or inappropriate. An irrational fear is called a phobia.

People develop specific fears as a result of learning or experiencing. Psychology calls this fear conditioning. John B. Watson's Little Albert experiment in 1920 might be the beginning of this. After observing a child with an irrational fear of dogs, the  study of an 11-month-old boy had him conditioned to fear a white rat in the laboratory. The fear became generalized to include other white, furry objects, such as a rabbit, dog, and even a ball of cotton.

Fear can be learned by experiencing or watching a frightening traumatic accident. For example, if a child falls from a swing or falls off a boat into a lake and almost drowns and he or she may develop a fear of heights (acrophobia), enclosed spaces (claustrophobia), or water (aquaphobia). I myself had the near drowning experience at age four to keep me from learning to swim.
Studies of the areas of the brain that are affected in relation to fear have been done. When looking at these areas (such as the amygdala), it was proposed that a person learns to fear regardless of whether they themselves have experienced trauma, or if they have observed the fear in others. The amygdala affected two subjects when one observed someone else being submitted to an aversive event, knowing that the same treatment awaited themselves, and when subjects were subsequently placed in a fear-provoking situation. This suggests that fear can develop in both conditions, not just simply from personal history.


Physical reactions from fear are:

Rapid heart rate

Increased blood pressure

Tightening of muscles

Sharpened or redirected senses

Dilation of the pupils

Increased sweating

Guess that could partly what Halloween is all about. The need to scare ourselves silly. And yet once the masks are off and the decorations put away, we laugh and say it was all for fun. That we weren't really frightened. But what if the monsters and ghosts are real (Doing paranormal investigating, I believe ghosts to be real--demons too.)? Serial killers are real. Spiders are. Some are poisonous, some like the brown recluse can kill you with its bite. Bats can give you rabies with a bite.

It all began with a Celtic festival called Samhain ( pronounced sow in or sow an), and even a Christian one called All Soul's Day (November 1st). Though some folklorists claim that it goes farther back to a Roman feast of Pomona, goddess of seeds and fruits, or even to a festival of the dead, Parentalia. The Celts on Samhain built bonfires on All Hallow's Eve, where they burned animals and crops as sacrifices to Celtic deities.

The Celts believed that the veil between the mortal world and the spirit world was thinnest on this one day of the year. That spirits, demons, monsters, and other frightful beings, could enter more easily. Harmless ghosts of ancestors were made welcome by family, while those who meant harm to mortals were warded off.

No doubt this was how the wearing of masks and costumes came about. Someone wanted to get home, or go to a friend's or relative's. They wore a costume and mask, looking like a dark spirit, so that they would be safe from any supernatural threat. 

Today, scary movies and stories in novels and short stories, even the haunts set up in October, most likely don't help. They have become our own self induced fear conditioning. Even once November 1st rolls around and we look forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas, that fear conditioning remains, coming out at unexpected times. 

Halloween has much to answer for.  But you know what, I do not care. I love it. And as a writer of dark fantasy, if my readers want feel the safe thrill of the monsters that inhabit my novels, short stories, poetry and nonfiction ghost books, well that is fine with me. None of it is real. 

Neither is that lit Jack-O-Lantern on the porch, the ghost drifting down the street is just a trick-or-treater in a sheet , and the haunt you just entered with your buddies nothing more than people made up and animatronics.


Just beware of when you go out that night. After all, the worlds of the living and the dead are blurred this very day. And that partner you're dancing with just might not be human....or alive!



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