“Every day is Halloween. Putting on our masks is a regular part of our morning ritual, just like brushing our teeth and eating breakfast. The masquerade, however, is anything but festive. Underneath the masks are people who are terrified that there will be an unveiling.” Dr. Edward Welch, When People Are Big and God Is Small
The real Halloween was just last week. Whether it’s a masquerading at a costume party or just spoofing the neighbor’s kids or if you want to get kinky once in a while, there is something strangely compelling about being in costume. Halloween is just one of those times, it doesn’t matter what you are a witches, a vampires, a zombies, a clowns, a serial killers, or even a serial killer clowns.
Being behind a mask seems to be as old as humanity itself – the masquerade balls of the 15th century Europe, rituals of the ancient African and the Intuits. Shakespeare was preoccupied with the idea that people are not always what they seem and often have contradictory impulses. Some of his greatest plays had characters who often used disguise to enact themes of human deception and ambivalence. Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream are just some to name.
Shakespeare anticipated some of what Sigmund Freud would fully develop centuries later. We humans are funny beings. Always divided, contradictory creatures with an uncanny capacity, not only to disguise ourselves from other people, but to masquerade our own wishes and desires from ourselves. Our defenses are methods of disguise–ways of transforming what we find unbearable or transgressed into pro-social and meaningful ambition and fulfillment. This masquerading of desire ensures that there is always the potential of another version of ourselves. We hide behind things that are acceptable to the social norms, which, again keep changing decades after decades.
Besides the ever so obvious pleasures associated with Halloween, our donning of disguises may be a way of enjoying the possibility of being someone who we didn’t know we were or we could ever be.
Donald Winnicott would probably say that wearing costumes is a transitional phenomenon. It all explains why the eager-to-be-helpful gentleman at the hardware store gets to experiment with being a soul-stealing, Dark Prince of Pain. Or, we have the corporate CPA by day; blood-sucking, gothic vampire by night. Halloween is just a day where we can wear our most tabooed defensive façade out in the open and not to be judged by it. Disguises help us wonder about what it would be like to be more humorous, less empathetic, more surprising, or simply more interesting than we normally feel we are.
Hope you all had great Halloween.