It’s just a few weeks until Monster Night! Are you ready?
There’s no need to panic. If you were cramming garlic cloves into a muzzleloader or searching the attic for real silver cutlery, you can stop. Torches and pitchforks make good television, but there is another way.
- Milk and honey
- Gold (or loose change)
The milk is for the fairies. Do fairies count as monsters? It depends. “Fae” is one of myth’s broader phyla. The term encompasses everything from tiny, mirthful, garden-dwelling folk to child-snatching, traveler-trapping tricksters. Malevolent or mischievous? It depends on how you look at them.
I only half remember stories of elven enchantresses appearing like shimmering goddesses from the front. If you manage to see their backs, however, you will find the glamor hiding a body made of briars and rotting wood.
The tales also say that fairies take babies because they have no children of their own. They leave their elderly as changelings to be cared for by unknowing human parents. These stories of concealed rot and desperate kidnapping bear at least as much sadness as spite. We know that the world at the edge of our ever-growing fields is dying. Mushrooms, decay’s signature, spring up where dancing fairy feet have stomped out a portal to their courts. In fairy-human relationships, both sides trespass and corrupt. A little milk and honey left on a threshold will serve as a peace offering, a token toward all the worlds we have made refugee.
A mixing bowl of Milky Way candy on your porch this Halloween might also do the trick. Sure, wee folk of another kind might partake. But what is the harm in that?
The trousers are for werewolves. October 31, 2020, will be a full moon. Take silver if you have it. But silver sometimes does more harm than good, I’m told. A hoodie and a pair of sweatpants might be better.
When you hear the howl like weft threads weaving through the beams of cold moonlight, don’t be afraid. It’s not really rare. A wide variety of curses can gnaw the mind and leave a man naked, outside, and alone. It could happen to anyone. If the tales like Marie de France’s Bisclavret are to be believed, you can restore a werewolf’s true form by giving back his clothes.
If your fingers go numb and your breath smokes like a chimney before you find a werewolf, it’s all right to leave your supplies with a panhandler on your way home. At least nothing will be wasted.
The gold is for the Brondmand, who lives in the well. Danish folklore tells us that the Brondmand’s ember-red eyes stare up at us from the well’s depths, waiting to swallow anyone who might stumble in. The Brondmand hoards these spirits, dispatching them as spectral messengers of disease to neighboring villages. Unlike many monsters of Scandinavian lore, the Brondmand cannot be vanquished by churchmen. The village wise woman must drop coins into the well to sate the spirit’s hunger.
In the failure of dogma, try generosity.
These days of sickness and dread bear the marks of a Brondmand. But the mouth of its well might be the inky depths of our polluted word-cisterns, both print and digital. People get sucked in daily, and “righteous” actions seem to have no impact. Classic Brondmand. Perhaps a gift is in order?
These strategies are similar, even repetitive, because the wisdom for encountering the Other has not changed much over time.
It is our oldest story. The Others will come to us, crossing the border in some ugly disguise: an odd child, a hungry beggar, a madman. We could stake and burn them all, but gods are also fond of a cloak to test the hospitality of a shepherd. Princes are sometimes beasts and receive that fate because they failed to recognize the enchantress beneath the rags.
The same rules go for gods and monsters: entertain strangers.
Or, if you like, “For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. … I needed clothes, and you clothed me, I was sick, and you looked after me, I was in prison, and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:35-40).
Cursed, frightened werewolves might be more sympathetic than tomb-mouthed well spirits. Beware! Humans are most easily duped and judged when charity becomes transactional, owed only to the most pathetically deserving, who mean you no harm. The same Voice that calls us to love the battered “least of these” calls us to love our monstrous enemies.
In the end, does it matter if the howl in the wood is a prince or a lunatic? Does it make a difference if the wail from the darkness is a soul drowning, an arthritic fae masquerading in the cradle, or some Bethlehem-born illegitimate son? Someone’s child cries. It would be monstrous to ignore it.
Photo by Andikha Pahlevi from Pexels
Emily Stroble is a writer of bits and pieces and is distractedly pursuing lots of novel ideas and nonfiction projects as inspiration strikes. As an editorial assistant at Zondervan, she helps put the pieces of children’s books and Bibles together. A lover of the ridiculous, inexplicable, and wondrous as well as stories of all kinds, Emily enjoys getting lost in museums, movies old and new, making art, the mountains of Colorado, and the unsalted oceans near Grand Rapids. Her movie reviews also appear in the Mixed Media section of The Banner and her strange little stories of the fantastic are on the Calvin alumni fiction blog Presticogitation. Her big dream is to dig her hands deep into the soil of making children’s books as an editor…and to finally finish her children’s novel.