J is for Jack Skellington: Pagan Blog Project 2013

(Note: this post was actually published on September 19, 2013. I’m placing it here for purposes of searchability.)

I was totally a pagan as a child. Fortunately for me, I didn’t know the word pagan–it might have upset my fundamentalist parents. But semantics aside, I was pagan. I felt the woods as a very alive place. I believed in magic and I was pretty sure there were fairies, and I didn’t think they were much like tinker bell.

As I entered the puberty years this awareness intensified. In junior high I had deja vu a few times a month, I had bizarre dreams about people that sometimes came true, I often thought I heard people say things out loud that they had been thinking but hadn’t verbalized. I frequently picked up on other people’s true feelings, the ones they didn’t want other people to know about. Sometimes this kind of perception made life a little confusing. Of course it wasn’t like in a movie or book where the voices or visions or whatever are so strong that they make it difficult to function day to day. It was all a lot more subtle than that, and because I didn’t know how to hone my abilities, the feelings and visions were usually blurry and indistinct.

Which was why I spent a lot of time reading fantasy novels and watching fantasy movies: in fiction, people who had abilities they didn’t understand usually found teachers, and almost always became powerful. I had no one to talk to about them besides my friends–who were also ill informed and sometimes made things up.

In high school I caved in to parental pressure and fear of hell and got religion. I became one of those kids who carry bibles everywhere and wear Christian t-shirts.

I didn’t have many friends.

And I got the idea that psychic abilities were either fake, or were tools of the devil, and I suppressed mine. I didn’t just suppress them, I buried them in a deep dark hole and then piled boulders on top, and poured cement over the boulders. If I did manage to have a flash of intuition, I decided it was god telling me something, and my mother accepted that explanation and didn’t freak out when I said I shouldn’t go on a class trip because I had a bad feeling about it.

Freshman year of college I immersed myself in religious activities and stopped reading fantasy novels. Magic of any kind was out the window.

Then The Nightmare Before Christmas came out, I think during my Sophomore year. I thought, “Oh a kids Halloween movie! It will be FUN!”

And it was.

But also . . . there’s that bit at the beginning where Jack Skellington is brought out on the back of a straw horse, dressed like a scarecrow with a pumpkin head. His body on fire, he leaps from the horse into the fountain and emerges as himself. Something about that moment awakened–or perhaps re-awakened–something in me, some kind of inarticulate knowing. And as the movie progressed, the dark beauty of the animation, the poignant emotion present under all the singing and silliness, really got to me. I experienced feelings I’d been pushing away since my freshman year of high school.

I couldn’t explain what I felt. Now I’d call it an awareness of the presence of magic in the world, of the shift of energy in the months between Halloween and New Year’s Day, of the thinning of the veil and the presence of spirit.

It’s not like the movie turned me pagan. It’s just that it got me back in touch with some important energies, and was part of the journey to finding my spiritual place.

I know The Nightmare Before Christmas isn’t a pagan movie. Though I find Jack Skellington reminiscent of some kind of Lord of Death or Harvest King, as far as I can remember there aren’t any overt references in the film to either neo-paganism or ancient paganism.

Still. Jack Skellington is a ringleader of spirits that walk the earth on Halloween, filling us with fear of the things that go bump in the night. His character, and all the characters, touched on my childhood feelings about the season. Yes, it’s frightening, but there’s also a mysterious beauty in the dark. Those shadows have their purpose–one we might not completely understand, but which shapes our lives in significant ways.

So Jack and company will always be important to me, part of the large family of messengers who pointed me toward my spiritual home.

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