Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Pumpkin Zone

As I walk up and down the streets admiring the Halloween decorations, I think about how decorations are part of the interface between an individual household and its community of neighbors and passers by. That’s because the decorations are usually on the front porches, on doors and windows, and in the front yards, which are the transition zones between public and private. Transition zones have a certain numinous quality, but also a certain dangerous quality, because they are liminal spaces.

In the case of Halloween decorations, scary-faced jack-o-lanterns and such are part of a world-wide tradition of decorating doors and other transition zones with apotropaic objects with grotesque faces to scare off evil spirits. Of course, friendly-faced jack-o-lanterns, as well as the golden pumpkins and other symbols of the harvest festival, serve to welcome the good spirits. By the way, I notice that people often flank their doorways with jack-o-lanterns or other decorations. It’s a natural desire for aesthetic balance, but it also echoes the African custom of setting a pair of gourds or pots filled with protective medicine on either side of the door.

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