Samhain 1999 was a very disappointing Hallowtide for me. My family and I had just moved to Texas the previous summer, and it was an incredible culture shock. I went from living in a heterogeneous, politically liberal and socially progressive Philadelphia suburb to living in a semi-rural town full of “Rapture-ready” hicks who were stockpiling guns and ammunition in their basements to prepare for Y2K. Even the natural environment was different. I was used to rolling hills with tall trees and dense forests; but in Texas, there were only flat expanses of empty, sunbaked land. During most of the year, it was far too miserable to be outside; by the time we arrived in May 1999, the temperatures were already reaching the triple digits.
One of my earliest memories of living there is of visiting a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Waco with my family one weekend. I was looking through the books in the New Age section (as was my wont) when I was suddenly approached by an employee of the store and a uniformed policeman who resembled Sam Elliott on heroin. “Here we are,” the employee said, to which the policeman replied, “Ah, good. There’s been a steady rise in satanic activity in the area lately, and I need to do some research on this stuff so I can know what to look out for.” As soon as I heard those words come out of that raspy old throat, I started backing away quietly to make my escape.
Alex Jones represents everything I hate most about Texas.
I had a “history teacher” (actually, he was a football coach) who would go on random tangents during class about his missionary trips to foreign countries. I had a health teacher who repeatedly instructed my class that “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” I had a math teacher who would discuss going to church on Wednesday nights, and who joked about seeing us in class the next day “if the Rapture doesn’t happen before then.” There were security guards at my school who would grab you if they saw you wearing so much as a Metallica T-shirt and force you to put duct tape all over the band logo. (Granted, the Columbine massacre had happened only a few short months ago, so school officials were on “red alert” for anything that seemed suspicious to them almost all the time; but duct-taping Metallica T-shirts is just fucking ridiculous.) To make matters even worse, there was a small contingency of “counter-culture” kids who “rebelled” against the establishment in some truly disturbing ways. I recall meeting one fellow who thought it was funny to call in bomb threats to the school just so they’d cancel classes for the day, as well as another guy who thought that Satan would make his abusive stepfather go away as long as the kid kept torturing stray cats.
Not having any friends, I spent most of my time outside of school at home, hanging out with my little brother and duking it out with my dad. Regarding the first part, my brother and I bonded over a mutual fascination with KISS and Wolfenstein 3D. We engaged in a competition to see which one of us could acquire the most KISS albums first, and much to my shame, my little brother won that bet. (But my brother got all the KISS albums from the makeup era, while I claimed all the ones from the non-makeup era, which are my personal favorites. So who really won the bet?) We would stay up late together in our bedroom on weekends, rocking to KISS and taking turns playing Wolfenstein 3D on an old PC. As for duking it out with my dad, that was a much less pleasant experience. When he first announced that we’d be moving to Texas earlier that year, I finally decided to come out and tell him about my being a Pagan, for I was concerned about not mixing well with other people in this new environment. Sadly, he didn’t take this news very well (and perhaps I didn’t give it to him as well as I could have), and this led us to fight almost constantly. Strangely, my dad never insisted on forcing me to go to church or anything like that, but he did do everything he could to prevent me from practicing my faith at home. I had to learn how to worship Set inside my own brain and make it look like I was doing nothing more than listening to music on my headphones. Then I would go to school and listen to my classmates complain about the government trying to “keep prayer out of public schools,” and it was all I could do not to scream at them. These people had no concept of what it’s like to have someone actively seek to prevent them from practicing their faith, and I resented them for their privilege and their lack of perspective.
It was against this backdrop that my Samhain 1999 experience would soon unfold. Naturally, Halloween wasn’t a very popular idea in my new neighborhood. When my mother and I took my brother and sister trick-or-treating that night, we only encountered one household that gave my siblings any candy. Most of the others either turned us away or didn’t answer their doors. One of them explained to us that she and her family didn’t believe in Halloween because it’s “the devil’s holiday,” and instead of candy, she slipped brochures for her church inside my siblings’ bags. We all went home feeling disappointed and defeated that night. Worse still, Halloween was on a Sunday that year, and as much as I begged my parents, they wouldn’t let me stay home from school the next day. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I wanted to stay up and spend the night in prayer. I remember my dad angrily telling me, “You can do whatever you want, but you’ll have to do it without your little altar, and your butt is going to school tomorrow no matter what!” Well I said fine and stayed up most of the night regardless of having to go to class the next day. This semi-victory was bittersweet, though; I couldn’t stay awake in class the following morning (much to my teachers’ dismay), and I just couldn’t reach the proper headspace on Halloween night itself. I wanted to spend the night in fervent prayer, meditating on love and gratitude for a bountiful symbolic harvest; yet I spent the evening stewing in my own juices, unable to think of anything aside from how angry I was at my dad and how much I hated living in that rotten place.
I still have some fond memories of that Samhain season, though. Rocking to KISS with my brother and shooting Nazis in Wolfenstein? I wouldn’t have traded that for anything in the world. I also wrote a 119- page screenplay, an epic story that I fantasized about making into a full length feature film someday. (I’ve long since given up on becoming a world-famous movie director, but I’m still reworking the story into a novel, even after all these years.) It was also about a week after Halloween that I first met and fell in love with the Goddess Ishtar, which I have described in greater detail here. Life at school was atrocious, and life at home was a mixed bag; but thanks to my Lord and Lady, at least my internal psychological landscape was pretty healthy for the most part.
And thank Set for KISS!