A Hallowed Eve

Fayes T Kantawala is a practicing Wiccan 

A Hallowed Eve
The occult has been a strange but constant companion throughout my life, starting from when I learned to read a Celtic-cross tarot spread before I knew how to play solitaire. This is mainly because my mother’s side of the family was into divination, and I took for granted that every Wednesday we would shuffle the cards, cut them with the left hand and then hope to God one didn’t get the Tower as an outcome to one’s latest queries. Alas divination comes in many forms and I took all of them seriously: palm reading, dream interpretation, astrology, omens, Ouija boards, spellcraft, candle magic, the I Ching. If it could be in an episode of Buffy I was all up in it.

Some small-minded people saw these are transgressions against Islam, but if you think about it, the occult is all around us in Pakistan. Like when mothers say a little prayer and blow it over their kids to protect them; or pack their children off to exams with water from Mecca or the dirt from holy shrines; or when grown men sport turquoise and amber rings to ward off the evil eye. Indeed, the collective and never-ending escape from the incessant gaze of the evil eye is one of the most entrenched occult aspects of our culture (other than sporadic possession by jinns, of course).
Greenwood Cemetery is filled with crypts and tombs that go back hundreds of years

It shouldn’t come to you as a surprise then that by the time I was 16 I was already practicing Wicca. My room was covered in candles and I proudly wore a pentagram to school on which I had performed a moonlight enchantment to increase my productivity and/or fat-loss. I remember a teacher at school at the time had asked me what I was wearing and when I explained to her the details of a moonlight enchantment (you don’t want to know) she looked at me like I was, well, a witch, which I suppose wasn’t too far from my ambition but stung nevertheless. (“Churayl!”)

Despite the fact that I long ago recalibrated my belief systems to something decidedly less otherworldly, the occult remains in me. I throw spilt salt over my left shoulder, and I begin every day/week/month by reading my horoscope to see how things might turn out. Sometimes I even read seven and take an average of the best information to make one super-happy horoscope of my own.

Because of all this, Halloween is my favorite time of year, bar none. I love it more than fog in the winter, more than beaches in the summer and more than most food groups except for two kinds of pastries. It is the one time that the rest of the world catches up to the mysterious powers that obsess me most of the year.

The occult is very much a part of life for the average Pakistani
The occult is very much a part of life for the average Pakistani

My Halloweens in Lahore were usually spent at a house party filled with the same people you see at other parties, except dressed more absurdly. But now I am happy to learn that New York City takes Halloween extremely seriously. So seriously, indeed, that I had several friends congregate and stay with me this whole Halloween weekend for three nights of revelries and costume changes. Night One was a masquerade ball at an abandoned church that is now a sort of club-meets-haunted-house, filled with some of the most well-dressed 18th century ghouls and goblins you can ever hope to see. Day Two, I made everyone trek down to the nether parts of Brooklyn so that we could go to one of my favourite places in the world, Greenwood Cemetery. It was designed by the same man who designed central park and other green spaces in New York and so you can imagine it as a large, hilly necropolis filled with crypts and tombs that go back hundreds of years. There are vast lagoons surrounded by weeping willows and it is one of the few places in the city that you can sit in and not hear car alarms or traffic. The cemetery comes alive (in a manner of speaking) over Halloween, and was decorated lavishly with pumpkins and cobwebs. People were dressed up as the many famous residents of the graves, including the artist Basquiat as well as Civil War heroes, socialites and actors. It was sublimely creepy.

By night three I was running low on costume ideas but in a timely and brilliant manner, I managed to go as a Snapchat filter to see the parade of crazy costumes that comes down 6th Avenue on the actual night of Halloween. The streets were filled with the kind of joy that only comes when adults can dress up as Ninja Turtles or Madonna without judgment. New Yorker kids don’t have houses to go Trick-or-Treating to, so many of the parents take them on tours of the delis and restaurants on their block that kindly oblige by having baskets of candy available for them. I retired early that night, knowing that by midnight the streets would look like the Thriller Song except more rambunctious, but I did enjoy every minute of my late-night tarot spreads at home.

Happy Halloween!

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