It’s spooky season! I just watched Midnight Mass on Netflix, which is a show very much about religious trauma but also vampires! And as I’m writing this I am listening to “The Satanic Rites of Count Drugula” which is a song by Electric Wizard in which a vampire gets high from sucking the blood of drug addicts. I mean, I’m over-simplifying. But, vampires! Bats, scarecrows, the thin veil between worlds being pierced! Ghosts, ghouls, and pumpkin carving! Spooky season is baller. My boys love it, too. Let’s dress up and get candy!?!? All the way in.
But, growing up fundamentalist, no trick or treating. Satanic heathen rituals! We celebrated Martin Luther posting the 95 theses and kicking off the protestant reformation. Which, not nearly as exciting. One year it was fun because all good christians thought putting 95 Reese’s peanut butter cups on doors was good fun as a way to get candy without worshiping the devil. And I love Reese’s. This is a silly example, but it highlights the forced awkwardness of being raised in a cult, and the lengths organized religion will go to demonize harmless secular celebrations. Spooky season isn’t about the devil, it’s about autumn. Leaves die, frost comes and things start hibernating, and so having a celebration about death makes sense seasonally. Many, if not all, cultures have a death celebration. So, after leaving fundamentalism and eventually christianity altogether, I find myself really enjoying spooky season now, especially halloween. And while halloween is awesome for all the reasons listed above, there is also an aspect of intentional reclamation that kicks in for me, and a lot of people who have found freedom outside of organized religion.
Reclamation, the act of taking something back or reasserting a right, is a great concept that is alive and well in the ex-church community. The idea that we could not do something and now we are in a place to be free to do that is certainly empowering, and something that is considered perhaps deviant or even satanic is even more empowering, a real middle finger to the former stuffiness of culty behavior control. And while I like metal anyways, and did listen to it even when still identifying as some version of religious, I find the metal music that is overtly anti-christian to be very powerful stuff. Zeal & Ardor is on many of my playlists, as songs like “Church Burns,” “Death to the Holy,” and “Devil is Fine” all convey emotions that I feel when thinking about my fundie evangelical upbringing.
Now, when church people see someone who has left the church (or “fallen away” to use their pejorative terminology) reclaiming some set of behaviors, they will inevitably call it sin and cast aspersions as if this person is living a wild life full of debauchery in order to keep other church folks from realizing how freeing it is to be outside of religion. That poor confused soul, sleeping around like the whore of Babylon they might gossip, when really someone left the toxic teachings of purity culture and is exploring their sexuality in a natural, healthy, consensual way. I mean, it kind of hilariously still comes down to drugs, sex, and rock’n’roll. The church hates when people leave and start having fun, doing drugs recreationally or for spiritual reasons outside of the church, having sex in consensual not-serving-the-patriarchy type ways, and listening to secular music. I cannot strongly recommend exploring drugs, sex, and rock’n’roll enough (in safe and consensual ways!). Or whatever, watch R-rated movies, read erotica, dress in slacks, dye your hair, seriously, you do you. You’re awesome, you get to exist, and leaving the church is a huge breath of fresh air for people, and they want to explore! Sometimes these behaviors can move outside of the safe/healthy space, but for a lot of people who were raised in high-control religion there are developmental marks that were stifled or prohibited, so some people try to make up for lost time! And you know what, that makes sense, even if the therapist part of my brain can’t help but caution against it. If you leave the church in your thirties and you want to hit the developmental markers you missed in your teen years, you do you. There are healthy, supportive ways to do that, but yeah, reclaim that shit. Reclaim fucking everything. I love that slogan (I’m on a secular therapist directory called the Reclamation Collective) and this process of reclamation is healing, it’s natural and healthy, and it can be so, so empowering. And maybe you weren’t raised religious, but your growth and development were stifled by a parent with an addiction, or a parent with untreated anxiety, or just by being poor, by whatever, reclaim it when you find yourself in a place to be able to do that! I see you, I support you. Get out there and reclaim what you missed out on! Enjoy your halloween dress-up and other spooky season celebrating! And of course, cheers to the drugs, sex, and rock’n’roll!