October is here once again, and there is a chill both in the air and down the collectives spines of anyone interested in darker subcultures. No other time of year is so evocative of the spooky, the ghoulish and the occult than October, as the shortening of the day and the ageing of the year lead towards the fire rituals of November and the eventual winter solstice; not only is it the time of year for grey skies, billowing winds, falling leaves and thunderstorms but also the time of year where pre-Halloween frenzy sits in. The shops are now pleasingly full of bats, fangs, skulls, skeletons, ghosts, fake blood, chains, cauldrons, pumpkins and zombies. For the goths it's probably no surprise that this is the time of year where we do our domestic shopping.
Of course Halloween itself, based on pagan celebrations, acts as ghoulish hub for the month. But is this the time of the year when we begin to feel a stronger affinity with the essence of older, arcane myths and of forgotten ritual, especially in the north? It is often said that autumn has a poetry to it, but what is it that brings a turn to the eerie in our collective psyche? It can't simply be the fact that it gets darker in October – after all things get progressively darker from the summer and darker still later in the year. So what is it in the air when October arrives?
In Susanna Clarke's 'Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell' she creates an England based on a brilliantly simple premise – that the primal folk myths of northern England were based on a kind of magical reality. This is an intriguing launchpad to a bigger question: what kind of relationship exists between the contemporary gothic culture and the dark folk myths and arcane beliefs that surround it?
For example – if we may take my manor, Leeds. It has long been the home for gothic music and culture, especially during the drabulous '80s when the city centre streets were grey-black and gentrification was but a distant dream. But just 10 miles outside of the city centre are expanses of countryside with their own tales, superstitions, beliefs; and even further north there are the Yorkshire Moors, where barghests, ghouls and hobgoblins roam the night. Indeed, Ingrid Barton's 'North Yorkshire Folk Tales', and the Wray/Marshall/Firth compendiums 'The Haunted Coast' and 'The Witches of North Yorkshire' are full of examples of such myths. So to what extent is urban, cultural gothic merely a reflection of a more regional darkness based in the countryside that surround the cities?
So this Halloween, venture forth – go to haunted houses, investigate your local myths and places of dark interest and dig under the urban veneer to find the primal, beating heart of October. Westwood & Simpson's 'The Lore of the Land' is a good place to start to find where those darker echoes can be found near where you are, whether that is in Norwich, Edinburgh, London or Blackpool. Bring a flask and a notebook too. And then maybe when you're decking your home out in appropriately seasonal decoration you may get that echo of recognition for the pagan – and after all, that is where Halloween began.