The best time of the year is here! It’s October and that means baggy clothes, cozy nooks, pumpkin spice lattes, books, and rainy weather.
But more importantly, we’re a few days away from Halloween. A celebration that has been happening for thousands of years to articulate the passing of seasons and cast away evil spirits.
Of course, here at dreams and mythology, we take these folklore traditions very seriously. We understand their cultural and psychological significance. Whether you believe in ghosts and spirits, witches and werewolves, or not you must be prepared to face them during October since they’ll be out and about!
It’s important to join these festive activities like trick or treating and costume play because they’re part of our tradition and serve the purpose of bringing us closer as a community.
(Yes, obviously the commodification of this special day has chipped away its significance but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun!)
In any case, All Hallows’ Day brings the sort of atmosphere that demands close contact with the unseen.
And one of the best ways to indulge in it is movies – scary or not.
Folklore Traditions and Dramatization Rituals
Before you grab your candies, light your jack-o-lanterns, and press play, let’s take a quick look at why we like to recreate and role-play myths and folklore traditions.
If you think about it, Halloween is all about “acting out” these old, forgotten legends regarding monsters, spirits, and Gods.
We dress up in vampire costumes or wear scary masks to embody these monsters. We act silly and role play and eventually we’re “exorcized”. This symbolic ostracization is a sympathetic ritual representing the casting out of evil spirits and the cleansing of the community from negative energy.
This is a tradition all civilizations have practiced. The Eleusinian Mysteries, the Death Cults of Egypt, etc. It creates a safe environment to come in contact with our psychological shadow archetypes – the true monsters under our bed – and make peace with them.
You might think this is silly to do in the 21st century, yet I maintain that it can create a powerful alchemical transformation internally; from fear and ignorance to revelation and acceptance.
Perhaps unbeknownst to us, we’ve employed our technology to recreate these ancient rituals in our screens. Movies regarding the supernatural aim to accomplish the same goals as these primordial traditions.
They carry the burden of being extremely realistic in some cases, yet they function similarly.
So, during the month of October, I urge you to watch these movies based on folklore tales and get haunted by ghosts and spirits!
The subtitle of this movie is “A New England Folktale”. And it couldn’t be more accurate. The director Robert Eggers recreated the atmosphere of 1630s New England.
Moreso, he was able to encapsulate the superstition, the puritanism, the hard life, and the real horror that lurked in the unruly forests surrounding a devoted, Christian family.
This is how an adult interprets a children’s tale! The plot is quite simple. A settler – alongside his family – is banned from the village by the clergy because of a religious dispute. So, he has to build a home near a forest, in the middle of nowhere, to survive.
In the beginning, everything seems to be going well. The crops are growing and the family is tighter than ever. But an incident (no spoilers!) reveals that a malevolent witch lives deep in the woods.
The director took inspiration from (rather, copied) old texts, witch trial documents, and journals to understand the traditions and folklore tales of the past.
Witches stealing small children, the Sabbats and dancing with the devil, the “Black Phillip”, the pecking raves, the bitten apple are all well-documented stories people used to tell each other.
The genius of the movie lies in the fact that Eggers didn’t outright tell us whether what we’re looking at is a product of superstition or the doing of a satanic evil until the end.
Even still, we’re exposed to the mentality of the 17th-century average folk; what we consider to be myths and folktales, they thought to be true.
A perfect, sad example is the way the family broke apart. The events of the movie took place a few decades before the infamous Salem witch trials , so naturally, everyone in the household starts to accuse each other of witchcraft!
2. A Dark Song
This isn’t going to be a boring movie list. Trust me. I’ve picked every single one with the intention to scare you, but most importantly, to make you think and understand the way mythology can manifest in our lives.
“A Dark Song” will be the most peculiar and eccentric film on this list but it deserves a viewing during Halloween.
It tells the story of a woman desperately wanting to contact her dead son. So, she decides to attempt the Abramelin Ritual – which is the basis for the titular medieval grimoire “The Book of Abramelin”.
The purpose behind the ritual is to, allegedly, summon your holy guardian angel and ask him for a favor. What’s really interesting here is that this is actually a real book. Many people attempted what’s written inside.
In the movie, Sophia – which happens to be the original, greek, word for gnosis – asks for the help of an occultist named Joseph Solomon (yes, this is also the name of the powerful King Solomon).
This spawns a mentor-mentee relationship, going both ways of course.
The process of the Abramelin Ritual includes many months of seclusion, purification, and no social contact. During this time, the initiates have to go through intense exercise, rituals and come in contact with demons and angels. And if they happen to step outside the ceremonial circle around the house, they’ll be in great danger.
The director of the film, Liam Gavin, spoke with people who have attempted it, gaining real insight into their mindset and practice. Indeed, during the film, you’ll see how the phenomenon of magical thinking emerges and how we can misinterpret synchronicity when we want to believe in the supernatural.
But in the end, the allegorical revelation to the protagonist hints at the real aspect of these ancient practices; the alchemical, psychological, and internal transformation of our psyche.
I know, I know. It’s raining outside and you’re all bundled up and cozy. So, you can’t watch a movie that’s set during summer, can you? Well, if you’re interested in learning about the real – yes, quite real – traditions of Norse paganism and mythology, you should watch this folk horror film.
While Midsommar contains many allegorical elements, the depiction of the actual celebration of Midsummer, or Litha, is quite accurate.
You’ll quickly learn that ancient cultures took their mythology and traditions very seriously. Some of, seemingly, brutal customs you’ll watch were historical practices. Like the Ättestupa senicide sites in Nordic prehistoric times or the legendary “blood eagle” punishment.
But you’ll also learn about the ecstatic dance of maypole, the fertility rituals, the bonfires, the purification, and the use of shamanistic tools, like the psychoactive mushrooms.
While the film remains a horror slasher – perfect for Halloween – it’s dipped into Scandinavian paganism and mythology. It’s not every day that you’re invited to witness the Sankthansaften celebration of a cult!
4. The Wicker Man
You’ll find many similarities between Midsommar and this film. Not in the way it was produced or film but in the celebration of May Day.
The Wicker Man takes a more esoteric approach, instilling an eerie feeling and sense of dread and impending catastrophe. While you won’t see a lot of blood and jump scares, you’ll experience the cult-like mentality and absurdity of irrational belief of a small village that worships the Old Celtic Gods in order to have a good harvest.
The film is based on the accounts of Celtic traditions from Greeks and Romans. Julis Ceaser wrote about one of their customs: “Others have figures of vast size, the limbs of which formed of osiers they fill with living men, which being set on fire, the men perish enveloped in the flames.”
And this infernal image gave birth to the Wicker Man. A gigantic structure that was set on fire every year.
Now, imagine being a devoted Christian sent to an isolated island in search of a missing girl, only to find out that the inhabitants are heretics, practicing forbidden, unholy rituals. I won’t spoil the ending but I’ll give you a hint.
The sacrificial lamb is a “willing, king-like, virgin fool”.
What’s interesting here is that the movie was a product of serious research into paganism and comparative mythology. “The Golden Bough” was one of the primary sources.
5. The 9th Gate
Do you like half-lit rooms, slow-burning cigarettes, noir atmosphere, and… forbidden books about invocating the Lord of Chaos?
Roman Polanski creates a thriller based on Christian Mysticism and heretic theological narratives, starring Johnny Depp.
A rare book dealer is hired by a wealthy man to find the original copy of an apocryphal book containing the occult secrets that will allow the initiate to enter the 9th Gate and summon the Devil. This leads the protagonist to travel around the world and solve a hermetic riddle:
“To travel in silence by a long and circuitous route, to brave the arrows of misfortune, to fear neither noose nor fire, to play the greatest of all games, and win, foregoing no expense is to walk the vicissitudes of fate, and gain at last the key that will unlock the ninth gate.”
Even though it isn’t a “scary” movie per se, it has all of the necessary elements to frighten and exhilarate your soul!
You’ll also find an ironic, yet accurate depiction of the post-Victorian era occult “secret” societies and their obsession with esoteric knowledge; an excuse for the upper-middle class to escape their boredom and indulge in sensational rituals.
If anything, the 9th Gate has excellent cinematography and the right amount of rain, crackling fires, and books to help you get into the mood for Halloween.
Are you scared yet?
As I’m writing this, the sun is hiding behind the tree grove. I can hear the wind howling, urging everyone to come inside, where it’s warm and safe.
October is such a beautiful month. Nature is blooming in a different way than spring; it’s preparing for the dry, unapologetic winter.
But beyond that, October is the month of liminality. The veil is thin. Spooky, weird things happen. Cats are uneasy. Doors close on their own. Our dreams are more intense.
While you might not believe in the supernatural, it’s always fun to participate in the collective celebrations of this season.
After all, if you’ve been a regular reader of the blog, you understand the purpose behind creating mythology – whether it’s allegorical mythopoeic sagas or stories that reveal sacred traditions – to explain the world around us.
(Make sure to watch these 5 movies. Next week, we’ll add 5 more!)
P.S. How are you going to celebrate Halloween this year?
George K has been immersed into the world of myths and dreams for a very long time now, attempting to find the numerous symbolisms and meanings attached to them. He is a prolific writer along with being an independent researcher. Contributing his knowledge and learnings to several magazines and blogs, he has the unique ability to simplify and explain even the most intricate subjects.
2 thoughts on “Non-Boring Movies Based on Folklore to Watch During Halloween”
Thank you for this list, I’ll definitely check these out! Happy Halloween 🎃
Let me know what you think!