From ghoulies and ghosties
and long-leggedy beasties
and things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!
A Scottish Saying
I have always been confounded by the pseudo history of Halloween, as told by both neo pagans and many conservative Christians. Strange bedfellows one would think. The general narrative is that the day is about worship of the occult, either to be embraced as such or shunned lest it will corrupt the innocent or release the powers of darkness. I had grand plans to research the history of Halloween to debunk this explanation, but given my deficiencies in time, energy, and resources, I’ll just share a great article on the subject. Let’s leave the teaching to the Dominican and I’ll stick to opining for now. Read this, and then if you still care, come back for my thoughts.
We naturally fear many things: darkness, creeping and lurking things, evil, death. It’s part of the human condition. Acknowledging and processing these fears is equally natural. One common way to deal with fears is to turn them on their heads, taking an object of terror and rendering it ridiculous. I think this is the spirit of Halloween. We aren’t “celebrating” witchcraft when we put on a pointy hat, and a wart, but mocking it. The forces of evil are treated as silly or pathetic. Celebrate has two meanings. One is, to perform a religious ceremony, which I think is the argument made by the Halloween as pagan holiday folk. The other is simply to publicly acknowledge with a social gathering or enjoyable activity. That’s what I mean when I celebrate Halloween. We overcome our fears by dragging them out into the open, making them our own, and parading them in droll fashion for a candy prize. This isn’t the glorification of evil. It is our worst dreams lampooned, caricaturized, derided. This is powerful for children, the main beneficiaries of Halloween and the main victims of nightmare.
I do see a trend in recent years towards treating Halloween as an embrace of evil. This trend coincides with the massive popularity of occult themes in television and movies, full of glamourous vampires and witches. Similarly, modern horror films seem to revel more and more in depravity. I speak with only second hand knowledge, having long long ago realised that such films are not for me. Still I gather that most popular horror films are simply one perversion after another, with the evil usually entirely triumphant in the end. This is, I think, a distressing trend. However, the one thing I’m not going to do is concede Halloween to this evolution. On October 31st we’ll be out in our costumes, taking pictures with our carved pumpkins, and dividing the spoils of a good night’s trick or treating. The next morning we’ll be at Mass celebrating the Feast of All Saints, and the day after that we’ll be visiting a cemetery to pray for all the dead, especially our loved ones. From fear, to joy, to prayerful hope mixed with some sorrow, we will have covered the many emotions that surround death and eternity, and had a lovely time along the way.