Halloween: From Human Spirit to Holy Spirit

Halloween is often identified as unhallowed. Witchcraft. Druidism. The occult. Evils all, no doubt, yet no matter what evils have invaded or informed Halloween, its traditions find their essential origin in mankind’s inherent awareness of beings, powers, and even worlds beyond his own—which is the opposite of an evil instinct. That the universe holds more than meets the eye, or more than the mind can conceive, was evident even to pagans; but what that “more” actually consisted of was not as evident as it was to become. Halloween stands as a testimony to man’s innate hunger for the holy, and a remnant of a time that still has a part to play in the pageantry of human redemption.

Pre-Christian history and folklore abound with concepts, expressions, and depictions that manifestly indicate the conviction and the consequent pursuit of super-realities. The pagan sensed that he belonged to two worlds, the material and the immaterial, for he was himself body and soul. Although this spiritual world was largely hidden, he, as a member of that spiritual world, was not satisfied with life isolated from beings greater than he. From this arose a thirst to know the ultimate and immortal realities of life. So man did what must be called the human prerogative: he imagined them. Man conjured up a host of otherworldly existences to provide a context whereby he might judge things beyond his ken.

These numinous musings provided the backbone to mythologies, homespun rituals, and rustic legends. Such time-trusted tales reveal an undeniable fervor in their quest, seeking for answers to cosmic questions arising from the primal and mystical sensitivity of the human spirit. What are the secrets behind the inscrutable mysteries of nature? What is the purpose of life? What occurs after death? What are the truths surrounding unexplained phenomena that people suddenly witness? The creations of lore became archetypes which men—with fearful desire—believed in as they groped in dark and unenlightened days for a truth that would satisfy their yearning souls.

As the seasonal light of day gave way to darkness, and nature shed its splendor and beauty to don decay and seeming death, man’s mind turned to the end of his own life and to those who had gone before him. The afterlife and the supernatural mingled with the fear of the unknown. During autumn, when the world seems to suffer a sort of death in aspects both wondrous and withering, men would spy strange shapes across the moon and women would tell strange stories over the fire. The devils, preying upon ignorance and terror, would weave their lies within the noble aspirations of man, even binding some to their service through hollow rituals. Nevertheless, lively celebrations were born that declared a demand to know more about the world beyond sight.

With the coming of Christ came the answers the world sought. Man belongs to both worlds because he was made in the image and likeness of God. By that image he was to grasp and partake in the spiritual world of God, and by that divine image to rule this world and discover her secrets. Sadly, that image was darkened by sin, which prevented man from seeing the truth with clarity. But Christ, the Invisible made visible, healed and restored the divine image within humanity. In His life He revealed great and wondrous things. In His death and resurrection, the ancient enemy, the devil, was subjugated and death stripped of his sting. Every seemingly unfulfillable longing was satisfied in abundance. Man was finally granted a genuine taste of goodness, truth, and beauty in this world, and the hope of beholding their perfection in the next.

In the light of Christ, ancient folklore and customs, both the insidious and innocuous, moved from the realm of religion to myth. Some were destined to remain, though, purified as memorials to the nobility of pagan forefathers or as testimonials to the dignity and credibility of Christianity. The ghostly ceremonies that Halloween mirrors were inserted into custom as expressive of a vital stage in the para-liturgical re-enactment of salvation history. After the feast of Pentecost, the faithful enter into the age of the Church on earth. Emboldened by the Holy Spirit, the Church moves through time towards the consummation of all things, when all will be gathered and subjected to Christ.

As the liturgical year ends its course, minds turn to this end and the Church presents the feast of Christ the King, King of heaven and earth. Fittingly, the Church has arranged her calendar so that these mysteries unfold before her faithful within the earthly period of harvest, the annual time of gathering. Following the celebration of Christ the King comes the festival of Halloween, and the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. It is in this sequence that Christians include Halloween in the drama of redemption. Halloween offers the proper point for the beginning of the Church Militant’s liturgical observance of the faithful departed, for it represents man’s profound hope for the joys of eternal blessedness after death. In these observances, man is given a foretaste of his own destiny: death, judgment before the King and Judge, and then, by God’s grace, the blessedness of the saints, having been purified by love.

Halloween’s deathly themes present the natural place to begin this ceremony because death precedes the glory of the saints and the redemptive suffering of purgatory. Halloween is the dramatic and jocular representation of this death, as a portal to new life. Moreover, in humanity’s present condition, the power and peace of grace is often known only in contrast to evil; and conversely the horror of evil is easily grasped in light of the good, true, and beautiful. By these comparisons, people are reminded of the great darkness of error and the intense longing of mankind for Christ.

Catholics should begin the season of souls with this merry Day of the Dead because it expresses the first consequent of Christ’s death and resurrection. Death is an empty thing since the dominion of the devil has been destroyed—and that is something worthy of celebration. The glory of the resurrection, the glory of the saints, comes forth from death and the conquered the power of sin. Christ has given man victory by His grace and mastery over demonic and deathly sway. Halloween rejoices in this triumph through playful parody, or exultant mockery, of evil by subjecting the powerless symbols of the devil to satirical derision. Witches, goblins, ghosts, skeletons, and the other grotesque objects of man’s imagination are the caricatures of a dethroned evil. There is no fear in these, or even in the devil himself, by the indomitable strength of Christ. Men are the masters, and no longer the servants, of these elemental creatures.

In spite of the shadows, the tales and rituals surrounding Halloween chronicle man’s understanding of himself, death, and the condition of the soul after death. Though error and the demoniac have affected the imagination, Halloween highlights man’s keen instinct and healthy curiosity towards the spirit of things. The traditions of god, ghost, and goblin are historically rooted in a healthy, human, and even holy mentality rather than a heathen one, and one that Halloween can still uphold today by the light of the Holy Spirit.

image: A Polish cemetery adorned with candles for All Saints Day / Shutterstock 

Sean Fitzpatrick

By

Sean Fitzpatrick is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and the Headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy. He lives in Scranton, PA with his wife and family of four.

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  • Melody Marie

    You undermine your entire piece in the following statement:

    “Halloween rejoices in this triumph through playful parody, or exultant mockery, of evil by subjecting the powerless symbols of the devil to satirical derision. Witches, goblins, ghosts, skeletons, and the other grotesque objects of man’s imagination are the caricatures of a dethroned evil. There is no fear in these, or even in the devil himself, by the indomitable strength of Christ. Men are the masters, and no longer the servants, of these elemental creatures.”

    Not only is this unsupportable in both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, but it also seems to run contrary to what we know about the realities of the spiritual realm. We do well to have a healthy sense of fear of these powerful beings which only God can command — not because God doesn’t have power over them, but because these “elemental creatures” are indeed superior to man by nature. Messing with the fallen angels is a costly mistake and undervaluing the seriousness of such a thing could be an eternal mistake.

    Anyone who has suffered knows that we do not need to intentionally seek darkness in order to long for the respite of eternal peace and joy.

  • Florian

    Oct. 14th..I’ve never understood why Halloween is considered the feast of the dead…of souls, when it is the vigil of All Saints…

  • noelfitz

    I agree with Florian, Halloween is the Eve of All Saints Day. Again CE has a positive life-affirming article. ‘It is good for us to be here’.

    You might like to look at

    http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Catholic/2000/10/Surprise-Halloweens-Not-A-Pagan-Festivalafter-All.aspx

  • Mary Anne

    Thank you for your article. God was so much a part of our Halloween growing up (1960’s). It was about mom’s popcorn balls that kids came from all surrounding subdivisions to receive! And lots of candy, and lots of friends. And slightly spooky decorations…but nothing remotely evil or grotesque! It was fun! And God was right there with us! Nowadays ungodly grown ups have stolen Halloween from the children and have ruined it. I say get it back to what it used to be. Childhood fun for good holy Christian children!

  • M.J.

    A good balanced opinion ; even those who seem to have a predeliction to what is spooky might be proclaiming in one sense their desire or claim that they hold more power ; that may be so esp. for a good Christian, since The Lord came to destroy powers of evil .
    The Prayer, from the book ‘Freedom through Deliverance ‘ by Rev.Fr.Carl Schmidt , used as a ‘ bind away prayer ‘ may be good to recite often – ‘In Name of Jesus , I take authority over each and every spirit that has come against ( name person ) and I bind you away ‘ ; Hail Mary also a good deliverance prayer and thanking The Lord, that it is through The Incarnation – Passion – Resurrection, that we share in His Spirit and power , to get to know His holy love for us and others !
    Praise be !

  • dougpruner

    I agree with Melody Marie’s comment about the inadvisability of associating with the Hallowe’en folderol. First, there is Sacred Scripture: “Do not harness yourselves in an uneven team with unbelievers; how can uprightness and law-breaking be partners, or what can light and darkness have in common?” 2Cor 6:14 ff.

    Second, Hallowe’en has been a false religious holiday since time immemorial. It is traced directly back to ungodly practices in England and northern Europe.

    Third, I don’t buy the common argument that it’s “Childhood fun for good holy Christian children!” Never have I heard a child say, “Daddy, invent a holiday so I can get lots of candy.” (They’re more likely to say, “Gimme candy!” 🙂 ) What they might learn is that the Even is fun, but Church service for the next day is booooooring.

  • John Keating

    No, he doesn’t undermine his position. You just happen to disagree. There’s a big difference.

    I’m guessing you’re a convert, from the Evangelical varieties? Praise be to God that you joined but I noticed a pattern of bringing in the Protestant fear-mongering to what was once a harmless Catholic or secular thing among formerly American Evangelicals. You also can’t support your position that Halloween (literally All hallow’s eve) is evil and people are bad because they have some harmless fun (I know I’m oversimplifying). Sure, you can pull quotes from the Bible but is there an actual Church condemnation of Trick-or-Treating or watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”. Almost every Catholic who condemns things like Halloween or dating or any other innocuous activity is doing so based on their Evangelical roots and they haven’t really created a “Catholic” view of the world. Not saying you do this, but I’m getting the hint from your comment.

    Are there people who take it too far and use it for evil? Well, given the commercialization and secularization of Christmas I have to say, “Uhh, duh. People are jerks and do stupid things.” When people create Santa or the Easter Bunny, do you also condemn them for celebrating Christmas or Easter or do you, as we are taught, resist and continue your own festivities? Hiding and raging against the darkness gets us nowhere, so how about shining a little light?

    Read Josef Pieper’s In Tune With the World and see that festivity is a part of our heritage and it is not always just about religious festivity.

    On another note, do you also condemn the celebration of America’s Independence Day? I mean, Americanism was actually condemned by the Church in the words of Leo XIII. Oh, I know it’s just harmless fun with fireworks and bbq’s, but we both know that such celebrations open children to believing in the Americanist heresy.

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