In Defense of Halloween: Psychological and Theological Musings

A piece I wrote for ACU's campus paper The Optimist. 

In Defense of Halloween

It’s October. And that means I face the yearly question from students: “How should Christians respond to Halloween?” There’s an interesting conversation to be had about Halloween. A place to explore the intersection of faith and culture. To add my voice to that conversation I’d like to offer some psychological observations in defense of Halloween.

Psychologically, I think Halloween performs two important functions. First, Halloween allows us to collectively process our eventual death and mortality. The graveyards, corpses, blood, skeletons, and coffins of Halloween allow us, on a yearly basis, to confront our physicality and work through our largely repressed fear of death. In this, Halloween serves an important existential function. Second, Halloween allows us to work through our fears of the uncanny, the things that go bump in the night. This is the second major theme of Halloween, which manifests itself in Halloween’s evening and monster motifs, the bats, owls, ghosts and goblins. The world is a scary place at times, a strange and mysterious place, and we tend to fill its dark corners with “monsters.” Halloween, particularly for children, allows us to roam a night filled with ghosts and ghouls to find only friends and neighbors (and candy!). Again, vague fears are collectively confronted and processed.

Thus, two of the great themes of Halloween—death and the uncanny—are healthy confrontations with our collective anxieties concerning our frailty and mortality. In this I believe Halloween is empowering to children, giving them a sense of control in a spooky and scary world. (I should also mention the third great theme of Halloween: Harvest.)

What I think has happened in some Christian communities is that the Halloween motifs of death and the uncanny get linked to the occult and from the occult to demonic/Satanic influences. I think this link is a bit of a stretch (largely made by linking that symbol of the uncanny—witches—to spells and black magic and from there to occult and demonic forces). Death is not demonic. We should not associate the graveyards, blood, and skeletons of Halloween with Satan. Graveyards are about our bodies and their frailty, and most of Halloween is as well. Further, the uncanny is the unknown and the mysterious. The night isn’t demonic, it’s just mysterious and, as a consequence, spooky. And it is good at times to confront the spookiness to see that there really isn’t a monster in your closet.

So I defend Halloween to my students. I think Halloween’s motifs of death and the uncanny are not about the demonic. They are about our children and us collectively confronting the scary things in life. And that, speaking as a psychologist, seems to me a good thing.

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4 thoughts on “In Defense of Halloween: Psychological and Theological Musings”

  1. Tiss Interesting looking at a little history of Halloween, that it is All Saints Eve and then became more oabout the ocult.
    In moden times it has become more about time for kids to have some fun and the costumes are more about super heros than the occult.

    The thing about dealth is we ae all going to die - but it's peolpe that start to then put the demonic twist into death - yeah!!?

    Halloween ideas and Costumes

  2. The biggest lie the devil ever told was that he didn't exist and its columns and articles such as this that promote or enhance that lie. Halloween night is the major night of the year for the ocult to worship satan and also to promote death. Sure we are going to die and that thought scares us. Halloween is not a time for us to face our fears about death. Halloween is a reminder that good and evil do exist and if you don't beleive that then you are stupid!!

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