Halloween’s evolution from tame children’s party to adult event with “sexy” and “scary” genres has given it an increasingly gruesome and supernatural character. In Singapore, the number of entertainment venues offering “haunted houses” and “fright nights” has boomed over the last decade. Zombies, pontianaks, killer clowns and mutilated corpses have become commonplace as organisers compete to throw the most Insta-worthy party.
The Horror-isation of Halloween
As Catholics, how does this “horror-isation” affect us? Tragically, Halloween horror de-sensitises us to the reality of evil by using the diabolical for cheap laughs. It appeals to our pride by suggesting that we “modern people” are too smart and sophisticated to believe in the Devil and the reality of spirits. “Haunted houses” lead visitors to think that the demonic and spirit realm is just fantasy.
Our egos are stroked when we buy and wear merchandise proudly declaring that we are “brave” enough to stomach the ugliness and horror. Even Halloween book displays for children have been seen with “Read if you dare!”. We are challenged to take part in such activities not because they are good or beautiful, but to show that we are not cowards.
Scoffing at all these things makes us doubt the reality of evil. And once we dismiss the Church’s warnings about the Devil, it is easy to tune out her voice in other areas of faith and morals.
Playing with Fire: The Occult as Entertainment
Also of concern is the entry of occult practices into mainstream culture which Catholics should take note of. Drawing on the spirit world, the occult appeals to our pride by promising secret knowledge and power over fate or other people. Remember how Satan fooled Adam and Eve? “Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:5)
In recent times, public organisations in Singapore have offered tarot card reading and fortune telling at their Halloween festivities. As Christians, we should be aware of the occult roots of such practices even if they are presented as harmless or even “family-friendly” fun. Having your palm or tarot cards read may seem innocuous, but the power of suggestion plays on your mind and may tempt you to return for more… or to seek other forms of knowledge and power from the spirits.
These and other New Age practices like crystal healing and astrology are absolutely a “no-go” for Catholics because they “contradict the honour, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2116).
Death is Not “Scary”
While it is easy to mock the Catholic Church as paranoid or old-fashioned for highlighting the spiritual dangers of Halloween today, her warnings are prompted by concern for the salvation of souls, rather than squeamishness or an aversion to gore.
In fact, Catholic artists and architects through the centuries fearlessly embraced the reality of bodily death and decay. 16th century German Catholics venerated the skeletons of martyrs, lavishly bejewelled and displayed in their churches. Ancient ossuary chapels, made from the bones of tens of thousands of skeletons, are found across Europe. And numerous martyrs are graphically depicted with their wounds and implements of torture.
The difference is that while Halloween exploits death and the human body for shock value, the Church uses them to express hope in the resurrection of the dead, knowing that the saints will live and reign with Christ forever.
Death does not have the Last Word
Jesus himself tells us to ‘not to be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot touch the soul.’ (Matt 10:28). Bodily death never has the last word in the Faith that we profess. Since we were created with immortal souls, the Church invites us to strive for eternal life with God in Heaven. As we approach November (a month of remembrance and praying for the dead), let us remember our Christian duty to pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.
“When… the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?'” (1 Cor 15:54-55)