The imagery and mythologies surrounding Halloween are numerous, multilayered, and full of multiple significances. In the West, the rites and liturgies of this day cumulatively gesture towards what I am calling “Halloween’s Big ‘O’.”
No, it’s not THAT “Big O”! Rather I mean the Big “O” of Otherness, the Other, and Ourselves. As fallen creatures we have fallen into fear – fear of Otherness, of the Other, and of Ourselves. Halloween objectivizes these fears and externalizes them in the macabre creatures we fear in movies and books and seek to tame through costumes and toys.
-We dread the sense of Otherness in the world and universe we experience as sheer transcendence, a nameless, faceless, weighty presence that neither knows us or cares for us. Aliens in particular express this fear of Otherness. We cannot help but recoil and hide from this oppressive presence.
-We fear the Other, the particular people we encounter from day to day. We experience them as threats to us, not gifts. Ghosts, vampires, zombies externalize this fear. All these “creatures” want something from us and give us nothing. In fear we treat others with suspicion, distance, and in the extreme, with violent resistance.
-We fear Ourselves. Broken, divided, enigmatic, untamable selves, we look in the mirror each day in fear of “who” we see there. We can put on a good cover, most of the time. But there are those moments when that terrible other self we fear breaks out in unfathomable and usually destructive ways and leaves us in shambles. The Werewolf is the paradigm monster here.
We do fear that sense of Otherness, the Other, and Ourselves. Halloween is the time of the year we allow ourselves to act out, usually in harmless or comic ways, these fears (though terrible cases of serious acting out these roles are not uncommon). Each is a broken form of how things were meant to be.
-We were to fear that sense of Otherness of the world and universe we live in. This fear, however, was meant to be a sense of awe and wonder because we knew we were not alone and that One who had made all this made us too and committed himself to care for us and it with love and wisdom.
-We were to fear the Other as one “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps.139); a gift to us as we are to them. Together, with our various gifts and talents, we were to serve God by protecting and nurturing his creation to its full flourishing. Communication, communion, and community were to be our mode of life in this world (as in the next).
-We too were to fear ourselves, as creatures gifted with the inestimable privilege to bear and live out God’s own image – his own wondrous loving and wise care – in our world and to one another.
If this is the case, Halloween can be a teaching moment for those of us in the church. Fear preys on our brokenness from God, ourselves, each other, and the creation to drive us in all sorts of silly and self-destructive ways to project our brokenness in the world in the form of lethal fear of Otherness, the Other, and Ourselves. The monsters and goblins of this day can teach the way fear presents itself in this way and offer us a chance to reflect on both who we have become and who we are in light of God’s intentions for us and our creation.