FROM THE BEREAN CALL (SATURDAY OCTOBER 29, 2011)
HALLOWEEN PAGAN THEMES FILL WEST'S VACUUM [Excerpt]*
Seems like Americans just want it to be Halloween all year. The holiday just keeps getting more popular. Seven in 10 expect to celebrate it in some way this Oct. 31, up from about six in 10 last year, according to a National Retail Federation report.
This is the most in the nine years the NRF has been tracking. In 2011, Americans are also planning to spend more than other years, an average of $72 each. Total outlays by consumers are expected to reach $6.86 billion this fall.
Why the surge in popularity for an ancient harvest ritual? Some of the factors that account for it are as harmless and loveable as a new 12-pound pumpkin from the farm. Others have the capacity to spook.
Unmask Halloween, however, and you'll also find some disconcerting features. People value Halloween, like Valentine's Day, because they can tell themselves that it's not merely secularized but actually secular, which is to say, not Christian, Jewish, Hindu or Muslim.
But as much as we'd like it to be, Halloween isn't secular. It is pagan. There's nothing else to call a set of ceremonies in which people utter magical phrases, flirt with the night and evoke the dead. One of my family's favorite Halloween props was a hand that moved, as though from the netherworld, when you reached to collect a few pieces of candy corn. Necromancy is a regular part of Halloween games. Zombie masks are one of this year's top- sellers. As grouchy theologians used to point out, the origin of Halloween was most likely Samhain, an ancient Celtic holiday on which the dead, in some accounts, supposedly returned to visit.
There's a reason for the pull of the pagan. In the U.S., we've been vigorously scrubbing our schools and other public spaces of traces of monotheistic religion for many decades now. Such scrubbing leaves a vacuum. The great self-deception of modern life is that nothing will be pulled into that vacuum. Half a century ago, the psychologist Carl Jung** noted the heightened interest in UFOs, and concluded that the paranormal was "modern myth," a replacement for religion.
**[TBC: Jung himself was heavily involved in necromancy and wrote /Septem sermons ad Mortuos/ (/The Seven Sermons to the Dead/) to mollify ghosts he claimed were harassing him (http://www.gnosis.org/library/7Sermons.htm).]
Children or adults who today relish every detail of zombie culture or know every bit of wizarding minutiae are seeking something to believe in. That church, mosque and synagogue are so controversial that everyone prefers the paranormal as neutral ground is disconcerting. There's something unsettling about the education of a child who comfortably enumerates the rules for surviving zombie apocalypse but finds it uncomfortable to enumerate the rules of his grandparents' faith, if he knows them.
*(Shlaes, "Halloween's Pagan Themes Fill West's Faith Vacuum," Bloomberg Online, 10/19/11).