Monday, October 24, 2011

Halloween and the Fascination With Fear

If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say – “Halloween is my favorite holiday”, I would perhaps not be rich, but my student loan balances would be significantly lower. It seems to me, and this is in no way scientific, that for many people Halloween is their favorite time of year; even though most people don’t get a day off work as they do at Christmas.

True, there is candy or sweets to be collected, and children love to dress up, but most of the people I hear express their love for Halloween are adults not children. It is about more than just dressing up and eating too much bad food. Why do people like to dress up in as ghosts, goblins, and zombies?

The fascination with fear drives this celebration.  But Halloween is not about normal, everyday fears. We are not reveling in the fear of car accidents, cancer, or terrorism. It is a different kind of fear. The writer C.S. Lewis explained that this type of fear is more of a kind of dread or awe of something unknown:

“Suppose you were told there was a tiger in the next room: you would know you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told “There is a ghost in the next room”, and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost might do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is “uncanny” rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread.” (1)

It is the fear or dread of the uncanny that lies behind Halloween, just as it does behind the horror movie industry. Most people do not believe in the existence of otherworldly ghoulish creatures they dress up as. But we are scared by horror movies. In our apparently, rational, scientific culture, we are still terrified by such creatures. Why? C.S. Lewis again:

“When man passes from physical fear to dread and awe, he makes a sheer jump, and apprehends something which could never be given, as danger is, by the physical facts and logical deductions from them… Either [dread] is a mere twist in the human mind, corresponding to nothing objective and serving no biological function, yet showing no tendency to disappear from the mind at its fullest development in poet, philosopher, or saint: or else it is a direct experience of the really supernatural, to which the name Revelation might properly be given.” (2)

We fear creatures that, when questioned, we declare non-existent. Is this an inkling that there is more to life than the everyday physical world that we find ourselves in? Why as our culture increasingly attempts to explain all phenomena in scientific terms, does this odd sense of dread linger?

I believe that this sense of dread points to the fact there is indeed more to reality than meets our physical senses. I believe there is a supernatural realm. Many of you may not agree with my last assertion, but I think there is a sense of the spiritual or supernatural that our rational, scientific culture suppresses. However, it still lingers underneath, allowed out on certain occasions, such as Halloween, when it floods out.

(1) C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (London: Harper One, 2001), 5-6.

(2) Ibid, 9-10.

Click on the links below for other perspectives on Halloween from some friends of mine.  Enjoy, but note that the views expressed are those of the respective authors and not Songs of a Semi-Free Man.


  1. Interesting thoughts, Stephen. Reminds me of what Max Brooks (author of World War Z and Zombie Survival Guide) said re: the zombie trend. In times of social/economic upheaval, zombies are a great catalyst for the apocalypse because they are safe, not like a nuclear war film that *could* happen. It's an ego-defense mechanism that prevents one from getting too real, he says. It seems on par with what you're saying with regard to Halloween and the supernatural realm, that some would toy with the idea of the supernatural realm being real, but only under the confines of the holiday.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I've never read Max Brook's work, but I'll have to check him out.