In Respectful Understanding of Halloween, Its Origins, and Myths
Mon, April 19, 2021

In Respectful Understanding of Halloween, Its Origins, and Myths

As Halloween rolls around the corner, though, the conversation veers back into the supernatural and the paranormal / Photo by: Evgeny Atamanenko via 123rf

 

A lot of skeptics would say they would rather believe the entirety of the scientific field in all its facets rather than dwell on the gray areas of the world -- the things that go bump in the night that mainstream media and the film industry like to make movies about. 

As Halloween rolls around the corner, though, the conversation veers back into the supernatural and the paranormal. But is there a way to understand these things from a scientific point of view? Some researchers from The University of Alabama and other international researchers believe there is. 


The Myth, Mystery, and History of Halloween

For Randy Arnold, a master’s student studying cognitive anthropology, the field of the unexplained actually has a lot of scientific potential. In the University of Alabama online publication The Crimson White, Arnold discussed where his interests lay on the path to understanding the history and symbolism of Halloween, which he explains “extends beyond parties and pumpkin patches.” 

According to him, it’s the Pagan origin of the holiday that holds so much potential for research. 

What’s important, says Arnold, is that we should remember that this holiday is inherently Pagan and that Catholics only “overlayed Christian ideas” on the holiday in a bid to push out the essence of this time of year for many Pagans. Untouched, the holiday is a Pagan holiday that celebrates more than just the dead, but the transition. 

This transition--a trait of Samhain, the original Pagan name of Halloween--happens between summer and winter and symbolizes the interplay with the living and the dead, life and death. It’s a celebration of the spirit of our ancestors that just got lambasted as Christianity moved in on the holiday to tear down its purpose. 

For Randy Arnold, a master’s student studying cognitive anthropology, the field of the unexplained actually has a lot of scientific potential / Photo by: Lukas Gojda via 123RF

 

Since understanding all this, Arnold said his view on the celebration has changed.

He told The Crimson White, “I find it very beautiful and very moving to celebrate the spirit of your ancestors. Now, I can’t get into what people think is real and what people believe is a metaphor because I think, for people in general, sometimes those lines get blurred. And I think it’s very beautiful that they get blurred.” 

Arnold’s point of view about Halloween and its celebration was also shared by Giuliana LaMarca, a junior majoring in history, who then talked about the importance of understanding what happened to women who were tried for allegedly being “witches." Other students like Emi Smith, who is studying biocultural anthropology, wants to focus on the rituals and why these rituals only continue to be misunderstood and mocked. 

Cause of Misunderstanding

For all the misunderstandings and needless violence that these beliefs have suffered in the hands of a public that religiously only believed in one faith, it’s also important to distinguish here that a lot of these misunderstandings can be traced to the fact that people just weren’t all that aware of a lot of things back then. 

For instance, as explained by Science Alert, a leading web-based portal providing free access to a large database of peer-reviewed scientific research, faith and the belief of demons were also connected to the paranoia of ancient people towards sicknesses. As science then was not as advanced as science today, people just went with the most hassle-free way to explain illness. Are you sick, dying, riddled with a nameless disease? Then it must be the devil. 

An international team of researchers found that the link between evilness and illness is prominent because of something called “moral vitalism.” Defined as the tendency to view good and evil as actual forces that can influence people and events, moral vitalism was the reason more serious diseases like malaria, typhus, and dengue were strongly associated with “witchcraft, the evil eye, or the devil itself.” 

Modern Forces at Work

How do these concepts come together to explain our current misunderstandings? According to iNews UK, our modern misunderstandings are more connected to psychological manipulation tactics we don’t even realize we are doing. 

Something so simple as verbal suggestion can already convince others of a specific concept, even though they themselves haven’t proven it to be true. 

iNews writes: 

“In one study, for instance, two groups of participants were shown around a theatre. One group was told the theatre was haunted, while others weren’t. In a survey taken afterward, the group who had been told the theatre was haunted reported more intense experiences - relating to paranormal activity - than the other group.

“It’s also been suggested that the power of our will is much stronger than we might think - and simply wanting to see a ghost might be powerful enough to create an impression of one.”

These, of course, are not inherently connected to just one faith. The problem lies in the equating of paranormal activity with a negative aspect of a certain faith. Spirituality and faith, whether you have it or not, is an incredibly private part of anyone’s life and trying to piece these things together via a respectful kind of science is better than making presumptions. 

Spirituality and faith, whether you have it or not, is an incredibly private part of anyone’s life and trying to piece these things together via a respectful kind of science is better than making presumptions / Photo by: rawpixel via 123RF