The Deeper Meaning of Halloween

There’s a good emotional reason why Halloween has grown so popular in recent years, even among adults. Coming when it does, in late October, Halloween addresses a primal and ancient fear concerning the coming of winter.

The feeling is based deep in our consciousness. Halloween addresses an unspoken psychological and spiritual need, especially among people who live in northern climates. All the spooky scary weird stuff eases the transition from the warm, light half of the year to the dark, cold time. Halloween is not just a commercial invention: people feel it.

By October 31, the cold of winter has already begun. Darkness descends early and scares us at the most primal level. For our ancestors the coming of winter threatened life itself.  Would they have enough food? Could they survive until spring? Deep in our collective psyche we still feel that historic gut-level fear.

Then comes Halloween. We burst the strictures of fear with a gaudy blowout. Halloween is an expression of emotional excess to balance the foreboding of the coming dark and cold. As Carnival and Mardi Gras precede the abstinence of Lent, Halloween readies us for the long months of winter.

The end of October also marks changing the clocks back to standard time in much of the U.S. It gets dark an hour earlier. I have always found the first few days after the clocks are changed to be an eerie time, a time of dread. It feels as though Nature’s bony fingers are closing in on us. Then Halloween appears. Wild exuberant excess strikes back at foreboding and fear.

Halloween has to be scary to fulfill its spiritual purpose. Its themes are death, terror, and threats of unseen forces (e.g. treat me or I’ll trick you).  It is mock danger to preempt threats of real danger that the coming of the dark, cold season traditionally brought.  We indulge ghosts and goblins, blood, and scary noises for fun.  What better way to stave off gut level fear than to make a big joke of it?

This Halloween be ghoulish. Wear a mask to work. Show your teeth. Be as outrageous and hideous and you dare.  As children we loved gross and disgusting things, and there is a part of us that has not forgotten. Blow this primal fear through our systems so that we can get on sanely with November and the winter to follow.

By the way, is that a spider crawling up your neck?