Halloween: Shedding Light On The Shadow

happyhalloween

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” ~ Carl Jung

It’s the time of the year when the veil between the ordinary world and the supernatural thins. A time when children dress as goblins, pumpkins flicker, plastic skeletons rattle, and talk at late night party’s turns to all things woo-woo. A time we raise the hairs on our necks and scatter goose bumps across our skin, and make room for what normally has no place in the daylight of our daily lives – things that go bump in the night.

We love Halloween; in fact our enthusiasm has grown positively obsessional. Today it rivals Christmas in popularity and consumer spending, and retailers eager to cash in on the Halloween spirit roll out costumes, candy and merchandise earlier and earlier. (In WalMart “Spooky Central” makes it debut in mid-August).

So, I’m curious, why have we gone whole hog celebrating something that every other night of the year (as we patiently explain to our wide-eyed children at bedtime) –does not exist?

bettygrableObviously Halloween puts a benign face on what we usually fear. We indulge our fascination with magic and mystery, ghosts and witches – with the proviso it’s all make-believe. There is no monster under the bed. But maybe there is?

Now I’m not talking about literal ghouls and goblins – but about something psychological. A denied part of ourselves that has grown monstrous, below the dark basement stairs.

The great psychologist Carl Jung believed that what we consciously repress or deny becomes the parts of ourselves that operate beneath conscious awareness, what he called the shadow aspect our psyche. He argued that the overly rationalistic scientific paradigm of the 20th century, was suppressing spirituality, and he warned, if the spiritual aspects of our psyche were not recognized consciously our longing for transcendence – would meet our deepest fears.

zombieWas he right? Have we demonized the transcendent because it is demonized in ourselves? Take a look at our popular media; you’ll see a dark face indeed. The electronic hearth positively burbles with zombies, teen vampires, demonic visitations, hellish hauntings, dismembering ghouls, angels, time-travelers and alien invasions. Could it be that these zombies, demons, vampires, are reflections of our souls?

There is little point in denying that despite our secular scientific world – the ‘ghost in the machine’ still haunts us – and maybe as never before? Statistics reveal that whether it’s an encounter with the dearly departed, UFO or spooky prophetic dream, more people than ever are experiencing supernatural events. Gallup polls show that belief in the paranormal is rising, doubling in the past two decades alone.

According to Paul Kurtz, chairman of The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, statistics like these indicate a regressive trend in superstitious thinking and point to the urgent need for teaching critical thinking in schools and colleges.

To believe in the supernatural is to be suffering from magical thinking and/or deviant biochemical processes of the brain. (And for those who choose to go against the grain of consensual reality, there can be some pretty dire consequences, ridicule, ostracism, not to mention hospitalization.)

20596_322667407846531_200159193_nBut Jung would have disagreed. Each of us, he argued, is destined to have a supernatural encounter, not because they constituted the remnants of a more primitive mentality, but because they reflected the growth of our consciousness as it expanded to higher levels of awareness.

Jung predicted that the 21st century would begin to see increasing reports of signs in the skies, of people being carried off in wondrous crafts, and increased paranormal phenomena because taken as a whole, these encounters are a shadow projection of our denied spiritual selves.

Stanislav Grof, Ph. D. founder of  Transpersonal Psychology, believes that rising accounts of supernatural encounters (what he calls Spiritually Transformative Experiences) do not betray a trend of delusional thinking but reflect instead our evolving comic awareness of deeper realities. And according to Dr. Michael Grosso, author of Frontiers of The Soul : Exploring Psychic Evolution these statistics suggest “we’re confronting a biological transformation – this is an evolutionary process that we’re witnessing” .

superheroToday learning to grapple with emerging psychic powers is a popular theme in films, books and video games. From the blockbuster film X Factor and spinoffs, Harry Potter franchise, to TV series like Buffy, Heroes and True Blood, all feature ‘mutants’ accepting and dealing with -the challenge of their superhuman potential. Is this growing fascination with paranormal powers reflective of an evolutionary change occurring in consciousness?

We should remember the significance of the supernatural in our religions, myths, fairy-tales, literature, art, film and popular culture. Because whether it’s the midnight knock on the door, the invitation down the rabbit hole, the decision between the red and the blue pill, this experience takes us to the edge of the ordinary world. Where we are left with two choices: stay to the straight and narrow, or take the yellow brick road. It is the moment that initiates what mythologist Joseph Campbell has famously dubbed the “hero’s call to adventure”.

sweatlodgeI think we should pay closer attention to the attitudes of our indigenous cultures. Their traditions of vision quest and sweat-lodge, actively sought an experience of the supernatural as an honour, an acquisition of knowledge, a lifelong guide. Supernatural experiences were understood to be glimpses into a higher reality, of which material world is only a reflection, like shadows seen through the glass darkly. And these cultures understood what we have long forgotten – ignoring the spirit world portends disaster for the entire tribe.

So I see Halloween as a necessary crack in the door, a safety valve, a time when we let the monsters out and see that they are not so frightful after all. Jung stressed the importance of externalizing shadow material through socially acceptable channels to bring its inherent darkness to light.

And isn’t that what Halloween is about? When we don Dracula’s cape, dress our children as superheroes and string big scary spider-webs across our front porches, aren’t we shedding light and love on our ‘shadow’ – the repressed magical, supernatural and mysterious aspects of own psyche?

halloween-eveThe etymology of the word “Halloween” means “hallowed evening” or “holy evening” and Celtic cultures saw it as time when fairies and the dead could walk in our world. And when I think back to my own childhood memories, it’s not the costumes or the candy that I remember most. It was the thrill of night; trees illuminated in street-lamps, stretching shadows, the danger of being out past dark, the presence of something other -out there. Yes it was scary. And yet, in the presence of the excited happy faces of parents and other children, the communal celebration – I felt safe. It was okay after all.

5 thoughts on “Halloween: Shedding Light On The Shadow

  1. What I remember most about Halloween was the absolutely devilish, self centered scheme I came up with to work half as hard yet come up with more than double the candy. I would go out with my younger brother and even give him some of my candy, encouraging him to eat at much as he wanted, to gorge on the delights and about two hours or so later he was a messy sugar overdose. When he couldn’t hold his sugar anymore, he would pull a reverse peristalsis of gigantic proportions as he shared his excess stomach contents with the street. I, the good, loving, supportive sibling would help him back to the hearth of home (not coming too close and staying up wind, of course!) and as Mom sympathetically tucked him in for what was to be a rocky night for both of them, I offered him my bag of candy. Of course at that point he mumbled rather predictably, “No, thanks, but you can have mine.” Score!!!! That worked for about three years until I was too old to go with him. He never caught on but I remember as he and I left the house each Halloween, Mom reminding him, “Now _________(name withheld to protect the innocent) don’t each so much candy. Remember what happened last year!” Apparently something was a little short in his memory or maybe I just developed my skills as an enabler, but those three years were the best Halloweens of my life. Especially when December or January would roll around and then I would sell back to him the candy he had given me, for a reasonable price, of course.

    As for all things ghoulish and yoga I say:

    LESS ZOMBIE(INI)..
    MORE YOGI(INI)!!

  2. This is an interesting post, and I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog; still, I want to let you know that I had a difficult time hearing your larger message based on one of the images you chose. The second picture in this post featured three people who appear to be white people in blackface, which I find deeply offensive, despite the fact that it is a deplorable part of America’s pop-culture history. It’s clear that this was a period photo, and we’d all love th believe this kind of behavior has gone away. But people in the majority culture are still engaging in this hurtful and offensive practice, as recently as this past weekend. I also know that people in blackface isn’t the point of your post. I’m saying it took me a lot of energy to get past that photo and even be able to hear your point, and maybe I haven’t gotten there yet. I’d encourage you to consider the images you select, and whether they’re in full support of your message, or if they could be perceived as distraction. As a yogi, a woman of color and a thoughtful, engaged citizen, I want to connect with what you’re putting down here, but I find it hard to do when illustrations you choose display imagery that makes me feel alienated and unimportant. Thanks.

  3. This article is like a meeting of two worlds for me. My boyfriend is a big proponent of halloween and horror. While I am a big proponent of the spiritual and psychology. So the two can be combined! (see the fireworks going off in my head!! hahaha)

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