“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?
Obviously 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.
Was 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.)
But 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” .
Today 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”.
I 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?
The 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.