It’s All Hallow’s Eve. How’d We Do?

woman wearing halloween costume
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From Mary:

When I accepted Kristen’s challenge this month to look into the spookier side of our lives in general (and our spirituality in particular), I said that things like horror movies don’t really scare me.

I realized over the last few weeks that this isn’t entirely true.

The ‘80s slasher/man-in-mask horror movies don’t scare me at all. Friday the 13th, Halloween, Sleepaway Camp—I’m fine with all of those. (The best of these was much more recent. If you haven’t seen Hush yet, I highly recommend it.) Likewise, monster and alien movies are more fun than frightening. Once I got over my childhood fear of the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz, vampires, zombies, and werewolves didn’t seem so tough.

But there is one category that still scares the ever-loving daylights out of me: possession. I have never seen The Exorcist, and I didn’t work up the nerve to watch it this year either. I did, however, watch The Babadook  one night while I was home alone. (No, this wasn’t a good idea. Yes, I know that now.) My husband and I also watched The Conjuring which was truly terrifying. I can’t say I recommend it, but I can say that it made me want to sprinkle the house with holy water and sleep with a rosary under my pillow—so yeah, I guess I faced a fear there.

In a slightly less terrifying vein, I also did some reading on tarot cards. I was delighted to discover that they were originally a deck for playing various trick-based games, and the art is infused with Catholic culture and symbolism. Yes, they can and have been used in various occult practices, but that was not their original intent. As an avid board and card gamer and a Catholic, this was a pleasant surprise. A series of insightful articles on the history of tarot can be found here .

I also attempted to dive into the tradition of Catholic mystics by reading some Thomas Merton. Our dear friend, Cassidy Hall, is creating a documentary on Merton called Day of a Stranger. Some time ago she sent me a copy of The Seven Storey Mountain, but for lots of odd superstitiousy reasons I’ve been reluctant to read it. I finally began this month—and promptly lost my reading glasses. I know that sounds wonky, but this book is in 10-point type at best and these old eyes cannot do that. As soon as I find my readers I’ll get back on it and give an update—in the meantime check out the Facebook page for the documentary! Her previous project, In Pursuit of Silence was so beautiful; I cannot wait to see this one.

From Kristen:

So, I did it. I explored some in the dark—places I’ve been too afraid to visit—and lived to tell the tale.

I read up on Halloween traditions, and Samhain, and Dia de los Muertos. I learned a bit more about Jewish traditions, particularly around death and mourning. I find that I am fascinated by the ways that different cultures handle death. I will continue to learn more. (Currently, just amongst my 20 students are represented 13 different cultures and languages!)

I watched Coco and The Nightmare Before Halloween. I found both films charming. Both films made me think about this season from a different perspective. No, really. I get that they are kid films, but they addressed adult concerns. I see those issues–okay, dead people, all right?!–from a different lens angle now.

I went to Salem and walked amongst the witches (present and historical).  I interviewed a spiritualist, then let her give me a tarot reading. I have decades of teaching that has scared me away from even looking at such practices. So, I am interested in learning more about tarot, as it did not seem to be at all like conjuring evil spirits, but more like prayer and meditation to me.

I talked to friends who enjoy horror movies and books. Matt LaFleur gave me a new lens angle when he noted that he enjoys horror films, because he knows that when it is over, he can laugh about it. That coming through the dark, scary bits to the other side IS the point.

Upon recommendation, I tried—in the light of day—to watch Babadook. I got to the halfway point in the film before switching over to a comedy. Being frightened for entertainment is still not my cup of tea. Now I know that about myself. <resigned shrug>

I planned to go to the cemeteries where my grandparents are buried. I had never been before (with the exception of the graveside service for one of my Nanas).  It is on my To Do list for this coming weekend, because, well, it is time to face the scary bits of  cemetaries, and figure out what kind of comfort folks find there. I promise to report out if anything amazing happens, okay?

So, yeah. October was creepy and fascinating and enlightening for us both.

Happy Halloween!

I’m Not Afraid: Accepting the October Challenge

cemetery countryside cross garden
Photo by Mikes Photos on

For October, Kristen has challenged us to venture more toward the “thin places,” the potentially spooky aspects of where our faith and our world intersect.

She correctly said that I’d be thrilled about this, because I love October, horror stories, and all things spooky. This has always been my favorite month, and I enjoy reading and watching horror stories all year long (though lately, with the late autumn in Maryland, the fog-horn-chilly days of mid-November have the most appropriate ambiance).  As a kid my friends and I would regularly play in the local cemetery. We weren’t trying to be daring or brave; it was just a quiet area with lots of interesting places to hide where the adults left us alone. It didn’t occur to me until high school that some of my peers might find this odd.

But if graveyards and stories of monsters and ghouls don’t bother me, I have come to realize that I have some thick, rigid lines that I do not cross. My home town also boasted a neighborhood that was purported to be occupied by devil worshipers (it had the ironically adorable name “Bunny Run”). And although my extremely religiously conservative parents were pleasantly mum on Dungeons and Dragons, we were strictly forbidden from “messing around” with things like Ouija boards and tarot cards. Slightly less damning but still on shaky ground were things like astrology, crystals, and attending a non-Catholic religious service, with yoga, charismatic practices, and mystic saints like St. Hildegard of Bingen being firmly labeled “hippy-dippy new agey nonsense,” best avoided to be safe. The fear of these things was instilled so deeply that it never occurred to me to even look into why they were forbidden—I just knew I needed to avoid even thinking about them. (The one exception was yoga. Even my mom tried yoga eventually. Sadly, inversions make me ill so I can’t practice it regularly.)

So I accept Kristen’s challenge, not to take up “spooky things,” but to more thoroughly understand things that have spooked me in the past. I will not be buying an Ouija board, but learning the often-rich history of “scary” religious practices feels like a perfect October pastime.