Halloween comes halfway point between the autumnal equinox and winter solstice. Celts (as well as traditional Japanese culture) considered equinoxes and solstices to be the middle of a season. On the equinoxes, the sun rises due east and sets due west. During the summer solstices, the sun rises the furthest to the northeast and sets furthest in the northwest, whereas in winter it rises the furthest southeast and sets in the southwest. This has to do with how the earth tilts on its axis. But how did this ever get to be a day to celebrate the dead?

In LiveScience.com, Corey Binns quotes astronomer Richard Pogge as saying, “When the Celtic peoples were converted to Christianity, they kept their festivals but renamed them to conform to Christian practice.” Celts (and modern Wiccans) called the day Samhain, or “summer’s end.” It was their New Year?s Eve. The Mayans were especially adept at compiling calendars by watching the skies. Modern Mexico still celebrates November 1st 2nd as the “Day of the Dead” (Dia de Los Muertos), an ancient Aztec celebration of deceased ancestors. Unlike Halloween, this is not a scary celebration, despite the fact that artifacts of skeletons and skulls are used. However, these images are humorous, not dark.

Why do Americans enjoy being scared on Halloween, as well as at horror movies, by reading horror fiction and on scary rides? A religious professor says he has the answer.

David Frankfurter says that various cultures have always used costumes and monster masks to control their fears. Some of this?for instance, African masks?are now collected as works of art.

He says, “Parents are?anxious because bad things don’t come clearly marked. Criminals and disasters creep out from innocent-seeming backgrounds. People who seem nice end up being cruel. Terrible crimes are committed by people who themselves suffered as children. In real life it is very hard to label people as evil or as monsters. But in the world of story or of horror movies, evil is clearly marked. And putting on a monster mask that conjures such fears allows children and adults an opportunity to control and even laugh at the evil and the horror that monster can provoke.

“The same thing has happened in the history of demonology. Cultures imagined horrible demons with animal feet and bloody fangs that eat babies. But as people exchanged stories about where those demons lived and why they would act the way they do, the demons became familiar and controllable. Perhaps you could even ask the demon to protect you from even worse demons. This is a common pattern in the religions of Asia and of the ancient Near East.”

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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