“Walking. I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”
- Linda Hogan, Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World
With its ghosts, ghouls, and frights, Halloween gives us a chance to play with our fears of death in a safe environment. Fear of death strikes us deeply and cuts at our sense of self-worth, since knowing our lives will eventually end can make us feel insignificant. Being able to reduce thoughts on the inevitability of death down to a trick or treat appears to be an effective, modern-day coping mechanism.
As social psychologists have observed, we have developed other coping mechanisms for dealing with death anxiety. Terror management theory proposes that anxiety around death motivates us to seek meaning in our lives. Fear of being insignificant drives us to adopt beliefs and practices that encourage social connections in an effort to surround ourselves with others who value our existence. In other words, fear of death makes us want to be remembered, which in turn makes us want to engage with others who will remember us. As a result, we engage in activities such as taking photos, erecting monuments, and joining social groups all in an effort to find meaning and symbolically evade death.
Halloween’s association with such holidays as All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day, and Día de los Muertos reinforces our desire to memorialize life. It is a reminder that we need not fear the inevitability of death. Feeling connected to our loved ones helps us create a sense of permanence. We are the result of our ancestors whose love, courage and perseverance paved the way for our existence today.