Big picture: Heavenly photos for Advent

Alan Taylor runs The Atlantic’s In Focus photography blog and earlier created’s award-winning Big Picture, which became one of … Continued

The craziness around Halloween is hard to ignore and as with anything “sacred,” be it a day, a story, an object — it has multiple meanings. These days, as with so much in our polarized public culture, each meaning has its own advocates who ardently believe they have the whole truth.

There are our religious fundamentalists who oppose Halloween because of its pagan origins and occult and satanic symbols and believe the holiday undermines Christian values with its embrace of devils, demons, and goblins. Just as seriously, there are Wiccans who oppose Halloween for its offense to real witches by promoting stereotypes of wicked witches. (Opposition to fun often makes strange bed fellows.)

There are traditionalist Jews and members of other faiths who oppose Halloween because it is a Christian holiday — All Saints Day. There are our simplicity folks who oppose Halloween because they see it as another construction of Madison Avenue that has turned one more holiday into a commercialized ($5 billion) consumption experience. There are our concerned parents who oppose Halloween because of its increasing tolerance of violent images and vandalism.

There are serious Christians who reject the ghost, ghouls, witches, and vampires of Halloween and instead emphasize the Christian tradition of honoring all saints known and unknown. And then there is the majority of parents and children who simply enjoy the candy and costumes, the pranks and trick and treating, and the carved pumpkins and haunted houses of Halloween.

So, not surprisingly, depending on who one is and to what community one belongs and one’s psychological predisposition, Halloween is indeed many things. It is harmless fun or anti-Christian, anti-Jewish or anti-Wiccan, amusingly scary, chillingly violent or crassly consumerist. It is all of these as well as a Saint Fest, a day to honor the dead, a harvest festival, and a psychological release as, around us, nature “dies” for the winter and the day darkens earlier and earlier.

It seems to me that the cultural and spiritual energy surrounding Halloween is directly related to this multiplicity of meanings. (My wisdom tradition teaches that, contrary to conventional understanding, something is sacred not because it has only one specific meaning but because it has indeterminate and inexhaustible meaning.)

In other words, there is a partial truth to each of these meanings and rather than simply dismiss the meaning or meanings we feel are silly or wrong or even dangerous we might try to incorporate some insight or aspect of that meaning, however small, into our take on Halloween.

Personally, I grew up attending a Jewish parochial school that strongly discouraged any participation in Halloween festivities. But my parents, with a bit of reluctance, and quite a bit of pleading from me and my five brothers, treated Halloween as a secular day and permitted us to dress up and go trick or treating with emphasis on the treating rather than the tricking.

But we were reminded that Halloween was not a Jewish holiday and as age appropriate actually learned a little about the origins of the holiday and where we as Jews differed. And there were also some interesting additions to our celebration. Costumes were home-made, not purchased, and there were no hatchet in the head costumes. For every one piece of candy we got to keep we had to give away one piece. (We started with the non-kosher candy!)

And of course there was UNICEF — our celebrating and candy gathering were connected to giving to the less fortunate. One might say that we had fun without the fear and the frenzy — a kind of fun that transcended different faiths and backgrounds — in which our present joy superseded a pagan past, candy trumped creed, and treats trumped theology.

Be Safe and Happy Halloween!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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  • amelia45

    Thank you for this. The photos are wonderful. God and creation are so much more than we can ever see or understand.

  • Jaimiewj22

    The Hubble has revealed so much of God’s beauty created for us. When it’s gone we lose some His light.

  • Rongoklunk

    The ancients called the sky “the Heavens” because they figured Gods lived up there. But we know better than the ancients. We’ve been up there, and all around the skies and have to conclude that there’s nobody up there.

    The ancients at an earlier stage thought the stars were little holes in the sky that let light through. They were ignorant beyond our imagination, and superstitious to a fault. But today we realise that there are no gods and never were.

  • Rongoklunk

    It wasn’t created for us. The cosmos is too vast for teenyweeny little lifeforms like us. For instance Alpha Centauri is on the fringes of our solar system – five light years away. If our speediest rocket left earth today to go to Alpha Centauri – it would take ten thousand years to get there. TEN THOUSAND YEARS!!! And that’s still nowhere in particular – just out on the fringes of our solar system, not that far away.

    The rest of the cosmos is infinite – and infinitely vast, and we are tinier than ants – and our planet just a dot – in the never-ending vastness of the cosmos. Made for us??? I don’t think so.

  • ThomasBaum

    We’ve been up there, and all around the skies and have to conclude that there’s nobody up there.

    Sounds kind of contradictory, doesn’t it?

    In one breath, you say that the cosmos is so vast and then in the next breath you seem to conclude that the little and it appears that it is very little, that we have checked out tells us that “there’s nobody up there”.

    How do you know just what the “ancients” figured?

    There were many, many “ancients” and I would think that many thought many different things just as many today think many different things.

    Are we really all that way “above” the “ancients” or do we just deceive ourselves into thinking that?

    The “heavens”, by the way, does not just refer to heaven.

    As far as “They were ignorant beyond our imagination”, seems as if they came up with some very intriguing things and aren’t some still wondering just how some of the things done pyramidally, were actually done?

    The “pyramids” are just one example, there are others.

    Have you ever wondered if some of the “ancients” looked back on the “more ancient” and looked down on them as “ignorant?

  • GoldenEagles


    Rongoklunk says, (12/10/2011 8:36 AM PST), “It wasn’t created for us. The cosmos is too vast for teenyweeny little lifeforms like us.”

    If you had a grasp of the Whole Story, you would understand that the whole universe WAS created for the Children of God, as a redemption platform, even as a redemptive institution. Not just the earth. But the WHOLE UNIVERSE.

    The fact that the Hubble space telescope has helped us to understand that the physical universe is composed of billions of galaxies, each containing billions of stars, each star a potential anchor point for a solar system that would nurture a group of planetary homes, like unto our own, helps us to understand the magnitude of the Great Rebellion that caused so many of God’s Children to fall away from the grace of God, and thus, to fall away from their native life in the domains of Light and Peace and Bliss.

    The vast expanse of the universe mirrors the vast magnitude of souls that require the services that this redemptive institution provides. Truly, the numbers stagger the capacity of the human mind to fathom.

    The participants in the rebellion, which appear to be innumerable from our perspective, were assigned to this redemptive system, which was created out of the very Power of God’s Love for the purpose of saving these souls, and bringing them home.

    The distances between stars and galaxies speaks to God’s Desire to minimize the capacity of one fallen and rebellious culture to influence another that might be on the mend.

  • GoldenEagles

    The paragraph that reads:

    The vast expanse of the universe mirrors the vast magnitude of souls that require the services that this redemptive institution provides. Truly, the numbers stagger the capacity of the human mind to fathom.

    Should have read:

    The vast expanse of the universe mirrors the vast number of souls that require the services that this redemptive institution provides. Truly, the numbers stagger the capacity of the human mind to fathom.

  • Rongoklunk

    I have never seen the slightest scientific proof of the religious theories of heaven and hell, of future life for individuals, or of a personal God.
    Thomas Edison 1847-1931. Columbia Magazine.

    Neither in my private life nor in my writings have I ever made a secret of being an out-and-out unbeliever.
    Sigmund Freud !856-1939

    Properly read, the bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.
    Isaac Asimov 1925-1992

    As for myself, I do not believe that such a person as Jesus Christ ever existed, but as the people are inclined to superstition, it is proper not to oppose them.
    Napoleon Bonaparte 1769-1821

    I’m an atheist and that’s it. I believe there’s nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for each other.
    Katherine Hepburn quoted in Ladies Home Journal Oct.!991

    The bible is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it, and some clever fables, and some blood drenched history, and some good morals, and a wealth of obscenity, and upwards of a thousand lies.
    Mark Twain 1835-1910 in Letters from the Earth

    My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures have become clearer and stronger with advancing years, and I see no reason for thinking why I should ever change them.
    Abraham Lincoln 1809-1865

    I do not believe in the divinity of Christ, and there are many other of the postulates of the orthodox creed to which I cannot subscribe.
    Wm Howard Taft 1857-1930

    The memory of my own suffering has prevented me from ever shadowing one young soul with the superstitions of the Christian religion.
    Elizabeth Cady Stanton 1815-1902

    I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.
    Carl Sagan 1934-1996

    I regard monotheism a

  • Rongoklunk

    A knowledge of the true age of the earth and of the fossil record makes it impossible for any balanced intellect to believe in the literal truth of every part of the Bible the way fundamentalists do. And if some of the Bible is manifestly wrong, why should any of the rest of it be accepted automatically?
    Francis Crick. co-discoverer of DNA

    There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the life of Jesus. The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth, and died to give his work its final consecration, never had any existence.
    Albert Schweitzer.1875-1965 French Physician, Philosopher and Humanitarian in “The Quest For The Historical Jesus”.

    Scientific research is based on the idea that everything that takes place is determined by laws of nature, and therefore this holds for the action of people.
    For this reason, a research scientist will hardly be inclined to believe that events could be influenced by a prayer, ie., by a prayer to a Supernatural Being.
    Albert Einstein 1879-1955 in his biography ‘The Human Side”.

    The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence that it is not utterly absurd; indeed, in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.
    Bertrand Russell 1872-1970 Philosopher and Mathematician, in “Marriage and Morals.”

    If revealed religions have revealed anything it is that they are usually wrong.
    Francis Crick co-discoverer of DNA

    If you talk to God, you are praying; if God talks to you, you have schizophrenia.
    Thomas Szasz MD psychologist in, “The Second Sin”

    Although the time is approaching me, I am not afraid of dying and going to Hell or (what would be considerably worse) going to the popularized version of Heaven. I expect death to be nothingness and, for removing me from all possible fears of death – I am thankful to atheism,
    Isaac Asimov 1920-1992 Scientist and

  • Rongoklunk

    There are no gods and never were. Fact.

  • GoldenEagles


    The soul was designed as an infinitely expansive resonant chamber within which the reverberations of sublime and radiant memories were intended to continuously resound.

    For those of us in physical embodiment, we see that the beauty of nature was given to us, by God, as a great healing treasure to assist us in restoring this giant bell to is original operational status.

    Like a great theater organ, long silent, it is meant to come alive again.

    To serve this purpose, we have, alongside the majesty of galaxies, vast and distant, the inestimable humming bird, which represents at rest and in flight, and in a very small space as well, an unusually high and magnificent concentration of artistic achievement revealing the hand of God in action most clearly.

    A few moments of respectful contemplation upon this stupendous example of Divine Creativity, will help to bring alive within us what we already know about the Glory of God from our own personal experience within our long forgotten past, indeed a life lived, over vast stretches of time (before the fall) in the radiant and empowering embrace of God’s Love, a love lavished upon us in infinite measure.

    If you have ever seen these creatures with your own eyes, you will remember being gripped, and happily so, by a special delight and fascination. In this posture of awareness, the Divine Soul is coming back to life. And within this sense of beauty, we begin to remember God, and our former relationship with God. This was a good relationship.

    The memory is not distinct, as it yet calls from a great distance, but its power to lift the soul out of all worry and concern in the moment, cannot be denied.

  • GoldenEagles

    Strong intellects are vulnerable to pride, and the spiritual blindness associated therewith. It is an occupational hazard. God our Father will Forgive them.

  • GoldenEagles

    Strong intellects are vulnerable to pride, and the spiritual blindness associated therewith. It is an occupational hazard. God our Father will Forgive them.

  • GoldenEagles

    Rongoklunk says, “There are no gods and never were. Fact.”

    What you characterize as a “fact” is actually only a desperate and silly hope on your part. You will discover that sooner or later. I hope.