Prayer, Plain and Simple

Prayer, Plain and Simple


Pumpkin Carving for Halloween and the Face of Evil

posted by Mark Herringshaw

Carving grotesque faces into pumpkins and lighting the cavity with a candle is a treasured American Halloween tradition. I can’t remember a October from my childhood without reliving the squeamish delight: burying my hands into the slimy guts of a big orange gourd, dishing out handfuls of wet seeds, spreading them out on newspapers to dry, picking them out and then roasting them on a flat pan in the oven, and of course sketching in pencil the outlines of a distorted face on the pumpkin then cutting the lines. It was one of the only times my meticulous and protective mother let me play with knives. Good and complete memories.

Why did we, and why do we do this strange tradition? Folk lore supposedly links the idea back to the legends that spooky faces would spook away the real spooks on the day of the dead. When ghosts or other uncouth spirits came-a-calling they’d be chased off by the toothy grins and scowls of jack-o-lanterns flickering on the threshold. The logic seems confusing from our post-modern enlightened positions. How can tamed evil – our gargoyles in the round – do our battles for us, chasing away purveyors of wickedness that come knocking. Can evil defeat evil? Why don’t we post depictions of angels as our sentries at the door? Mmm.

I can’t help but wonder if this mythic tradition has something to do with our deeply guarded instinct that evil really does have a face. I checked and there’s nothing unusually horrific about this morning’s news. Just another day of suicide bombings, a gang rape in a public high school, the arrest of 60 pimps for trafficking child prostitutes. Nothing new here. But if we dare step back and look again, we can be rightly horrified. This world is FULL OF EVIL. Like the frog in the boiling kettle, we’re accustomed – dare I say “normalized” – to evil. Just another day on the road “going to hell in a hand basket.”

For most of human history we’ve explained the nature of evil in the world by giving it a name. It’s no longer chic to believe that evil has a Persona, but that has been the long standing solution to the so called “problem of evil.” There’s a Devil out there screwing things over.

The contention is hard to refute, if we look at it honestly. Human evil is so pervasive and creative that seems to have a force of will and a mind capable of conceiving and plotting, then lying in ambush to execute its execution. Is there any other explanation for wickedness other than to assign responsibility to a Being who sources it? What other species on the planet has invented the equivalent of gas chambers or ritualistic sexual abuse? Seriously – What long term benefit explains the perversions in the mind that dreamt up waterboarding or crucifixion or water torture?

I once watched a nature documentary about a male African lion systematically killing lion cubs fathered by a rival. His work was merciless, purposeful and efficient, and in a begrudging, perfectly logical: He was defending his genetic line. The violence had good reason and while it seemed distasteful to me, I wouldn’t and didn’t call it “evil.”

But what reason explains the woman who burned her two month old child with cigarettes, or the teens from a wealthy suburb who stabbed a homeless man just to see him bleed, or the NFL quarterback who bred dogs to tear at the throats of other dogs,? There’s no evolutionary explanation for so such human behavior. The only answer is to call evil “evil” and to give it a face and a will, and name it The Devil. Yes, I believe in a personal Devil. I can’t see any other way to explain the likes of Charles Manson.

Identifying evil with a Persona does explain the woeful persistence, creativity and adaptability of treachery. Horror too struggles to survive in this do or die universe. Could it be that by cutting faces in pumpkins on the day of the year we “play” at remembering and agitating our instinctive revulsion to death and torment and fear is for us a subliminal act of putting a “face” on Evil? Maybe we all deep down the slimy heart of the cavity of our soul know that the Devil is real.  Maybe too we know we need a light beyond our own power to shine out into the darkness and expose him for the fraud and usurper he is.

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  • Your Name

    Along those same lines, what are the reasons for dressing up as someone else? Are we trying to become a personal Devil of whatever character we’re impersonating? Almost as if we were possessing their body. Are we just using this “holiday” as a means to act out on our deepest fears and trying to justify it as, “just having fun”?
    Is everything about Halloween inherently evil? Or can it be seen as an act of therapy? Using this day to confront these evil thoughts and fears that we have.
    Then I guess the ultimate question is, as Christians, are we supposed to take a stand against Halloween? Should we be putting “good” or “pure” symbols, like angels, in our front yard? This has always been a question I haven’t known the answer to. What thoughts do others have?
    -Chris

  • Marie

    I think Mr. Herrington needs to go for a lot of therapy. It’s really sad as well as disgusting to learn that now Halloween is being band by Catholics/Christians. Bad enough, there’s the major war on Christmas, we don’t need a full out blown war on Halloween as well. Isn’t the point of Halloween as the legend goes: “We dress up as entities, to make sure they don’t haunt us?” That was the origionally point. To scare away the demons one night a year.
    So what, kids go out trick or treaing? Big whoppeedeedooo. I keep candy in my office all the time at my church for parishioners & I hate to tell ya, they get a huge kick out of not only seeing the candy but go bananas over the cute Halloween bags our business manager brought in so we can keep the candy in something cute.
    This world has a enough hate it in without ignorant people like yourselves.
    What about the Spanish People and their Holiday, “The Day Of The Dead” their version of Halloween? They go walking around dressed as skeletons having huge celebrations and parades while carrying skulls and skeletons. Are you going to tell them they’re evil as well?
    You might want to back up your ideas with facts before you go running off at the mouth.

  • Jim

    What’s funny, is how people are willing to admit a belief in evil and a Devil, but can’t admit the good there is evident also in the world, or acknowledge God. I can’t see how Christianity could view All Hallows’ Eve celebration as a bad thing. It’s the only national community activity we Americans still recognise.

  • Believer

    I understand where the writer is coming from. I didn’t see a lot wrong with Halloween at first either. I felt like a lot of other people do. I thought it was just another way for the churches to rain on someones fun. I use to believe that church people were stuck up. But after being filled with the Holy Spirit and learning what the Bible says about certain things including evil spirits. I now know that dresing up like evil things and glorifying evil spirits only brings evil spirits and evil thoughts to a persons mind. That is why people find it soo easy to hurt others, rob, steal and kill. This world is full of evil spirits (Satan and his followers), and when someone does not see these things, they are definitely against GOD. Then you should stop and ask yourself, what do I believe in and what am I willing to do to find out just what GOD thinks about things going on in the world. You can choose to continue to be against the churches and their opinion. But just remember, most churches are doing what GOD has asked them to do. This World and the fullest there of belongs to him. Believe what you will, but on the day of judgement, all will be revealed. And those little things that you think are ok (halloween and evil spirits) will not get you into the Kingdom of heaven but somewhere else.

  • Jacqui

    The problem with dressing up in “funny” evil costumes and drawing funny pictures of the devil in a red costume with horns and a tail is that we can come to think that evil is funny and not real. As the sister and daughter of two women who suffered tormenting thoughts, I can testify that evil is real and not funny.

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