What’s the Skinny on the Devil and Halloween?
October 01, 2012
For Immediate Release
WHAT’S THE SKINNY ON THE DEVIL AND HALLOWEEN?
DENVER — Halloween is the United States’ second largest commercial holiday with Americans spending nearly $7 billion annually to celebrate. From trickery to treats and a myriad of scary costumes, the story behind this holiday is centuries old.
“People enjoy flirting with the dark side and spooky characters,” said Miguel De La Torre, professor, Social Ethics at Iliff School of Theology, and co-author, “The Quest for The Historical Satan. “Since the earliest accounts of the Halloween celebration, there have been tales of dark chaos, and costumes have been included in interpretations of the observance.”
Once considered magical, this holiday originally was commemorated by festivals signaling the end of the harvest season and beginning of a New Year. The word Halloween is a shortening of All Hallows Evening, also known as Hallowe’en or All Hallows’ Eve. While the celebration has evolved over time, we have remained bewitched by its legacies of medieval macabre, stories of chaos and satanic imagery.
De La Torre and co-author Dr. Albert Hernández, interim president, Iliff School of Theology, ask in their book, “What are the images that people conjure when thinking of Satan? Is Satan half-man; half-beast? A ghoul in red tights with a forked tail, cloven hooves, horns on his head, and holding a pitchfork? Something akin to the logo found on cans of Underwood Deviled Ham Spread or do you envisage Satan wearing a $600 business suit, with manicured fingernails, looking as though he just stepped out of Gentlemen’s Quarterly magazine? De La Torre has found that whatever the forms, “sinister and in-human qualities often are described.”
So, who is Satan? Hernández and De La Torre explain, “The answer often is tied to a person’s faith tradition. Biblical references say Satan is a corruption of good; a fallen angel who was cast from heaven for resisting God. The Talmud portrays Satan as simply another demon of limited powers. Others see Satan as a shape-shifter, a deer, a bird a woman or a poor man. Regardless of the sacred text, Satan is imagined and interpreted, as a being who handily leads humans astray, is capable of bringing great pain and suffering and a known adversary of goodness.”
According to De La Torre, character, characteristics and caricature interpretations are historically part of Halloween. Over the ages, dark symbolism has become almost a ritual part of this annual observance.
“People love a good scare, especially when we know we are inherently safe. It is in our securities, that we’re generally most willing to tempt fate,” added De La Torre.
The Iliff School of Theology is a graduate theological school related to the United Methodist Church, serving more than 38 different faith traditions. Founded in 1892, the school provides several degree programs, including a Joint Ph.D. Program with the University of Denver.