The Bizarre Halloween Controversy

creepy, graves, gravestonesEvery once in a while as a kid, I’d encounter other children whose parents made mine look lenient and laid back. There were only a few instances like this in my childhood, but when they did happen, they were always a surreal surprise. Halloween was one of those instances.

My parents never expressed any qualms about “letting” me celebrate Halloween by dressing up and trick-or-treating. Their only stipulation was that I couldn’t wear “dark, evil costumes.” Basically, anything dead or supernatural in an evil way was off limits. No sheet ghost costumes or horny devils for me. I didn’t usually find that terribly limiting. Over the years, I went as a fairy, a surgeon, a wrapped present, and Padme from Star Wars.

In high school, it was a big deal that after years of begging, my mom allowed me to dress up as a witch. (The reason she let it slide was primarily that I wanted to go as Elphaba from Wicked, who’s technically not an evil character.)

I thought this was pretty strict. Until I heard about my friend’s parents.

I didn’t really encounter this much with the Catholic kids I knew, but some of the kids I knew from other forms of Christianity were completely forbidden from celebrating Halloween. I remember trying to invite a friend trick-or-treating and being told she wasn’t allowed to celebrate Halloween AT ALL. No costumes. No candy. No jack-o-lanterns.

Years later, while I was in college, I used to tutor kids at an after-school program at a local church. Halloween was coming up in a week, and one of my classmates asked if she could bring in Halloween themed treats to celebrate: lollipops decorated to look like ghosts. The woman running the program said it was OK, but my classmate was still a bit anxious. On the ride back she said, “I just want to respect their faith. I know some parents are really not OK with Halloween.” All this after she was told it wasn’t a problem. Clearly, for this classmate, Halloween had been as controversial a subject as Harry Potter was for me growing up.

Image result for halloween town

While, again, my Halloween experience wasn’t terribly restricted, there was still this restriction on “dark, evil” costumes, and the more I think about it, the more I think I know why.

I wasn’t allowed to watch the Halloweentown movies as a kid because there’s a scene in the first one that briefly features a pentagram. My mom saw it and freaked out. It’s a kids’ movie on Disney Channel, but according to my parents, it could lead me to “the occult.”

I don’t see a lot of people talking about this, but Christianity supports belief in many supernatural creatures. Catholicism is just as guilty of this as other denominations because Catholics do believe in possession by spirits, and Catholic priests can and do perform exorcisms.

My parents have believed in ghosts–yes, dead-people-roaming-around ghosts–for as long as I can remember. Case in point, when we moved from my old house to our current one, they found out that the family that lived here before us had lost a daughter very young. I don’t know how it happened, I just assumed it was to some kind of illness. My parents swear to this day that they saw the little girl roaming around the house as a ghost. They went to a priest for advice, had the house “blessed,” and the ghost “left.” Part of the process of getting rid of this ghost was naming the little girl. I think they named her after a virtue like “Hope” or “Grace” or something. Anyway, she’s “gone.”

If you believe in this stuff, then it’s a scary part of your reality. It’s supernatural. It’s hard to understand or control, so you want to protect your children from it, the same way you’d try to restrict their viewing of violent or sexual images. So you ban things that talk about it, except from a Christian perspective. C.S. Lewis is as overtly Christian as it gets in his supernatural stories, so The Chronicles of Narnia are OK, but Harry Potter? It paints a pleasant image of magic and witchcraft. What if it makes children try to get involved in this “very real” thing?

Fortune tellers and psychics were always off limits for me when I was growing up, not because they’re scams, but because those people “could be communing with evil spirits.” I was told as a child that if I were to touch an evil object owned by a psychic, I could become possessed by a demon.

Yep, demons. It’s incredible my parents don’t have shotguns filled with rock salt.

Were you allowed to celebrate Halloween? What are your thoughts about the holiday? I’m especially curious about how you feel about the holiday in relation to religion.

Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful of others and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

My Childhood Delusion

Image courtesy of jannoon028 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of jannoon028 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While growing up in a devout Catholic home, I encountered a lot of stories glorifying belief without evidence. A common theme running through children’s books and movies is the notion that belief itself can lead to something real, something tangible. I firmly believed that, and that led to some pretty ridiculous beliefs.

I thought fairies were real, and engaged in some major conflicts with evil witches.

Yep. Fairies like Tinkerbell. I thought that was real.

If you remember play-acting as a child, you might be able to picture how that came to be. Sometimes the lines between play-acting and reality can be blurred. While I always knew what was real and what was not when I was the one leading the game, it was much less obvious when a friend of mine lead the way. From the age of six to when I was about nine or ten, I encountered several friends with pretty wild imaginations, and over the years, their play-acting solidified into its own belief system in my mind.

The first friend who contributed to this was Jackie. She liked to watch Sabrina the Teenage Witch, a totally harmless show my parents hesitated to let me watch because it had the word witch in the title. I would watch it with her when I went to her house, and then we would go play in her backyard–and that was when she would spin the  most elaborate fairy stories. She pretended that circling a tree three times could take us to the fairy world, and even though the world around us never changed, I believed in the power of imagination, and willed it to be real. I thought if I just believed hard enough, maybe it would be as real as the food that the lost boys eat in Hook. When I took a good look around us, the bush we hid behind to evade “evil witches” was still just a bush, not a magical shield, but maybe it was a MAGICAL bush, and I just couldn’t see it, kind of like how when the bread became Jesus at mass, it didn’t change in appearance at all. If that was real, couldn’t this be too?

Jackie and I stopped attending the same dance academy, so I stopped playing with her. But my neighbors down the street were always around. There were three of them, all older than me. One day, one of them came over and played a game with the magic wand my parents had bought me when we went to Disney World that summer. It had a blue handle with a five-pointed star on one end, and the star was covered in glitter. It was as close to magic as any toy I’d ever owned, and my friend scooped it up and waved it over my head.

“It’s time I showed you the fairies,” she said.

“The fairies? Where?”

“In the tree, over there.” She pointed to the enormous beech tree in my front yard. It had had one of its branches removed at some point, and the place where the wood was exposed had a hole where some of it had rotted away. The hole was too high for me to see into it, but my friend could reach. She swiped it with her hand, which she gingerly carried over to mine, and tipped it ever-so-slightly, as one does when passing a firefly on to a friend. I cupped my hand over hers and looked. “What is it?”

“You don’t see it?” my friend seemed incredulous. “It’s a fairy tree. You’re holding a fairy.”

“No I’m not. I don’t feel anything.”

“Open your eyes and believe.” She insisted, and touched me with the fairy wand from Disney World.

Now, I already suspected that wand was magic. When she said that, something clicked. I think it was because she used the word “believe,” a word I associated with my faith.  Believing was a concept I had been encouraged to stick to no matter what. I was supposed to believe. Belief was a good thing. If my friend said fairies were real, I should believe in them. If my parents said Jesus loved me, it was true; he was real. I should believe them.

So I did.

“I think one spot on my hand’s a little lighter than the other ones–do fairies glow?”

“Yes, they do!”

“I think my hand feels a little heavier too.”

“See?”

“I believe in fairies!”

My friend was playing, but I truly, genuinely believed. I believed in fairies, and witches, well into the years when I had my first real crush, around age nine or ten.

He was the next friend to add to my belief in fairies. To this day I don’t understand why he did it–maybe as a way to tease me for being a drama queen. Maybe he had a crush on me too. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is, every time I saw him, he would tell me fantastic stories about his adventures evading three witches, who wanted to capture him for some reason I can’t recall. Even at his age, he was a wonderful storyteller, and I soaked in every word as though it was the gospel truth. Yes, indeed, there were three witches chasing him! I even had nightmares about them a few times, and couldn’t fall asleep because of them. They had keen senses according to his stories. The only exact words I remember from them are from a harrowing moment when he said he was almost caught, as one of the witches sniffed near where he was hiding and said,

“Shh–I smell something…shampoo!!!”

Yes, even cleanliness put a person in danger of the evil witches! I can’t remember how, but there were fairies involved in the story. I think they were helping him in his adventures or something like that. Anyway, one day I went up to him and asked if anything had happened. Had he had any more adventures? Were the witches still chasing him? I was dead serious. I was that delusional.

He said, “They’re not chasing me anymore. They never were chasing me. There are no witches.” I wonder if it had taken him that long to figure out I really believed him, or if he was just tired of telling that story. At any rate, he eventually apologized for lying to me about the witches. I forgave him.

Over the years, I stayed friends with him, and with the friend who worked psychological wonders by the beech tree, the “fairy” tree. Both of them seemed to have little to no delusions. I let mine simmer. I eventually stopped proudly proclaiming my belief in fairies, but I held on tight to it. It lasted into middle school, when I encountered yet another friend with a wild imagination. This one proved to be a habitual liar in high school. She tricked me with a fairy story too.

What I’m getting at here is, while it’s pretty embarrassing and crazy that I believed all these things at such an old age, the truth is, my mind was primed for it. I had been taught to believe in things I couldn’t see, and encouraged to do so to the best of my ability. How was belief in Jesus so different from belief in fairies, or witches, or anything else for that matter?

Did you believe anything crazy when you were a kid? Do you think religion played a role in this, or is this just kid stuff? All opinions are welcome. Feel free to leave a comment. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

NO, Yoga is NOT the Devil

Image courtesy of marcolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of marcolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Every once in a while during my childhood, I got the sense that my parents were not quite as conservative as some of my friends and their families. Never mind their vehement pro-life stance, their frequent votes for Republican candidates, and even my mother’s serious consideration of anti-vaccination articles. My parents wouldn’t let me read Harry Potter for years, and still think oija boards can summon evil spirits, but they got one thing right during my childhood: they understood that yoga is a form of exercise, not devil worship.

I am aware that yoga comes from Hindu tradition and can involve religious practices if you choose to partake in them, but the form of yoga that Americans do in gyms is not really religious anymore, and Christians should relax about the idea that it’s putting them in “spiritual danger.” I’ve known this since my childhood because an uncle of mine, who is a practicing Catholic to this day, has done yoga for years. He finds it relaxing and considers it a good form of exercise. I remember watching him do stretches one Christmas, and finding nothing weird about that. People exercise, and that’s a good thing. The last thing anyone should do is discourage that unless they’re exercising in a way that’s genuinely unsafe.

Unfortunately, many Christians, including many of the Catholics I met in my childhood, mistakenly think that yoga is evil. As a teenager, I attended a youth group for homeschoolers where the host brought in a guest speaker, a former nonbeliever who said she regretted her abortion and had turned away from the evil sins she used to partake in like dressing in a worldly way, modeling, and doing yoga. I immediately wondered why yoga was being listed on the same plane as abortion. Catholics believe abortion is murder, but since when is exercise related to that? I understood why modeling and worldly clothing might violate a religious person’s beliefs concerning modesty, but people don’t have to wear a sports bra and booty shorts to do yoga. I don’t do yoga myself, but to my knowledge baggy t-shirts and sweatpants are just as acceptable as the aforementioned options. What was so bad about yoga?

That experience wasn’t the only one in which someone I knew freaked out about yoga. While attending the Steubenville Youth Conference in Ohio during high school, a Catholic homeschooling parent who was chaperoning my group brought up the subject. I told her about my uncle, the aforementioned proud, healthy, Catholic yoga practitioner. Her response? “I’ll pray for him.”

“You don’t have to,” I argued. “He’s not doing anything wrong. It’s just exercise.”

She shook her head. “Actually, there’s a spiritual component that makes it an unsafe practice for his soul. I’ll pray for his soul to be safe.”

“Whatever,” I said, “I still disagree, and so do my parents.”

She wouldn’t hear it, and for all I know she may still be wasting her energy by praying for my uncle (who, for the record, weighed a lot less than she did.)

I asked my mother why so many people kept telling me yoga was bad. Was I missing something about it?

My mom is a very well-educated Catholic when it comes to religion. While she doesn’t research other aspects of her life (like medicine) as thoroughly as she should, she takes her faith very seriously and does study up on what Catholic teachings actually say. She told me that according to Catholicism, doing yoga as exercise is fine, and the only way it conflicts with Catholic teachings is if you practice the religious aspects of it. She said sometimes it involves a form of meditation that conflicts with Catholic teachings, but what most people do in gyms really has no spiritual conflict with the religion. I fact-checked her just to be safe, and a Catholic apologist corroborates this in an article titled “The Trouble with Yoga.” The apologist explains,

As a spiritual path, yoga is incompatible with Christian spirituality. But if you can separate the spiritual/meditational aspects of yoga from the body postures and breathing techniques common to yoga, then you might be able to use those postures and techniques beneficially for health.

She even adds,

It is important for Catholics to know that yoga should neither be hallowed nor damned.

In other words, it’s really not a huge deal.

Knowing this, I couldn’t help but wonder why so many people were convinced that doing yoga at all would damn a person to hell.  I’m convinced it’s for the same reason that many Christians still to this day think Harry Potter encourages youngsters to seek out Satanism or Wicca, when really it’s just another fantasy containing wizards. The Harry Potter series is no worse for its magic than the conservative’s favorite fantasies like The Lord of the Rings. Maybe it doesn’t contain direct religious allegory like The Chronicles of Narnia, but that doesn’t make it any more dangerous than other fantasy stories that don’t. Unfortunately for young readers, many Christians believe in spiritual warfare. They believe Satan has a lot of influence on the world and secular culture, and expect to see the devil everywhere. When they don’t, they begin to imagine him in the most benign places, and shelter their children and themselves from completely harmless things.

The bottom line is, even if you’re a devout Catholic, you can relax about yoga. Seriously, go to the gym. Find a form of exercise that works for you. Maybe you’ll like kickboxing, or pilates, or rock climbing, or swimming. It doesn’t have to be yoga, but you should only eliminate it after research into what it entails, and maybe trying it once or twice. It’s not for everyone, but it’s no more dangerous for your spiritual well being than running on a treadmill or lifting weights, I promise.

Here’s a video about where yoga comes from and its benefits. In summation, it does come from a religion, but even just the exercise is really, really good for you.

Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome, but please be respectful and think things through before posting.

Now go exercise. America’s obese for a reason.

-Nancy