The Halloween season traditionally brings out the creepy side of life. Youngsters engage in “Trick or Treat”. Dressed in scary costumes they visit neighbours and require payment of fruit and nuts (or sweets and coins) to go away! The days of performing party-pieces are all but gone. The turnip lantern has been largely replaced by the pumpkin complete with a lighted candle shining through the teeth and eyes of a fearsome effigy carved on the side of its circular head!
For the adults it is the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints, martyrs, and all the faithful departed. It probably grew out of the Celtic festival of Samhain which marked the end of harvest and summer. It was seen as a liminal time, when the boundary between this world and the ‘otherworld’ thinned. Tricks were played by spirits and ghosts with the inclusion of Dracula the Vampire in the more blood-thirsty recent times.
Dracula was written by an Irishman called Bram Stoker. He wrote it after researching the folklore of Romania and chose the setting of the Carpathian Mountains for the castle which was to be the vampire’s abode. He had never visited the location making up the castle from a combination of the ruined Slain’s Castle in Aberdeenshire and Whitby Castle in Yorkshire.
The fact that vampires are particularly nasty creatures has not dimmed their popularly which has increased each Halloween till this week when a commemorative coin worth €15 was launched by the Minister of Finance in Glasnevin cemetery!
This was an appropriate place for the launch as Dracula lived on the blood of his victims. Legend has it that they, once bitten, became addicted to blood so you could have a lot of nasty Dracula’s causing havoc about the place. Help is at hand however as a crucifix will keep them at bay and a stake driven through the heart means that they will trouble you no more!
It is interesting that in the book the crucifix should be given the power over evil. Popular folklore usually gets it wrong! It attributes power to the symbol instead of the source. The writer to the Hebrews (Chapter 12 verse 2) helps to clarify what was happening on the cross. He writes that we are to run the race of life looking unto Jesus “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God.”
The cross represents the greatest suffering in history. Jesus not only suffered physically but also experienced God’s just wrath on the sin of the world which Jesus had taken upon himself. The promise of future reward and joy gave Jesus the strength to suffer despising the shame that was inherent in crucifixion. The wooden cross has no power nor does it become powerful when a human image of Jesus is fastened to it. Actually the Bible never uses the cross as a symbol of Christianity. Stoker, like so many others got it wrong in attributing the power to the symbol rather than the substance which is Christ (St Matthew Chapter 28 verse 18).