Monster Origins: Ghosts and Halloween

Ah, Halloween. The one night where all spirits can roam the Earth freely. The holiday itself can be traced back 2,000 years when the Celts believed the dead could walk among the living the night before All Saints Day, or ‘Hallow’s Eve.’ Though rooted in pagan belief structures, the idea was adopted by the Christian faith as a time to honor their dead and the martyrs of the faith.

Children would often go door-to-door and offer prayers for the dead in exchange for soul cookies. Jack ‘o Lanterns were intended to light the way so the spirits would not haunt good Christian folk. To this day, the Mexican tradition still calls this holiday, Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

Spirits of the dead may be among us. Graphic from Discovery

Throughout history, there have been witch doctors, shamans, necromancers, and many other professions that believed they could call upon the spirits of the dead to intervene in the affairs of the living. Today, such professions have been largely discredited, save for those that continue to pass themselves off as mediums and palm readers.

The concept of ghosts is mostly rejected in the scientific community, yet this seems to be one of the most common movie ‘monsters’ during the month of October. The belief in ghosts is so popular, that people are still looking for ways to communicate with their lost loved ones using modern technology.

However, science hasn’t closed the books on the dead just yet. Since 1941, American photographer Attila von Szalay believed he could capture the voices of the dead using a 78 rpm recorder. He did this in an effort to justify his claims that the dead can be captured on film.

Since then, the concept of Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP) has become the go-to for ghost hunters to seek out the dead where they’re most likely to be. Made mainstream by the movie White Noise, the practice uses recording equipment to capture evidence of a spirit, but experts consider this to be a pseudoscience that results from applying words to sounds where there may not be words.

No one likes to deal with the concept of impermanence. Everyone wants to think that we can live on forever in some way, either through Heaven or through haunting people eternally on Earth. Ghosts have mounds of anecdotal evidence, none of which can hold up in the scientific world. But what else can we use as a placeholder for all of the unexplained bumps in the night?

Happy Halloween!