by Bill Monson


No matter how Hallmark tries to cutesy it, no matter how Wal-Mart and KMart and Target try to turn it into a festival of costumes and candy, Halloween is still a celebration of our dark side. It dates back to the ancient Celts when Nov. 1 was New Year's Day and was the occasion of a Druid joint festival honoring their Sun God and Samhain, the Lord of the Dead. It was a time when they thought the dead flocked back to mingle with the living, when the sinful souls of those who had died during the year were judged by Samhain, when animals and humans were sacrificed to the Sun God. Fires were lit to rejuvenate the sun and to aid in banishing evil spirits, who were believed to fear fire.

When the Romans conquered the Celts, they cut down the sacred groves of the Druids and tried to replace their religion with Christianity. Pope Gregory III made Nov. 1 All Saints Day, but the night before still belonged to pagans as All Hallows Eve--or Halloween.

Today's Christian churches try to battle this commemoration of pagan customs, which they consider a form of Devil worship, by reshaping Halloween as a Harvest Festival; but they haven't had much more luck than the Pope. Children still dress in costume and go Trick or Treating; but others pursue the path of "Mischief Night," which refuses to die.

Generation after generation has carried on the tradition of wicked behavior. Garden gates have been stolen, privies tipped over, buggy horses spooked, car tires flattened, windshields smashed, Dumpsters ignited. Halloween has become an excuse for vandalism--for venting anti-social anger and testosterone rage.

We don't even need a holiday as an excuse anymore. Win a Super Bowl or an NBA title, and your fans riot and loot. The University of West Virginia football upset last week of No. 3 Virginia Tech was the occasion of wide-scale rampage and couch-burning, which USA TODAY and ESPN informed us is "traditional" at West Virginia after big victories. Over forty fires were started in Morgantown. The police needed pepper spray to preserve the goal posts. The attackers even came equipped with hacksaws to saw through the metal posts.

I'm no psychologist, but I know that many of us males possess that inner rage. I was considered a "good kid" in the 1940s, but I did my share of vandalism with the Blaine Avenue Bulldogs. More than my share, probably. I eventually wound up in front of a judge and got a tarnished reputation it was hard to brighten. I've seen that same anger in my own sons and in many young men at athletic contests--both on the field and in the stands-- as well as on highways behind the wheels of their cars.

What can we do about it? Police it and punish it--and endure. More pre-adolescent training in respect for other people and their property might help. More Harvest Festivals and fewer destruction- crammed movies and gory game videos would certainly do so.

But what if it's an innate part of a male's psyche? What if it's programmed in our DNA? Psychiatrist Carl Jung argued that such behavior is part of the "collective unconscious." If it is, what can we really do about it? I wish I had a good answer.

The impulse to rampage is certainly old-- older even than Huns, Vandals or Viking berserkers-- but is now propelled by strong commercial and social pressures. Makers of movies and video games know it sells. The authorities in Morgantown, W. Va. think it's "traditional." And it's useful when you need soldiers to fight a war somewhere or terrorists to blow up buildings (as well as themselves) in the name of God.

Once, our ancestors locked their doors and huddled around their fires, giving over the night outside to wicked spirits. The custom still continues, but some of those marauders are our children.