Death beckons to all, great and small, rich and poor, powerful and weak, none shall be able to withstand the grim reaper’s scythe.
To live is to live in the presence of death, indeed, it is to die moment to moment, as our bodies wither before us, as the very cells of our body die and give to the grave the first fruits of our lives. Our flesh shall fall off our bones, even before we are but bones in the ground, as our flesh already takes flight from our body and becomes a part of the dust all around us.
From dust we emerge, to dust we shall go; we live and breathe the dust, we shall die and give back to that very dust.
Great saints knew this and took what this implied to heart. Indeed, many would embrace this truth as they would preach to congregations, skulls in their hand. Others would prepare by living out their life in the very tomb which they plan to meet eternity, with a coffin as their bed. Alexander the Great could conquer the world, but even he was the slave of death, giving it unto others before he would meet with death himself. Thus, all of us will meet our end. Some of us will go sooner than others, but none shall withstand their final dance with death.
We can try to keep death out by amassing ourselves power and riches in the world, but what is the result? “Terror and violence will lay waste riches; thus the house of the proud will be laid waste” (Sir. 21:4 RSV). Even before we come face to face with death, we feel the presence of death with us; our lives are based upon death as we eat the remains of the living, taking it in, hoping to thrive another day.
For many, death is a horror which they try to avoid. But they cannot. Our lives go on, rushing towards our doom. We feel its sting as we grow sick and age, as the remains of the day reveal how even in life, we succumb to the powers of death. Theologically, this is said to be the result of sin. Abuse of the seamless garment of life in the world leads to its own demise. This is especially true with the so-called rich who use their riches to extract from the poor their very livelihood, so that the rich can be seen as parasites living on the lives of the poor, their extravagant luxury coming from the deadly blows they inflict on their so-called inferiors. The poor can only take it so long before they revolt; it will be uncomfortable for all, but when the revolt comes strong, the rich will find their joy turns into dread as the consequences of their evil reveals itself to them.
This is exactly the nature of the horror which God promises to sinners: what they do will have consequences. The ramifications of their actions might not be immediate, but the consequences will come. The more the divert away from the virtues and engage in evil, the more they denigrate the good, the greater the response will be which seeks to equalize the disgraceful situation:
For thus says the LORD: Behold, I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends. They shall fall by the sword of their enemies while you look on. And I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon; he shall carry them captive to Babylon, and shall slay them with the sword (Jer. 20:4 RSV)
Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, The Wolf Man, and even Psycho, all deal with the horror which lies buried deep within us; the evil underbelly and twin to our otherwise good-natured encounter with the other. When we do not denounce it from within, it will slowly leak out and transform us into our own double, turning murderous with rage as we justify our own animalistic, self-seeking ventures even as we slowly see our good side is destroyed and all that is left is our monstrous double.
Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and the like all show how we can turn to black magic, the manipulation of nature through scientific technique, to create our own demise. Pandora’s box, once opened, turns against the opener; knowledge used without wisdom leads only to nihilistic destruction.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Abominable Snowman, and even Cujo show how our abuse of nature can, and will, lead to our own harm as the transformed nature turns itself against the one who perverted it.
But it is death, the final frontier, which haunts us the most, as the would-be dead cannot let go and give up the ghost. Such monsters find themselves living cannibalistically upon the living, as seen in Dracula, The Mummy, and even the mind-bending Phantasm.
Horror stories are fascinating and important because they reveal the darkness which we create in the world. These stories can serve a scapegoat mechanism, but they can also help us understand better our real world situation, warning us through intricate allegories the doom which we could be making for ourselves.
The horror and dread which factors in the secular celebration of the month of October leading up to Halloween serves to remind all the lessons which spirituality teaches about the power of evil. Through it, we are not embracing evil, but rather, presenting it before ourselves as a kind of exorcism. For if and when we encounter it, we have the power to denounce it, to deny the power of evil, exposing it for what it really us, and then we can truly follow after the good which the evil otherwise tried to corrupt.
[Image= Danse Macabre at Koper Regional Museum [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]
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