If you live where the seasons change, you’ve experienced the fade of summer to autumn. Cooler temps usher in brightly dressed trees, visits to the apple farm, runs through the corn maze, and, let’s not forget, pumpkin spice everything. All of it tells us that change is here—that something unseen is at work in the world, something we can’t see except for its impact around us. Fall reminds us there is a magic at work in the world, behind the scenes… and who knows if it’s good or evil? As the days grow shorter, the darker hue sets the stage for October’s prime holiday. Halloween and the spiritual realm become the focus for weeks, with horror movies flooding our TVs and theaters and creepy costumes and decor filling our stores.

Because we are loved by the One who makes even the demons tremble, we have nothing to fear.

How are Christians to engage in the season? The debates rage with plenty of reasons provided for participating or abstaining. Wherever you are currently camping, one thing is sure: Halloween is here and it primes the pump for Christians to engage in spiritual conversations. In this issue of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine, the features and support articles provide cultural analysis to help you think through all things supernatural, from pirates to ghosts to horror films to psychological thrillers.

First we hear from Mischa Willett, with his feature titled “The Christological Vision of Pirates of the Caribbean“:

What looks like an easy moral relativism in Curse of the Black Pearl (dir. Verbinkski 2003), with the bad guys actually the good guys, and the possibility that a character can be “a scallywag” and “a good man” at the same time, is made possible by the film’s upending of dominant value systems, built, I think quite intentionally, on a Christian model. A bridge too far? Perhaps. But imagine how incredulous a pitch this movie must once have been. It’s a feature-length film from a children’s water-park attraction that opened in the 1960s, and to make it, they wanted huge financing, A-list actors, and boats-full of special effects. Every producer, financier, director, or editor who heard the pitch must’ve stared with the same look of disbelief and then some version of “yes, it sounds fun, but what will it be about?” In the end, they made it about that look of incredulity, and therefore about belief. And to do that, they made Pirates a supernatural story set in the “real world” that helps us to grasp the spiritual realities that those drowning in the real tend to deny.

While Pirates has a 1700s real world setting, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods has a variety of settings, leaning more current day. In American Gods: A Pagan Enchantment Which Does Not Satisfy,” Josh Herring explains why the series works:

This human desire for enchantment is what supernatural stories tap into; this is why children love fairy stories, ghost tales, and the various superhero mythoi. It is the same human desire the Neil Gaiman taps into in his novel American Gods. Recently adapted for television by the STARZ network, American Gods is one of the most fascinating supernatural television shows of 2017, and it illustrates the human desire for enchantment and the insufficiency of paganism to satisfy our desire for a true enchantment.

New stories like Gaiman’s affirm our desire for enchantment, which is also why legends of the supernatural remain and even grow over the years. Erin Wyble shares the influence of such stories in her feature titled “Local Ghosts“:

Disney sets [“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”] on Halloween night, itself an historical hinge that many cultures have seen as a kind of opening up of the spirit world. Like Irving’s other famous Hudson Valley tale, “Rip Van Winkle” (both originally published in 1820 as part of Irving’s The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon), both deal with a singular night, on which a lone hero must grapple with the spirit world’s unusual intrusion into ordinary events. The protagonists and the nights on which they roam serve as metaphorical bridges between the natural and supernatural worlds. There is even a literal Rip Van Winkle Bridge in the Hudson Valley; it spans the river with views of the mountains Irving loved, but it, like all bridges, represents a crossing over. There are always sides. On a sunny afternoon of apple picking, it’s easy to feel like one is on the safe side of the spirit-bridge. Maybe that’s just the daylight talking.

The spiritual realm breaks through all rational thought, amping-up our fear because of all we don’t know or understand. It forces us to explore what we believe, which is exactly what M. Morse says is the point of the horror movie Frailty. In “God’s Hand in Bill Paxton’s Frailty,” Morse says:

Frailty is a twisty and harrowing film, never winking at or moving to reassure its audience. It gives no easy outs, no pat moralizing, no comfort in gaudy supernatural spectacle to reassure us that what we’re watching isn’t a family’s hellish descent into terrible madness. It approaches its darkly gothic premise with realism, restraint, and utter sincerity, grounding the viewer in Fenton’s increasingly horrified point of view as he’s presented with a binary choice between a loving but dangerously insane father trying to turn his sons into religiously motivated murderers, or a world in which hell is real, demons walk the earth, and a 10-year-old boy is saddled with the obligation to kill those (perfectly human-looking) demons.

And speaking of things that aren’t easy to understand, Luke T. Harrington address this in his feature, “You Are Not Actually Reading This Right Now: The Paradox of the Mind, and Why I Wrote a Psychological Thriller“:

Modern science has given us some insight into the brain’s faults and fallacies, but there’s no reason to think it’s given us insight into all—or even more than a tiny fraction—of them. Our own experience of reality is objectively in doubt, whether such questions nag at us personally or not.

I guess that’s probably why my first book, Ophelia, Alive (A Ghost Story), is a psychological thriller. A lot of people who know my writing from online saw the genre as something of a curveball from me—most know me as a humorist, or at least an essayist—but I think fiction is what we turn to when we have nagging questions that we can’t quite put into more precise language. And what could be more difficult to put into words than the question of what the human mind is?

We attempt to separate the physical from the spiritual, but both are real and active at all times. Which may be why fall and Halloween appeal to us. It’s possible the season allows us to acknowledge what is socially unacceptable the rest of the year. A case for this is made by Mike Phay in “Drawn to the Things That Frighten Us“:

But perhaps there is something even deeper that lingers in the human psyche—something more than the experience, or a twisted desire for evil—something that horror taps into and awakens.

There’s a point in most scary movies when the viewer knows that the character shouldn’t do something: shouldn’t go into that particular room; shouldn’t trust that creepy clown; shouldn’t go skinny-dipping in the ocean at night. “Don’t do it!” we yell at the screen, while secretly confident—even hopeful—that they will do it (how else is the plot going to move forward?). And for some reason—aware of the danger and contrary to the viewer’s urgent pleadings, they do it anyway (usually with dire consequences and to the satisfaction of an eager audience).

Does the spiritual always have to be scary? S. E. Kesselring builds a case against that notion by pointing to the film My Neighbor Totoro in her feature, “A Supernatural Neighbor“:

In Christian households that want to filter the content their families consume, stories that focus on malicious demons and unsatisfied ghosts often don’t make the cut. Unfortunately, this can lead to very little presentation of the supernatural in any form, leaving the spiritual realm largely ignored. Into this void, we can add discussions about how the supernatural really does interact with our world and faith, lest we forget that our hope truly originates from a place beyond human understanding.

Our culture’s engagement with the supernatural may, at times, be troublesome. But Christians should be leading the conversation in such matters. Because we are loved by the One who makes even the demons tremble, we have nothing to fear.

—Erin

In This Issue

The Christological Vision of Pirates of the Caribbean

They made Pirates a supernatural story set in the “real world” that helps us to grasp the spiritual realities that those drowning in the real tend to deny.

by Mischa Willett

American Gods: A Pagan Enchantment Which Does Not Satisfy

What is it about the idea of things, powers, and beings beyond nature that draws people into these stories?

by Josh Herring

Local Ghosts

Even in the Hudson Valley, I think the larger appeal of Halloween is that our local ghosts can scare us, but we can, ultimately, domesticate them.

by Erin Wyble

God’s Hand in Bill Paxton’s Frailty

It’s shockingly awful and shockingly compelling as horror because Paxton’s character remains so upsettingly loving and so fatherly throughout, clearly, sincerely believing in the killing he’s doing.

by M Morse

Drawn to the Things That Frighten Us

There is something deeper that lingers in the human psyche—something more than the experience, or a twisted desire for evil—something that horror taps into and awakens.

by Mike Phay

You Are Not Actually Reading This Right Now: The Paradox of the Mind, and Why I Wrote a Psychological Thriller

Fiction is what we turn to when we have nagging questions that we can’t quite put into more precise language.

by Luke T. Harrington

A Supernatural Neighbor

The benevolence of the spirits in My Neighbor Totoro serves as a reminder that the spiritual realm—though mysterious and unlike our own—is not something to fear.

by S. E. Kesselring

In Memoriam Arthur Machen: Celebrating 150 Years of Horror and Ecstasy

Machen’s earlier work effectively manifests the horrific implications of an existence without God; his later work displays compelling, often beautiful, ways God’s presence breaks through our barriers to keep Him at bay.

by Geoffrey Reiter

Stranger Things and Our Quest for the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

Stranger Things contrasts the ordinary with the extraordinary, the normal with the supernatural, and the mundane with the unexpected.

by Liz Wann

This Halloween, Read a Scary Story and Embrace Inscrutability

If your sense of myth has atrophied, a ghastly tale may help you to come back to the world with eyes of wonder.

by S. L. Whitesell

I Finally Made Myself Watch The Exorcist, and I Did Not Leave Without Hope

What one CaPC writer found after he overcame crippling fear and subjected himself to the horror classic for the first time.

by Martyn Wendell Jones

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