It’s pretty easy to guess the origin of our belief in ghosts. When your dog is running in his sleep, he may be going after a rabbit, or being chased by a pack of wolves. But when he wakes up, it’s like, “Well, that’s over. What’s for dinner?” Humans, though, remember their dreams and think about them.
Two cavemen over morning cave-coffee:
“Me see Og last night.”
“Og dead, fool. He gone.”
“No, serious. I see Og. He make face at me.”
“Whoa, that spooky!”
“Look, over there! That Og!”
“Holy cr--! No, fool. That tree branch in wind. Don’t be tripping, make me jump out of bearskin!”
The whole idea of ghosts -- people back from the dead to make trouble, get revenge, or just say hi to old friends and family -- got a lot of updating as religion developed and spread. Christianity, especially, blended with regional folk customs, like harvest festivals and change-of-season rituals, and thus Halloween was born. As the days grew shorter and darker, rural folks thought it was a good idea to be nice to any ghosts that might be wandering around in the dim light. They put out food and other goodies in hopes the local wraiths, phantoms, poltergeists, spooks, haunts and shades would help them and their animals make it through the harsh winter. Or at least back off and not make things worse.
Little kids being crafty, greedy and sweet-toothy, eventually turned this superstition to their own advantage. Why have all that good stuff go to non-corporeal beings which presumably didn’t need to eat, anyway? Why not dress up as something scary and appear in the flesh, making noise, demanding candy, and meting out consequences for anyone dumb enough not to make a contribution? It worked for a while by actually scaring those primitive farmers. But over time, the grownups figured out what was going on. Most of them thought it was kind of cute. Those who didn’t think it was cute were kept in line with such old tricks as the well-placed banana peel, the holy rolls of toilet paper, and, of course the infamousburning bag of fecal matter.
Today, like kids’ sports, Halloween has lost most of its child-driven spontaneity by dint of our obsession with non-stop parental oversight. Trick-or-treating is like one of those over-the-counter drugs, totally safe but you can’t get the damn top off. Of course, it’s a huge money-maker for companies that make candy, plastic Jack-o’-lanterns and fake spider-webs, so don’t expect it to go away any time soon.
Adults have long realized that Halloween is a great opportunity for them to let it all hang out, too. This is why November 1 is a huge day for Alka-Seltzer and a slow day for everything else. But it’s a good thing, too: on the off-chance that ghosts are real, some of that Halloween-party behavior is certain to make them throw up their bony hands and crawl gratefully back into the peace and quiet of the grave.
And now, time for the inevitable WriteyBoard tie-in. When you erase something off a WriteyBoard surface, there are no ghosts left behind. That idea that didn’t work out so well is not going to return to haunt anyone.