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The Meaning of Monsters

Monsters teach us important lessons about the human condition.

In recent years, political correctness has reduced the diversity of allowable Halloween costumes. Some characters are still allowed: monsters from fairytales, legends, and myths. Many of them are surprisingly relevant to the modern cultural and political landscape.

The Zombie

The zombie is a rotting, undead creature without a mind, who feasts on brains. It has become a popular motif in movies and television series such as The Walking Dead. The metaphor for mindless materialism is so striking that even philosophers have adopted the zombie as a concept.

However, modern myths touch on something more profound than an intellectual argument about consciousness. Zombies are not alive and yet show an immense hunger – for brains. It symbolizes the emptiness of living a materialist life and the longing such an existence creates for meaningful, conscious experiences.

Since the zombie is trapped in a materialist worldview, it believes it can acquire a soul and gain mindful experience by consuming a material brain. Like any addict, it fails but never gives up its empty pursuit. Instead, it believes the answer is to consume more. Happiness is only one shopping spree away for this type of being.

The zombie apocalypse is a rich metaphor for the ongoing “meaning crisis” in Western society. Modern materialism is sending us toward valueless moral bankruptcy, generating hordes of desperate, mindless creatures on a crusade to fill themselves with meaning – be it through fighting global warming, plastic straws, gender stereotypes, or offensive speech.

The Vampire

Cultures across the world have myths about blood-sucking creatures. The vampire represents a human living as a parasite. In the legends, this creature maintains youth and longevity by sucking out the life of the young. Today we see vampiric behavior in the accumulation of national debt to be paid by future, unborn generations who were never allowed to vote on the matter.

The vampire does not have a mirror reflection, which symbolizes a lack of conscience. Everyone has a moral compass, but conscience is the ability to turn morality critically on one’s own behavior. Moral self-reflection is one of the fundamental tenets of Christianity. In Matthew 7:5 Jesus says, “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” This may be the reason why vampires are allergic to the Christian cross. It symbolizes taking on responsibility, which every parasite finds repulsive to the core of its being.

Vampires are also creatures of the dark that are destroyed by daylight. Light is a common symbol of truth and insight. Thus, a moral parasite is living a lie and if this bloodsucker sees the truth its vampiric nature will burn and die.

Interestingly, the most famous vampire of all was a smeared hero. He was a Christian prince in 15th century Transylvania, known as Vlad Dracula. In his youth, Vlad and his younger brother were sent to live with the Turks as hostages to prove their father’s allegiance to the Sultan Murad II. After his father’s assassination, Vlad returned to his home where he organized an army to defeat the Muslim conquerors. He became notorious as a bloodthirsty and cruel leader because he used the Ottomans’ own tactics against them. After his death on the battlefield, he was remembered and celebrated as a folk hero for freeing the locals from the Ottoman Empire.

The Ghost

A common trope is that ghosts don’t know they are dead. These phantoms linger in the world of the living as habitual patterns because they have unfinished business. Some would argue that the U.S. Constitution is one such ghost: killed by bureaucrats and politicians but lingering on in the memory of ordinary Americans and as vestiges in the legal system.

Ghosts are sad and haunting creatures. They scare the living because they remind us of something terrible that has happened in the past. Only when the terrible injustice is righted can the ghosts rest in peace.

Mind, Body, and Soul

Zombies, vampires, and ghosts differ in many respects but have some key themes in common. They are all undead – diseased states of life. They also dramatize through myth the tension between mind, body, and soul. Zombies are bodies without a mind or soul; ghosts are souls without a mind or body; vampires have both a mind and a body but lack a soul.

The human creature is far more symbolic and metaphoric than many like to believe. Most people cannot articulate philosophical truth in rational terms, but they recognize it when they see it – in art and myths. As such, Halloween is about more than just costumes and make-believe. It may also display deep-seated human archetypes that have evolved and survived across vast spans of time.


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