The witches and the saintly queen

The witches and the saintly queen

Halloween approaches, and with it, warnings about dabbling in the occult.  In Catholic circles, online and offline, debates rage about whether celebrating Halloween is a good idea.

It is hard to resolve this issue because people observe Halloween in different ways – from innocent dress-up parties to dangerous games like spirit-of-the-glass. Also, people of different ages celebrate it – from impressionable children to adults just looking for a fun break from the tedium of days. Thus, whether or not to encourage celebrating Halloween, for me, is a matter for prudential judgment. 

A moderate level of spookiness can be a healthy reminder of the reality of evil.  One thing is clear, though: a line must be drawn when dabbling in the occult is involved.

William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a cautionary tale against involvement with witches.  It is a story of a man who let three witches feed his ambition and goad him to commit murders to ensure his rise to, and hold on, power.   

At the beginning of the play, Macbeth was a good man.  But when the witches first saluted him, suggesting that he had a chance of becoming king of Scotland, he toyed with their hints despite having a fair warning from Banquo that “oftentimes, to win us to our harm/The instruments of darkness tell us truths,/Win us with honest trifles,/to betray’s/ In deepest consequence.”

As the play progressed, Macbeth murdered, or ordered the murder of, people who according to the witches’ prophecies, stood in the way of his ambition.

No doubt the witches were not the only influence– his wife did, too, and more importantly, the prospect of becoming king did at all costs did attract.  Clearly, his free will played a major role.

The lesson is clear: we must flee from evil from the first instance, realizing that the devil can harm us only if we allow him to.  Our free will is our protection, and we can always refuse to dialogue with the devil.

That having been said, good is more powerful than evil.  Evil contains the seeds of its own destruction.  And God always draws good out of evil. 

The whole Scotland, under Macbeth’s murderous rule, suffered.  But in the end, Macbeth’s misplaced faith in the witches was his own undoing.  He took their cryptic prophecies as guidelines for his own decisions, which worked against him in brilliant plot twists that only Shakespeare could conceive of. At the end of the play, order returned as the rightful heir to the throne of Scotland was restored.

In real life, that heir to the throne married a saintly queen. She was a civilizing force as her piety, charity, and fortitude improved conditions in Scotland.

She is St. Margaret of Scotland, and her feast day is on November 16.