QUAERITUR: Can we go through a “haunted house”?

From a reader:

Is it okay for a believing Catholic to go through a “Haunted House”
during Halloween time?

Hmmm… I guess so. I am not sure why someone would want to do that, but, okay.

I suppose it would matter who sponsored it and why and what was in it.

Let us, however, keep our eyes on the fact that Halloween is for Christians All Hallows Eve, the Vigil of the Feast of All Saints.

I think one could design a pretty scary “haunted house” taking a cue from Dante. It might be helpful for people’s repentance and conversion.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Maria says:

    Hello Father,
    I am so glad you said this.
    Whilst I am not a party pooper and like to see children having fun and dressing up etc., especially during the colder months when outdoor play can be restricted due to harsher weather, I do feel that halloween has become another overcommercialised over the top event.

    Here in the UK., the pumpkins are taking over the supermarkets alongside battery cackling witches and masks and costumes and again, as with Christmas and Easter, the Christian teachings and examples, traditions and real meanings are being pushed aside for commercial gain.

  2. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Unfortunately there are Hell Houses run by some Protestant sects that are much more scary than haunted houses. I know a few children who have been traumatized by the imagery. And the people who run them say that is the whole point but I would disagree with their catechetical methodology.

  3. Benedict says:

    There are many good alternatives to Halloween such as the Annual Vigil of All Saints at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC.

     Last year some 400 young adults attended.  Arrive early!

  4. Harold says:

    When I lived in Atlanta, a certain Protestant church regularly had a Halloween drive through haunted house that dealt with the effects of those who were saved and those who were not. I went once since it was only a block or so from my house. I found it silly, but I know some children who were really frightened by the hell scene.

  5. A “Hell House” deals with real dragons, whereas Trick-or-Treat deals with pretend dragons. There’s a lot of difference, and little kids are acutely aware of it. (Hence the privileged position of dinosaurs, which are both “real dragons”, possibly even once living in your neighborhood, and yet living much too far away in time to attack you in your neighborhood.) I suggest that people read Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories” to learn about this crucial difference.

    But Halloween of the trick-or-treating kind is a perfectly valid Catholic harvest festival associated with the All Saints-All Souls season. Masking and souling and carrying/displaying wind-protected candle lights and processing around the neighborhood and having a bonfire and dunking for apples are nothing to be ashamed of. In European lands further south, of course you see more of this at their harvest time, St. Martin’s Day; but in Scotland and Ireland and Wales, and other lands further north, it’s more natural to have your party on All Hallow’s Eve, before the solemnity of praying for your dead and visiting cemeteries over the next few days begins. Galicia and Asturias, being mountain lands, also have an earlier harvest; so of course their settlers and missionaries carried the party tradition to Mexico.

    Any claim that Halloweening is intrincally pagan, is the result of our ignorant acceptance of anti-Catholic or anti-Christian memes disseminated through The Golden Bough (which was out to prove that Holy Communion was pagan worship of a dying grain god) and other perniciously lying works of “folklore”.

  6. This is not to say that I approve of overdoing a tiny fun festival, or of turning it into a festival of improper amounts of roistering. But I don’t say we should surrender it to the barbarians, either.

  7. Oh, and I meant “intrinsically”! :)

  8. Supertradmum says:

    Make sure, Mom, that you know what is in the house first. Some of them show horrific murder scenes and women with little on. Some have, now, as it is trendy, voodoo imagery, which is very dangerous, as demons are associated with.voodoo. Anything that has to do with Twilight is definitely pornographic and anti-life. This list can be daunting. I have seen the Halloween stuff becoming less “cutesy” and more “occult”, so please be careful.

  9. Some haunted houses are designed to have various different “paths” for various age groups or levels of scariness desired. This seems like a good plan. You’re also more likely to have a wholesome experience with a group you know well, which has direct accountability.

    For many years, our local Jaycees ran a haunted house in an abandoned farmhouse provided by the township. It did a good job of being just scary enough for fun, and a lot of local kids and adults volunteered to play parts and help out. When the house finally got too dilapidated, the local fire department burned it down and they found a new abandoned house to use.

  10. MJ says:

    Halloween is a … disgusting holiday. I recently had to go to a couple Halloween stores to try and find a donkey costume (for a skit). The costumes at the store were shocking to say the least. I won’t elaborate.

    I’d much rather see parishes / people having an All Saints Day celebration…or dress up party for the kids. Dress up like your favorite saint, you know.

  11. everett says:

    In the parish where I grew up, we had a “Martyr’s Mansion,” wherein the deaths of many of the martyrs were depicted. Then there was a tour guide of sorts who could tailor the walkthrough to the age of the participants, making it less scary and more educational for the younger ones, and more scary and more educational for the older ones. Looking back, I’m not sure if this made a bit too much light of the martyrs in our tradition, but at the time it was a lot of fun, and felt like a better option than traditional ghouls, ghosts and goblins, and actually tied it into All Saints.

  12. ContraMundum says:

    I remember a “haunted house” at one of (perhaps both of) the little amusement parks that used to be on Panama City Beach: Miracle Strip Amusement Park and Petticoat Junction. I don’t remember them being much other than them being dark and disorienting, with lots of fake cobwebs and people (probably with a fake hatchet in the head) jumping out to scare the customers. There’s nothing wrong about that, anyhow. Likewise, I really enjoyed the Haunted Mansion at Disney World. There are some good youtube videos of that that will save you the expense and time spent in line. If anyone were to take this really seriously, there are lots of objectionable things in it — murder, suicide, and seances. But come on: this is just about a safe “scare”. It’s meant to be fun, and I don’t think it can be blamed for a single murder, suicide, or seance in the real world. It’s surely not a healthy every-day entertainment, but then neither is Halloween candy.

    Those are fairly safe and innocent “haunted house” experiences. What I think is much more dangerous is the current fad of “paranormal investigations”. These things dance right up to the edge of necromancy, and sometimes I think they dance right across the line, too.

  13. Brad says:

    If only humanity would utterly reject the non-Christian belief that this is a sloppy universe, built by chance or by a deistic god, wherein souls are somehow created (or perhaps, to use more politically correct, agnostic language, one should say merely and mistily “that souls come into being”), spend time in the flesh here on earth, and then continue to spend time here on earth, unfleshed. Pointless wanderings. The Christian belief, of course, is that our omnipotent, loving Lord, meets each soul upon her death and the soul then passes, orderly, into one of three states, none of which is earth, as exemplified by a scary farmhouse, an abandoned place for a similarly abandoned soul. Of course there are exceptions to unfleshed souls appearing on earth, as the Lord permits…as He permits. Not as some godless, karmic, rule.

    Having recently read several reassuringly orthodox books on purgatory as well as activities of the fallen angels, I thank the Lord that I can see that our foolish fascination with hauntings is nothing but a fascination with occult demonic activity nervously perceived by our peripheral vision. The apparition of human souls from purgatory is sometimes, rarely, allowed by God, usually to holy people, so that those souls can be aided in their sufferings by the holy person.

    The rest is demonic. Our fascination with the demonic reminds me of watching my hens literally become entranced and walk as if floating toward a cat or dog. They will walk twenty feet, with a dreamlike expression. Like people queuing to enter a scary haunted house, knowing, subconsciously, that what is putting them on edge is the anticipation that they are about to be confronted with the reality of the unseen demonic reality in this vale of tears, as well as the reality of Death, and more so, the frightful reality of Death while in sin, and the implied terror there. But back to the hens: they will cross twenty feet, only to, in the last foot, explode in screaming terror when their trance breaks. Meanwhile, the predator has been sitting placidly, watching in awe at the voluntary approach of this foolish soul.

    O, foolish souls! May All Saints and All Souls fascinate us more than the occult. For us did our Lord weep when overlooking Jerusalem, the ultimate haunted house.

  14. irishgirl says:

    I’ve gone to only one ‘haunted house’ in my lifetime, which was put on by the local Presbyterian church. The only thing I remember from it was when a volunteer dressed as a witch grabbed hold of my older sister’s arm and said, ‘Glad you could come’, or something like that, in her best ‘Wicked Witch of the West’ voice. My sister did not scare easily, but she was pretty startled by that greeting!
    I think it’s better to have an ‘All Saints’ party, and have the kids dress as their favorite Saints. If I were the ‘creative type’ [which I’m not, sigh], I’d go as St. Joan of Arc.

  15. Ghost stories are not intrinsically demonic or un-Catholic. Heck, there have been some critics who’ve said you can’t be a really good horror or ghost story writer unless you’re at least a little bit Catholic. :) One might mention Chesterton’s superb and very short essay, “The Nightmare.”

    In the days before the Reformation, Christmastime was regarded as a superb time to tell stories of “marvels”, especially spooky ghost stories. (The English keep this up, as witness Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, and that Canadian Robertson guy’s collection of Christmas ghost stories.)

    Somebody needs to write a book called, “Actually, That’s Catholic.” Our traditions are wider and deeper than any of us know.

  16. MJ says:

    The problem with “safe and innocent” haunted houses (and I would beg to differ — these things are not safe and innocent) is that it can very easily lead to children developing an interest in these things and further trying to explore the paranormal. I haven’t read his work (too scared to!) but I’ve heard that according to Malachi Martin’s writings on possession and exorcism all one needs to do to (unintentionally) invite the devil closer to you is to start exploring these things…something about one’s mind being more susceptible to evil if one is researching or delving into it … which is one of the reasons why we’re not supposed to try to figure out who the Anti-Christ is, and all that. I know the Anti-Christ is waaaay more serious than a haunted house, but really when you think about it, it’s all connected. It’s very creepy and not something to be messed with.

    I like the idea everett mentioned about a Martyr’s Mansion – that sounds educational and fun (even if it is scary). There is no paranormal there, it’s historical, and it’s related to the saints.

  17. I remember a Halloween party at my seminary — the idea was to dress as your favorite saint. A classmate arrived with his head sticking out of a carboard “table”, with a tin-foil “platter” around his neck, and perhaps some ketchup here and there. He was, obviously, St. John the Baptist.

  18. Supertradmum says:

    Sadly, in England, the witches, warlocks, and various ones into the occult have really taken over any “niceties” regarding Halloween. It is much more “serious” and much more sinister than in the States. The kiddie things are not like cute little Walgreen kitties in pumpkins with bows made out of frilly orange ribbon. Judging by the difference, I would avoid haunted houses in England and just pray quietly somewhere for the youth to break away from the nasty fashions of the occult.

  19. Denita says:

    I’m not a big fan of Halloween, and I don’t care at all for the haunted houses, or Hell houses, either. And people do mean things to black cats, too.
    What I don’t mind, though, is the Dios de las Meurtos festivals the Hispanic communities celebrate in Mexico and even here in Texas. That, to me is more of a cultural thing and not all bad.

  20. Supertradmum says:

    Oh dear. The Day of the Dead is definitely occult and some priests have come out against the trappings. Some of the dubious offerings of food for the dead, for instance, was an ancient Roman custom condemned by St. Ambrose who told St. Monica to stop doing it. It is a form of ancestor worship. In addition, the Bishops of Mexico as a group, thankfully, clarified that Santa Muerta was not a saint, but a false idol, satanic, and in fact, adopted by the drug cartels as their patron saint and not to be honored. Both the Day of the Dead and Santa Muerte have roots in pagan, and even human sacrifice in the Mexican and Central American traditions. When I was teaching Latino seminarians, we had excellent discussions on these points, and the consensus was that the indigenous peoples who wanted to separate themselves from the Catholic Church and the West, that is Spain, were pushing the cult.

  21. Banjo pickin girl says:

    supertradmum, I didn’t know that. I knew a priest who spent a lot of time in South America somewhere and was interested enough in the day of the dead to want to get skull shaped beads to make a rosary out of. I didn’t know what to think about that.

  22. Alice says:

    You should write the book. I would TOTALLY buy it. So many Catholics have NO idea how much “secular” culture is cultural Christianity.

  23. sanctamaria says:

    I love this post :)

  24. Tom T says:

    I went through one when I went through the Congresss of the United States and saw all those politicians giving speeches. Now that was scary. Pax

  25. bookworm says:

    “Those are fairly safe and innocent “haunted house” experiences. What I think is much more dangerous is the current fad of “paranormal investigations”. These things dance right up to the edge of necromancy, and sometimes I think they dance right across the line, too.”

    I’d have to say the same. It depends on what kind of haunted house you are visiting. If the haunted house in question is a temporary Halloween attraction designed purely for entertainment and features volunteer actors merely pretending to be ghosts, vampires, zombies, etc. then I’d say it is probably not a sin, in and of itself, to visit them. However one should take into account the content and its appropriateness for certain ages, etc. before deciding whether or not to visit.

    A visit to an actual “haunted house”, i.e. a permanent home or other structure reputed to be inhabited by bona fide spirits, with the intent of seeing or contacting these spirits, would be sinful since it would involve the practice of necromancy or occultism.

    Somewhere in between is the “ghost walk,” an attraction which is offered in my community (not just at Halloween but throughout the year) in which a guide simply points out sites that are reputed to be haunted, or known to have been the scene of notorious crimes or tragedies in the past, and retells the stories/legends/rumors behind them. It’s presented as more of a local history/folklore thing than as a scary or occult kind of thing and it doesn’t involve actually going into these sites looking for ghosts. I don’t think it would be sinful to participate in something like this, provided that it didn’t become an occasion of sin by arousing one’s interest in necromancy or spiritualism, but does anyone here have a different perspective?

  26. medievalist says:

    1. Aging hippies haunting felt bedecked sanctuaries are scary.
    2. Haunted houses are scary.
    3. Certain church sanctuaries are, therefore, haunted houses. q.e.d.
    (Yes, there are several logical fallacies here, but still…)

  27. ContraMundum says:

    Restricting my comments to fake haunted houses set up for entertainment only:

    It’s probably as useless to ask if these are “safe and harmless” as to ask if a high school dance is. Some high school dances have been safe, harmless, and in fact very good things. Some high school dances would have me in a flying rage if I were a parent. It depends on what’s being done, how it’s being done, and on the maturity of the children — both for the dance and the “haunted house”.

    If haunted houses are uniformly a gateway to the occult, then I suppose so are ghost stories. So, for that matter, might be a book like Hostage to the Devil. Frankly, though, I found a number of inaccuracies when I read that book several years ago — I forget what they were, but they contradicted several other books by Catholic authors on similar subjects, notably the ones by Fr. Gabriele Amorth. As it is, I think it is safe to read Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson’s A Mirror of Shalott or to tell ghost stories around a campfire.

  28. Tom T says:

    bookworm, interesting perspective. I have never participated nor do I watch any of those para
    normal shows about ghost hunters and such. I do however suspect, and to be honest I have never reconciled my suspicions with my Roman Catholic traditionalists beliefs, that according to, and as I say, I only suspect, some physicists found that there are 11 dimensions that exist alongside of our existance. Now, that is the theroy of some scientists and physicists as I understand it, in the study of matter and some of the latest conclusions that make their hypothesis work. Now, not being either one of these, nor am I a theologian and not having a clue what forms of purgatories there are after death, I suppose it might be possible that some souls are frozen in a certain time period and keeping in mind “no, eye has seen,” and,” there are many mansions in my Father`s house” who knows? This could account for the experiences that people have had with historical figures in certain places that are said to be haunted. I don`t know. I know one thing, if I am off the mark here, Fr. Z will straighten me out. Pax.

  29. ContraMundum says:

    @Tom T

    I actually am a physics professor. Even if superstring theory is correct (which I doubt — see Peter Woit’s book Not Even Wrong), those extra dimensions have nothing to do with ghosts or demons. Those extra dimensions would be corporeal, whereas spirits are incorporeal. Just because something is exotic-sounding and outside our everyday experience does not make it incorporeal.

  30. Tom T says:

    Thank you Contra Mundum, for pointing that out to me. As I said, it was only an uneducated
    suspicion and lets face it most suspicions are based on a lack of knowledge about certain sciences.
    Trust me, I never lost any sleep thinking about it. I do believe there are spirits roaming around the earth. Our Lord drove some of them out of people and more priests are being trained in excorism . I cant begin to imagine the immensity of the mind of God. I just worship in awe.
    Thank you for your response. I have seen several science programs on that topic and have always wondered. It seems now they have recently discovered something in space that supposedly would
    oppose the theory of relativity. I believe it has to do with black holes which Hawkins, the atheist
    has been working on for most of his life. Pax. And thank you again.

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