Issue No. 44

November 2014

He Faced the Devil...and Lost


We don't usually think of Halloween as a celebration of courage but for the ancients, their belief in Halloween as a time of arrival of ghostly spirits certainly required a good deal of courage. Today as many children and adults "costume up" as ghosts, goblins, pirates, and Disney characters, and everyone decorates their front yards with corn stalks and pumpkins, we may not realize we are portraying ancient rituals that helped ancestors interact (or not) with the spirits of those who had died.

The origins of Halloween go back to Irish Celtic times, marking the transition from the end of fall's harvest to the beginning of winter's hibernation. It was believed that when the growing season came to a definitive end there was an opening for departed spirits to return to earth.

According to the Library of Congress's American Folklore Center, the tradition of wearing costumes dates back to the early days of the festival when it was thought that the ghosts who would be wandering the fields and roads of the villages would be less dangerous if the living wore masks and costumes so as to fool the spirits into believing that they, the living, were also of the spirit world.

One of our most popular traditions, the carving of the pumpkin that creates our Jack O'Lanterns, originated when vegetables such as beets and turnips were carved with grotesque images. The vegetables were placed on windowsills or doorways to frighten the evil spirits and keep them from entering people's homes. An old Irish folktale tells the story of Stingy Jack who invited the devil to have a drink with him. Being stingy, he did not want to pay for his drink and convinced the devil to turn himself into a coin so that Jack could pay for their drinks. Jack kept the coin in his pocket along with a cross to prevent the devil from returning to his original form. In exchange for releasing the devil from his coin-like appearance, Jack negotiated with the devil to leave him alone for a year. The following year he faced the devil again and convinced him to

climb a tree for a piece of fruit. Jack proceeded to carve a cross in the tree that forced the devil to stay among the branches. He then negotiated, again, with the devil for a 10-year respite that included no claims on his soul.

When Jack died soon afterwards and met St. Peter at Heaven's gate, the decision was made by St. Peter and the higher ups to not admit such an unsavory character. However, the devil, already burnt by Jack would not accept him into Hell either. Jack was caught between two worlds with no place to rest his soul.

He asked the devil where he could go. As he had no light to see in the darkness, Satan tossed him a burning ember that Jack placed in a carved out turnip. This lit the way for his eternal search for his final home.

For us today, the arrival of the holiday is an opportunity to disguise our too serious side, and exhibit our more playful self. Whether you dress up as a vampire, witch, Lady Gaga or a Heinz ketchup bottle, your modus operandi needs to be to have fun. This takes a different kind of courage but one that can serve us well in our overworked, often too serious lives.

So enjoy your Halloween today with your co-workers and family and know that you are continuing a long tradition of the season, connections to our ancient relatives and the chance to let it all hang out.



It's not just the spirit world of play we are exploring this month but also the playfulness of science. Check out Marc Abrams' great TED Talk about the Ig Nobel awards that are given to truly weird science.

If you happen to also think that the economist and New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman should speak with a gas mask on, then you don't want to miss this hilarious moment.


Upcoming Events


I'm very excited to announce that an article I recently co-authored with two British psychologists was just published in the leading book on health and wellness in the workplace. Edited by Michael O'Donnell who heads the University of Michigan's Health Management Research Center, Health Promotion in the Workplace, our article entitled "Stress Management in the Workplace" provides scientific and practical ideas on address workplace stress issues including ideas on building resilience in organizations. To discuss this work or to find out more about the book, please send me an email at [email protected]

I'll be travelling a bit over the next few months to conduct workshops on The Resilience Advantage. I've got several corporate workshop and manager consultations in Ohio and North Carolina. If you'd like more information on how resilience can help your company and organization to work more efficiently, please contact me.