From Halloween Fantasies to Revealing Visions of Saints

ChernabogOne of my most enduring images of evil came from watching A Disney Halloween (first aired in 1983) which opens with the Night on Bald Mountain sequence from Disney’s Fantasia (1940). This afternoon I was reading the lecture for an online theology course I am currently facilitating, Apocalypse Then, Apocalypse Now: Reading the Book of Revelation, as my phone suddenly began playing Mussorgsky’s haunting Night on Bald Mountain (which for some as-yet-indiscernible reason I had set as my ringtone) and it struck me that this composition and the Fantasia sequence were one of the most compelling visualizations of at least one aspect of the Book of Revelation.

Modest Mussorgsky originally composed the tone poem he first titled, appropriately, Saint John’s Night on the Barren Mountain in 1867 and used Slavic folklore concerning witches’ sabbaths as his subject matter. In 1886 the work was revised by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and subsequently adapted by Leopold Stokowski for Fantasia. This piece was also incidentally one of the listening selections for the music portion of Academic Decathlon in which I participated during my senior year of high school. Anyway, I make the connection between Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain and the Book of Revelation not just because I visualize evil as Chernabog (the black god/devil of the night that awakens the souls of the dead in a conjuring of evil on what was, in the original Slavic tale Walpurgisnacht, but reinterpreted in the context of Halloween) and see his minions as reminiscent of those bringing destruction as portrayed in Revelation 6-11 but rather that at the end of A Night on Bald Mountain it is the ringing of the Angelus bell which causes everything to change, paralleling to me what we see going on in the unsealing of the seventh seal (Revelation 8ff.) and the ensuing establishment of God’s reign (Revelation 21-22). In Fantasia we see Chernabog and his conjured retinue diminish back into hiding at the first ringing of the bell just as white-robed monks with lighted candles emerge only to enterPeaceful Dawn the gothic church as the tolling bell continues and as the daybreak visits from on high (Benedictus, Luke 1:78) with the peaceful ending of Mussorgsky’s composition. This too is a powerful image not so much of Halloween and the period in which evil is allowed to reign but of the victory of all those saints which we will proclaim this Sunday (Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14).

All of this seems to be in harmony with the basic thrust of our course, namely, that the Book of Revelation is not so much about terrible catastrophe befalling mankind as it is about convincingly showing that, no matter what horrible things happen, God is in control, the victory over death has been won, and we can hope in God’s final vindication. As a final note, it is curious that in Fantasia the end of A Night on Bald Mountain transitions seamlessly into Schubert’s Ave Maria (1825). A nod to Revelation 12ff.?

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