About Halloween... what should a committed Christian do? Some facts about the day..
This article was first published in the House of Prayer's newsletter, The Mediator, October, 1983.
Pastor Charles P. Clawson was then an elder with the HOP and a newsletter contributor to The Mediator.
Few holidays have a stranger or more paradoxical history than Halloween. As the 'vigil' of All Saints' Day (1 November), also known as Hallow Mass, it is the eve of one of the most important feasts of the church year as observed by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans. (Typical and nominal Protestants do not observe 1 November, All Saints' Day.)
The paradox occurs because the rites, creatures, and customs traditional to, and commemorated by, Halloween are rites and creatures that Christianity has, over the centuries, adamantly opposed -- an opposition based on solid Scriptural teaching from the Bible itself (1 Corinthians 10:20-21). Such creatures as ghosts, witches, sorcerers, goblins, fairies, demons, and Satan himself, are honored and glorified by this celebration. According to the Bible, such glorifying of the Prince of the darkness of this world and his minions is not to be practiced by God's people. (Ephesians 4:27)
Historically, Halloween represents a synthesis of the ancient Druidic practices, Anglo-Saxon beliefs, and classical Roman pagan religion, as well as an infusion of later Christian beliefs. October 31st was the eve of the New Year in both Celtic and Anglo-Saxon times. Ancient fire festivals were annually celebrated. Celtic households extinguished the fires on their hearths and gathered at a designated circle where the priests solemnly quenched the sacred altar fire, which had been burning since the previous October 31st. They then rubbed together two pieces of sacred oak to kindle a new fire on the altar. From this, each householder carried home a coal for his hearth. Also, the priests passed on coals from the sacred altar to light great bonfires on the highest hilltops to honor the sun god and to frighten away any evil spirits.
The Celtic order of Druids, which had originated in Gaul before the 2nd century BC, performed mystical ceremonies in honor of
the sun god at various sites. They called the end of the summer festival -- October 31st -- Samhain. This was the name by which
they called the Lord of the Dead who was worshipped on this night, making the festival a dual-purpose event. (A similar festival,
Beltaine, was celebrated on April 30th. Beltain is connected with the end of the winter, the coming of summer, and Walpurgis
Night, when Satan is worshipped.)
The Celts believed Samhain assembled the souls of all those who had died the previous year, each having been required to expiate his sins by dwelling in the body of an animal ~ cats, bats, rats, etc. Samhain then decreed what forms the dead should inhabit for the next 12 months or perhaps be admitted into the Druidic equivalent of heaven. Moreover, these souls were believed to be allowed to have a brief visit to their relatives. Now, these souls were also allowed to roam abroad and were not above playing tricks on the living. Therefore the Druids sought to appease them and simultaneously honor the sun god by sacrifice.
Horses were commonly sacrificed since they were sacred to the sun god, but there were also human sacrifices. Men,
mostly criminals, were imprisoned in wicker baskets stuffed with thatch and shaped like animals or giants. The Druid
priests set fire to them in pagan rites and burned the victims to death. In AD 61, Seutonius ordered the groves of human
sacrifice and augury destroyed after the Romans had conquered Britain.
In spite of the suppression by the Romans, the old rites continued in secret for centuries. It also survived in the open, but toned down to more "acceptable" forms. As late as 1600 (suspicioned to be reviving in this century), a survival of the Druid burnings is reported in Medieval history in Europe, where black cats were put into wicker cages and burned on Halloween.
In Britain, as late as 400 AD, horses and oxen were still sacrificed to Samhain. Even after Christians had arrived in Britain, and took over the old pagan temples and consecrated them for the worship of our Lord Jesus Christ, oxen were still sacrificed on Hallowmass. Sometimes they were led down the church aisle to the altar! Bede, in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, quotes a letter from
Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th century (700 AD) to Abbott Mellitus, instructing him to tell Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury,
that "the temples of the idols in that nation ought not to be destroyed, but that the idols should, and that the sacrifice of oxen
in pagan worship should be allowed to continue, but that this should be done in honor of the saints and the sacred relics."
The final incorporation of the feast of Samhain into the Christian calendar took a little longer. All Hallows' (All Saints') Day
commemorates all the saints in the church, known or unknown. In 609 AD, Pope Boniface IV consecrated the old Roman
temple, called the Pantheon, and dedicated it to the Blessed Virgin and to ALL the martyrs (May 31st). In 731 AD, Pope Gregory
moved it to November 1st (from Beltane to Samhain?) The day was already associated in the individuals' minds with a
gathering of the spirits of the dead. Outside the church, unsanctified as well as sanctified spirits gathering on this day was a belief which continued unabated, since the Roman Church particularly attempted to assimilate pagan worship, and not 'utterly destroy' it, as the Bible charged.
To these ghosts assembled were added troops of goblins, witches, demons, and fairies. Interestingly enough, fairy folk had their beginnings in an extremely ancient, even pre-Celtic, cult of the dead. Originally, the fairy folk were beings larger and more beautiful than men. They were the ghosts of ancient kings (mighty men) and heroes mingled with elder gods. They lived in ancient burial mounds and they rode forth on Samhain to look scornfully at the ugly, feeble folk who kept the land they had lived in and once ruled. Stunned by the sound of Christian bells, and shriveled by "holy water", they dwindled in size to the "fairy folk" or "little people" whose only vestige with the past was that they kept the same dwelling place.
Since the Roman Church had always adopted a tolerant acceptance of pagan rites, the conquered peoples continued to
practice placating local gods, and strengthening fertility by "magical" rites. In the late Middle Ages, when the church began
to take a stronger stand, active opposition emerged in the form of witchcraft. Most of its ritual is a travesty of Christian
roles and beliefs, and it chose Halloween as its great sacred day. The Prince of Darkness and his cohorts -- the witches,
warlocks, demons, and imps -- gathered to mock the church's festival of All Saints by unholy, blasphemous revels of their
own. They met on mountain tops -- in Germany, the Brocken; in Sweden, Blocksberg; in France, the forest of Ardennes;
in Britain, any old church, abbey, ruin, stonehenge or any other lonely heath.
By the 15th century, the church began to take a strong stand against witchcraft, but by the 1700's most laws against witchcraft were repealed. John Wesley (1703-1791) expressed regret that men of learning "have given up all accounts of witches and apparitions as mere old wives fables."
North America was predominantly settled by Protestants -- Puritans initially -- who did not observe the introduction of Halloween. Such customs and practices came with the Irish/Scottish immigration which occurred in the 1800's. Their secular customs became popular late in the 19th century. Mischief making used to characterize the general pattern of Halloween. In later years, emphasis has been put upon allowing small children to go house to house, trick or treating.
October 31st has lately taken on other names. It is now called UNICEF -- United Nations Children's Fund -- Day and money is collected and donated to the UN for use in relief of needy children. Along with being called UNICEF Day, it is also called National Magic Day in the US, which commemorates the memory of Harry Houdini, the magician who died on October 31, 1926. Finally, it is called Reformation Day, since it was on this day in 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the church door at Wittemburg, Germany,
knowing that the church would be full the following day to begin the celebration of All Saints' Day on 1 November
and All Souls' Day on November 2.
What does God's Word say about all these things?
It is clear that a Christian is to avoid "fellowship with darkness" ~ 1 John 1:6.
It is also clear that Satan and the things of this world are our enemies, if we are truly God's children ~ 1 Peter 5:8; James 4:4
All spirits of Satan's realm must be opposed ~ Deuteronomy 18:9-14
Witchcraft must be opposed as it is a thing God hates ~ 2 Chronicles 33:65
Witches must die ~ Exodus 22:18
Witches can be delivered and have that wrong spirit driven from them ~ Acts 16:18
(editor's note: this is the Christian's preferred choice to happen to any and all people caught in things that go against God and His stated principles.
Since witches and their cohorts should "die", then let it be via submitting to the Lord and be a death of the old man, leaving that old
way behind, and may each have a rebirth into newness of life in Christ.)
So, it is clear that we, as Christians must oppose Halloween and not compromise with the world, the flesh, or the devil.
Instead, we should devote our lives to the Lord (Leviticus 27:28-29) for if we compromise, as did Saul,
then we, too, shall wind up spiritually worshipping "the witch of Endor".
Halloween - Through Twenty Centuries, Ralph and Adelin Linton, Henry Schuman Publishers, 1950
New Catholic Encyclopedia, McGraw-Hill 1967
Enclyclopedia Britancia, Volume 11, 1970
American Book of Days, 3rd Edition, Jane M. Hatch, H. W. Wilson Company, NY, 1978
Celebrations: The Complete Book of American Holidays, R. J. Meyers, Doubleday, 1972
Additional Christian commentary and other resources....
Halloween History and the Bible by Bodie Hodge
The Origins of Halloween on JW.org