With the end of the month fast approaching I thought it might be helpful to examine the origins and practises surrounding Halloween. Some are questioning whether they ought to “celebrate” this day, and I think after reading this you may decide not to!
Historical Religious Origins
Before getting into the modern day, and the purely pagan aspects (of which there are many) let’s look at the religious roots.
The word hallow means sanctified, made holy. Halloween is therefore a contraction of the words “All Hallows Eve”, that is, the day before All Saints’ Day (All Hallows Day) in the liturgical calendar. It begins the observance of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year that was dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed.
Perhaps some Christians today don’t know that the Roman Catholic church believes in praying for the dead, many of whom, they believe, go to a place called Purgatory instead of Heaven, to be further purged of their sins, including by the means of prayers offered by the church faithful on their behalf.
Roman Catholics also believe in praying to [or they would say honouring] the especially sanctified people who have died (saints) because they can help in the process of sanctification or provide blessings. Thus, Halloween – as far as a religious observance was concerned – already involved invoking and relating to the dead, which is strictly forbidden in scripture. [Website]
At “AllHallows” it was believed the dead could not only hear the prayers of the faithful but in some cases returned to earth as ghosts to visit their loved ones. (This partly explains the predominance of skeletons and ghost costumes used today).
In Mexico and some other predominantly Catholic countries the “Day of the Dead” on the 1st and 2nd of November eventually became a festival of celebration, just as Halloween did in America and Europe. A common symbol of that celebration is the skull (in Spanish calavera), which celebrants represent in masks and foods inscribed with the name of the recipient.
At this point I will interject that the UK produced its own celebration around the same time (while largely ignoring Halloween) and this is called Bonfire Night, or more properly Guy Fawkes Night, to recall the heinous attack on the British Government by the man who now ends up being burned in effigy on many bonfires on November 5th.
Some may say the introduction of a bonfire and effigy of a dead man around the same time as the bonfires of Samhain was coincidental. I think not. (See this 2013 article by the Guardian, for instance.)
The Pope’s Change of Date
The present date of Hallowmas (All Saints’ Day) and thus also of its vigil (Hallowe’en) was perhaps established in October/November for Rome by Pope Gregory III (731–741 AD) but before that it seems the day was celebrated in May.
In the 7th century Pope Boniface IV established All Saints’ Day on May 13, but in the following century, perhaps in an effort to supplant a pagan festival with a Christian observance, it was moved to November 1.
The evening before All Saints’ Day became a holy, or hallowed, eve and thus Hallow’een.
By the end of the Middle Ages, the secular and the sacred days had merged, especially since the Reformation had made the standard Church festivals unpopular and people still wanted to have a good time regardless.
Unfortunately, the Roman Church in the early centuries had a policy of attracting worshippers by merging the very popular pagan festivals with Christian equivalents, hoping to supercede them and replace them.
They believed, if you replace a powerful pagan rite with a Christian one, it will sanctify the date and encourage people to come to Church instead. The opposite happened, and the Christian festivals became overwhelmed with the pagan overtones.
One present-day example is the Christ-Mass which shifted the real date of Christ’s birth from September to December in order to compete with the pagan end-of-year festivals such as Saturnalia – held by the Romans in honour of the god Saturn.
But also, it was the time of the Winter Solstice when people celebrated the death and rebirth of the sun god (Sol Invcitus), so the church leaders decided to incorporate the pagan festivals into the Church and “christianise” them in the hopes of attracting believers back into the Church. (How’s that worked out for ya??)
- Please see my extensive article about Christmas here: http://www.birthpangs.org/articles/misc/christmas1.html
The Celtic Celebration
The origins of the non-christian Halloween can be traced back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced Soween). The Pre-Christian Celtic year was determined by the growing seasons and Samhain marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark cold winter. There was a superstitious fear of passing from light and plenty into darkness and privation. The festival therefore also symbolised the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead.
It was believed by the Celts that on the night of 31st October, ghosts of their dead would revisit the mortal world and large bonfires were lit in each village in order to ward off any evil spirits that may also be at large. [Samhain]
These are some of the things associated with the Celtic festival:
- lighting a community fire
- leaving offerings outside for the spirits
- dressing as animals and monsters to fool the spirits (guising)
- sacrificing cattle or other animals
- children playing games to entertain the dead
- mumming – going door-to-door in costumes singing to the dead
- giving celebrants cakes in payment for their protection. [Sources]
- using forms of divination, such as:
- going to the church at midnight and standing in the porch
- girls looking in a mirror to see who they will marry
- walking three times round the graves at the graveyard
The Celtic festival continued for many years.
After the Roman conquest of Britain in 43 AD, and over the next four hundred years of occupation and rule, Roman gods and goddesses were incorporated into the existing Celtic festivals. Then eventually Christianity spread across the world, and the saints were added to the mix.
This produced a cacophony of different traditions, but most of them relating to the belief that the dead and the living would mingle on October 31st.
Bonfires [literally bone-fires] were lit (hence the UK Bonfire Night) and people would wear masks and costumes so as not to be recognised by anything unworldly. Since it was believed that evil spirits would be on the prowl seeking to take people back to the regions of the dead, householders would leave a skull on the porch or in the yard to fool the spirits, and to preserve the occupants of the house from danger. If a skull could not be found, a likeness was carved from a turnip or gourd.
Trick or Treat
These spirits would also perhaps (it was believed) knock on the house door and demand payment in exchange for safe passage; if suitable gifts were not given (perhaps a cake in the shape of a skull – as in the Mexican celebration) then a curse would follow – you needed to provide a “treat” or else you and your house would suffer harm.
Spirits and Souls
As noted earlier, Samhain was seen as a time when the boundary between this world and the Otherworld could more easily be crossed. This meant the spirits could more easily come into our world. At Samhain, it was believed that they needed to be propitiated to ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter.
People also took special care not to offend the demons or ghosts and sought to ward-off any who were out to cause mischief. They stayed near to home or, if forced to walk in the darkness, turned their clothing inside out to keep them at bay. The idea of disguising oneself (guising as it was called) took shape and costumes and masks became part of the rituals. [Guising]
Today’s Witchcraft and Satanism
In a report written by Satanist-become-Christian Sophie Di Katana, “Why Christians Should Not Celebrate Halloween” an insider tells of the mockery directed at gullible Christians who fail to see they are following pagan rituals, and the ways that pagans even today celebrate their beliefs.
“Throughout centuries, Halloween tradition was kept alive, but has taken a different form in our society today. The [former Celtic pagan] sacrifices and barbaric practices remain true today among occultists, but average citizens simply celebrate the holiday with costumes, candy, family gatherings, and do not even realize the demonic doors they are opening by doing so.
“Halloween today is one of the most important holidays for occultists (winter solstice, among others, being another crucial date). Many rituals (blood and sexual) are performed during this time, including in some cases sacrificing human beings.
“Not only is it believed that the veil is the thinnest between the spirit world and ours, but it is a prime time for summoning very powerful demons, making personal demands and advancing one’s Satanic agenda.
“While satanic rituals do occur during Halloween, the enemy and his minions (those who worship the occult) also target the Church.
“One goal of Halloween for witches and Satanists is to weaken and destroy the Church and all who follow Jesus Christ. How do they do it? By blending in with the crowd and drawing Christians into darkness. Like the Trojan Horse, they gain entry into churches by appearing innocent and helpful and try to work their magic and destruction from the inside out.
Honouring Satan Regardless of Intention?
“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness, and what communion has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14). Well, the answer is none as far as God is concerned. The two are opposite. God’s way is that of light. Darkness is that of Satan all throughout the scriptures, and the works of darkness come across that way. And in verse 15 it says, “What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols?” (2 Corinthians 6:15). [Source]
The writer continues with a warning:
“Most Christians do not even realize that occultists are among them. It is as though people are completely blind. Lack of discernment is a big problem in today’s churches. Satanists know this and they take full advantage of this.
“Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, once even said: “I am glad that Christian parents let their children worship the devil at least one night out of the year. Welcome to Halloween.”
“When even the Church of Satan founder takes joy in the fact that Christians celebrate this holiday, it is mind boggling how people do not take this seriously.
“Here is another fact that many may find shocking: Just because you don’t plan on honouring or dedicating yourself or your children to the devil and the occult, does not mean it does not happen anyway. Let me explain. Your intention in this case does not give you immunity to the consequences … when Christians decide to practice their free will to partake or celebrate in Halloween then they are not in the perfect will of God and they are rebelling against Him. They step outside of His protection step into enemy’s territory.
“I see churches decorate their establishments in orange colours, with skulls, and pumpkins and ladies wearing witches’ hats. Have we been de-sensitised so much to the point that we don’t even stop and realize that we are glorifying the enemy by doing these things?
“Never is it okay for a Christian to wear witch’s outfits, hats, or decorate their homes and churches with any Halloween themes. [like skeletons, skulls and death masks] Ignorance is not an excuse either.
In Hosea 4:6, God says: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.”
He says in 1 Corinthians 10:21: “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons”.
Also, in 3 John 1:11, God instructs us: “Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.”
“The only “Harvest” that the Church should be celebrating is the harvesting of souls for Jesus Christ and that can be done without participating in any celebrations on Halloween or even during the month of October. [End of quotes].
I think it is pretty obvious from the history, origins, customs and also the report from an ex-satanist that Halloween is not a festival that any self-respecting and God-honouring Christian should celebrate, no matter how or in what state of mind. Just redressing it in church clothes and pretending it’s different is a futile attempt to christanise something that is in every aspect pagan. This is what the Church of Rome attempted to do, and failed.
I am definitely going to avoid it and not participate in even the “harmless” events, no matter how much fun they might be nor what good intentions are displayed. As said above, ignorance is no excuse!
A Personal Addendum
My experience, living in the UK, is that here Halloween hardly existed as a festival at all until quite recently when it was imported from America (largely because of stores wanting to sell merchandise). This may also have been because, as a Celtic festival, it was more observed in Ireland and Scotland than in my native England.
So as a child I was not at all familiar with the events or practices surrounding Halloween. The only thing I remember is that my Mother would sneak outside and leave a small gift on the doorstep, then tell us that it had been left there, so we would go out and look at this mysterious package – a bag of sweets or bar of chocolate. This was presumably a folk custom she was familiar with. I don’t really know.
However, we did of course, like everyone else, have a big bonfire in the back garden on November 5th, and my father would make a Guy stuffed with straw to put on top. One year he used his old RAF uniform from the war!
I remember going into the outside wash-house and being scared half to death at the “man” standing in there, because Dad had parked the Guy there without telling us.
We also asked “a penny for the Guy” as we went round the village, pushing our Guy in a wheelbarrow. The day itself was lots of fun and excitement because we had fireworks and sparklers as well as the bonfire.
Sadly, the British traditions died out, and probably many do not even know who the Guy is supposed to be (Guy Fawkes). [See this page]