Many of the practices associated with the modern celebration of Halloween are derived from the superstitious customs of an ancient pagan people known as the Druids. Halloween was the day on which the Druids honored their “Lord of the Dead,” a pagan god called “Samhain.” The Druids believed that Samhain was responsible for judging the souls of the people who had died that year. These souls, because of their sins, were confined in the bodies of animals until the New Year (which fell on November 1st according to the Druid calendar). At that time Samhain would judge whether each soul could be freed to claim a ‘heavenly’ reward or remain in the body of an animal for another year.
It was on the night before this judgment, October 31, that the Druids believed the souls of the dead were free to mingle among the living. In order to provide for these ghosts, the Druid people would heap tables with food of all kinds. At the end of the day, townspeople of some villages would dress up in costumes and masks, representing the ghosts they were paying tribute to, and march to the outskirts of the village. In so doing, they hoped to lead the ghosts away and avert any trouble the spirits might bring upon them. In other villages, the people would simply leave out food as an offering for the ghosts. In any case, the point of all this was to appease the ghosts by offering them “treats.” Should the villagers fail to adequately provide for the spirits, all sorts of evil could befall them. Their cattle might become sick and die, houses might burn down, people could become sick or any of a number of calamities could be caused by disgruntled spirits.
Another practice associated with the observance of Halloween by the Druids was the offering of animal or even human sacrifices to atone for the sins which were
committed by the dead and help to send them on their way to heaven. Humans were being sacrificed in this manner until well into the first century AD. For hundreds of years after that, animal sacrifices continued, usually involving black cats or horses.
In the Middle Ages, Halloween became known as a time when the followers of Satan were most active and enjoyed the greatest power. With the spread of Christianity, Halloween became a time of great activity for those opposed to the church. Many of their activities were specifically directed against Christianity: mock communions were held, symbols of Christianity such as the cross were profaned in various ways (such as painting obscene versions of the symbols on Christian churches) and the devil was worshipped instead of God.
WHERE DID THE NAME “HALLOWEEN” COME FROM?
In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III decreed that the Catholic festival for all the saints in Heaven be moved from May to November 1. In the ninth century, Pope Gregory IV made this feast a universal celebration of the Catholic Church. The feast came to be called All Saints Day or All Hallows (i.e. “all the holy ones”) Day. In the same way that the day before New Years is called New Years Eve, the day before All Hallows became known as “Hallows Eve” or “Halloween.” Ironically, then, the name “Halloween” has nothing whatsoever to do with the pagan festival itself, but rather with the Catholic holiday which falls on the day after Halloween. Unfortunately, this has given some Christians the impression that Halloween was originally a Christian festival. Nothing could be further from the truth.
HOW DID BLACK CATS AND JACK-0-LANTERNS GET ASSOCIATED WITH HALLOWEEN?
Witches have traditionally kept living talismans which are indwelt by evil spirits and from which they derive their power. Although a variety of animals have been used for this purpose (e.g. snakes, owls, and others) the black cat has come to symbolize the witch’s talisman. In earlier times, many people believed that the witches could even assume the form of their talisman (i.e. that the witch could assume the form of a black cat).
The Jack-O-Lantern, which is symbolized today by a pumpkin carved into a leering face, was believed to be a soul which could not go to either Heaven or Hell because of some heinous deed committed in its lifetime. Another name for such a wandering soul is ‘will-o-the-wisp.” A will-o-the-wisp was believed to entice people to follow it and then lead its hapless victims to become hopelessly lost in the woods or fog. It would then laugh mockingly at its victim’s plight.
ONE TODAY REALLY BELIEVES
In modern America, it’s true that many people simply regard the practices associated with Halloween as quaint remnants of a bygone era. Society is secularized and the only kind of “spirits” many people believe in come in a bottle. For such people, Halloween itself has no real meaning beyond providing a reason for a party or a chance to dress up their children in “cute” costumes.
This is not the case in many Third World countries, however. These people still believe in the supernatural and take the rituals very seriously. In the United States, there are also groups who still take the customs of Halloween seriously. Many Native Americans in the Southwest still leave food outside at night for the spirits on Halloween night. Interestingly, another group which takes Halloween very seriously is witches. CAF talked with a Tucson witch (see the Fall, 1986 issue of The Servant, published by CAF) who told us that Halloween was one of eight major festival times for witches. She characterized it as a time of very high “energy” when the “door” to the spirit world is open. Although she emphasized that all the festivals were important in their own right, still Halloween is a very ‘special” time for witches.
Given the pagan origins of Halloween, many Christians wonder if they should participate in such activities at all. Should Christian children be allowed to go trick-or-treating? Should Christians give out candy to trick-or-treaters who come to their door? Should Christians just ignore the whole holiday?
First, we need to acknowledge that these issues are a matter of honest disagreement between Christians today. Some feel that it’s just harmless fun and that it doesn’t mean the same things to us that it meant to those who originated the practice. Others believe the occult and mystical origins and trappings of traditional Halloween celebrations render it unacceptable for Christian participation.
What does Scripture have to say?
Even a cursory examination of God’s Word reveals that Scripture condemns all practices connected with the origins of Halloween. Occultic practices such as witchcraft, magic, and consulting the dead are strictly forbidden to God’s people. In Deuteronomy 18:9-14, God warns His people:
“When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter to the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out these nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God. The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so.”
In Exodus 22:18, we find that the penalty for such practices was death. Leviticus 19:31 warns that those who turn to mediums or spiritists “will be defiled by them” and Leviticus 20:6 says that those who follow mediums and spiritists will be ‘cut off” from their people. The final state of such sorcerers will be the Lake of Fire (Revelation 21:8).
It is abundantly clear from God’s Word that He wants His people to have nothing to do with the practices of paganism: “Do not learn the ways of the nations” says the Lord in Jeremiah 10:2, God’s people are to be holy and separated to Him:
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God... Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you...”
“Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” (2 Corinthians 6:15 to 7:1)
In addition to condemning the occultism which has perpetuated Halloween, Scripture also refutes the pagan view of death which spawned Halloween: namely, the idea that ghosts wander about the earth searching for their resting place. Luke 16 teaches that there is a great gulf fixed between the living and the dead—a gulf which no spirit can cross.
In this brief tract, we have tried to show that Halloween originated with pagan mysticism, that God finds all such practices detestable, that He has forbidden His people in both the Old and New Testaments from having anything to do with such practices and that He has, instead, called us to be holy and separated to Him.
Some will still say it’s only make-believe. But is this the sort of fantasy God would have us entertain? Do you think Jesus would have participated in trick-or-treating if it had been a custom of the Jews? Would the Apostle Paul? Or Peter?
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