Halloween: Spoof, Spooked, or Spiritual Service?

By Rod Hemphill
October 18, 2007

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— Colossians 1:9-14

The History of Halloween*

Hundreds of years before Christ, the Celts, inhabitants of Britain and Ireland, observed a festival on October 31st, Samhain, eve of the Celtic New Year.

The power of the sun was fading, and for the next several months darkness would prevail. It was believed that the veil separating the living from the dead would be at its thinnest on October 31st, and evil spirits and the souls of the dead would pass through the veil and enter the world of the living.

These spirits could torment the living, crops might be destroyed, babies stolen, animals killed. They needed to be placated. But whereas the Devil, Lord of darkness, was generally feared, Samhain was also an opportunity to commune with the spirits, divine the future.

The Druids, priests of the Celtic religion, were charged with appeasing the goblins and preventing harm to the people. Huge bonfires were lit to guide the way of the spirits, and sacrifices (some of them human sacrifices) were performed to assure a good year. Celtics left food out for the spirits, hoping that a "treat" would prevent a "trick."

Centuries later, descendants of the Celts continued to observe the Samhain festival by dressing as evil spirits, roaming from house to house begging for food in exchange for leaving the household unharmed. They carved demon faces in hollowed out turnips and lighted them with candles. They tried to divine the future by seeing which roasting nut cracked first and to be assured of a lucky year by being able to retrieve an apple by one's mouth from a tub of water.

When Christianity spread through Europe in the 3rd and 4th centuries, the pagan temples were torn down, but the pagan worship and traditions continued.

In the 8th century, the Church decided to counter this festival by replacing it with a celebration of the Lord of Life. Instead of honoring evil spirits and the souls of the dead, the Church's new celebration honored the saints of Christian history - believers who had led notably Godly lives.

November 1st became All Saints' Day (All Hallow's Day) and the evening before was called All Hallow's Evening . . . Halloween.

But pagan customs continued, and with the growth of witchcraft in the Middle Ages, additional symbols came to be associated with Halloween, such as black cats, witches, bats and skulls.

The Irish immigrants to America in the 1800s brought these customs with them.
Only in recent years have parents become concerned about Halloween because deranged or sadistic people have put poison, needles or razor blades in the treats, or injured some Halloweeners.

Nevertheless, Halloween has become the 2nd most popular party night (2nd after December 31st) of the year. It's the one night that even adults can dress up and act foolish.

But while children and adults spoof the pagan Celtic customs, witches and Satanists consider Halloween to be one of the strongest times of the year to cast a spell, called "drawing down the moon." It is believed that the chief witch of the coven becomes a channel for the moon goddess, and the ritual is performed by the participants naked.

But witches and Satanists are just a small minority today, and few of them offer sacrifices, even less so human sacrifices. Since most of them now believe in reincarnation, few of them still practice black magic.

Children and adults celebrating Halloween are not thinking of death or the spirits of departed relatives –they're thinking only about candy and having fun. And merchants find Halloween to be a major retail season.

The Christian's Dilemma of Halloween

This leads some Christians into a real dilemma:

Is Halloween, even though generally nothing more than a spoof of old pagan superstitions, still so intrinsically linked to that paganism and the occult that it can lead people (especially curious children and young people) to become interested and experiment in pagan notions and occult groups, an action that may not only be dangerous, but is roundly prohibited in the Bible, the devotees of such practices being condemned and separated from God and the salvation Christ died to give them? Or . . .

Halloween is nothing more than a harmless spoof of old superstitions and gods that do not exist? . . . that children and party-goers are only interested in their "treats" and having fun, and no-one has any interest in taking any of it seriously.

Solution #1: Withdraw from Halloween

Christina Moore, in her article, The Moral in My Meatloaf (CBN.com), writes

Setting myself apart [from Halloween observances] will not alienate my neighbors or cause me to miss an opportunity to reach them; it will simply make them more curious. If I love them every day, today will not bother them. . . Rooted in Druidism and pagan worship, it is not a redeemable tradition, so I will not attempt to make this "holiday" a Christian celebration. I will simply close my door, put away the bowl of candy and shut off the light on my doorstep.

Some writers are very concerned at the subtle influence occultic games such as ouija boards and "Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board" have on curious and impressionable young people, an influence enhanced by the thousands of web sites that are designed to lead people into the occult. It is a fact not missed by the writers that some of the most horrific school shootings and teen suicide have been the outgrowth of students becoming involved in the occult or Satanism.

Speaking of his freedom (in Christ) to eat food that pagan butchers had dedicated to idols, the apostle Paul said, "Everything is permissible" (1 Corinthians 10.23). After all, he certainly didn't believe the pagan gods actually existed. But when he said, "Everything is permissible," he also said, "but not everything is beneficial" (1 Corinthians 10.23).

Solution #2: Transform Halloween to a Testimony of Victory in Jesus

Andy Freeman (The Enemy's Victory: Darkened Homes and Harvest Parties, CBN.com) writes,

The biggest trick played on Halloween is Christian kids and adults being bottled up inside churches or homes all night. . . Hiding from the devil in the family life center and surrendering the neighborhood to little Ghouls, goblins, and witches is a victory for old Beelzebub. He's got the church where he wants it: inside the four walls, hunkered down behind the stained glass. . . And what is your relationship evangelism strategy? Either hustle the kids over to church before nightfall or worse—turn out the lights, don't answer the door, thereby demonstrating your Christian love and hospitality. But if you do encounter a child in a pink bunny costume it goes something like this:

"We don't celebrate Halloween! There's no candy here for you, kid! Now get out of here."

And the parents of the pink bunny waiting at the foot of your sidewalk say:

"Boy, honey. There's something really different about that mean family that sits in the dark every Halloween. I really want what they have in their life."

Instead of abandoning the night to costumes of witches and devils, Freeman suggests turning (costumed) Biblical figures loose in the community. Imagine the shock when a couple of angels (instead of devils) say "please," "thank you," or "God bless you" as they receive their candy corn.

And instead of dropping a couple of pieces of candy in each child's bag, give the kids that call at your door the best candy treat on the entire block. Thank them for coming to your house. Make a fuss over their costumes. Be happy to see them. Tell them "God bless you." How would Jesus have treated the little children?

Put Christianity in a good light. Lay the ground work for a positive witness later in their lives. Maybe you'll be contacted even sooner by one of the parents watching from the darkness. Seize the opportunity! Go on mission! Take back the night!

John Fischer (Home for Halloween, CBN.com) asks what good we are in the world when we are constantly reacting to what is wrong with it by providing our own alternative entertainment—successfully removing ourselves from the world instead of being in it with the light and love of Christ. All that we believers do in life comes down to this question: Why are we here in this world?

Consider the way Jesus encountered the world: While he was intolerant of the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, and warned of the consequences of unrighteousness, he didn't spend his time railing at the sinfulness of the prostitutes, tax collectors, and the like, and he certainly didn't stay home in Nazareth. Instead, he walked into the center of the evil empire, mixed with its sinners and loved them and proclaimed the better way, the way of righteousness, the way that works in life. Instead of arguing his way against their way, he simply demonstrated its superiority and let evil's inferiority defeat itself.

I wonder how many of those Christians who conscientiously boycott Halloween because of its pre-Christian pagan origins would just as enthusiastically boycott Christmas, inasmuch as some of the symbols of Christmas are thought to have a pagan origin, and since the Christmas celebration itself is the superimposition of a Christian celebration over an old pagan holiday, just as is Halloween (All Hallows Eve)?

Ellie Lofaro's article in Today's Christian Woman (ChristianityToday.com), Why I Let My Kids Go Trick-or-Treating, suggests that Christians need to take back our religious and cultural celebrations such as All Hallows Eve. The Bible is clear that believers should not have any involvement with the occult or witchcraft, but there are no evil spirits in pumpkins, and they don't roam our neighborhood in black cats.

For some time militant secularism has been trying to strip all expressions of Christianity from American public life. Most recently they have been attacking the "one nation under God" phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance, and public displays of the symbols and carols of Christmas –even the mention of "Merry Christmas"! We believers should not surrender our faith and our religious celebrations to the demands and dictates of the atheists and secularists. And we accomplish that by refusing to remain in the place they have assigned us, and by going forth into the world and letting the light of God's love and truth shine for all to see.

Alister McGrath (The Twilight of Atheism, p.27; Doubleday 2004) convincingly observes that "the attractiveness of atheism is directly dependent upon the corruption of Christian institutions. Reform those institutions and the plausibility of atheism is greatly reduced." This corruption, I would further suggest, includes also the inclination of believers to get cozy in their lives in this world, forgetting that their assignment from the Lord is that they should stand for the truth rather than become innocuous and inconspicuous, hoping that the evil of this world will choose to ignore them.

Indeed, atheism is a philosophy built on the shifting sands of time. It misrepresents itself as reality, but it is the contradiction of reality. When believers rise up and behave as the people of God, atheism withers because it cannot compete with the truth, but when we become silent and take refuge in our homes and churches, atheism becomes aggressive, strong and tyrannical.

[God's] light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God. (Gospel of John 3.19-21)

Christian Alternatives to Pagan Foolishness

Have a neighborhood party in your yard. Parents will know their children are safe. Maybe explore what all frightens the children, and tell them how the Lord and his way can make them victors over those things. Make sure that all know that we can spoof the Devil and the powers of darkness not because they are superstition and do not exist, but because even though the do exist, they have been defeated in the lives of people who belong to Jesus Christ. Have children's Halloween tracts available along with (never instead of) the candy and treats.

Celebrate All Saints Day: Celebrate the faithfulness and example of those saintly people who have gone before us and their entrance into heaven and the presence of Christ, instead of celebrating the devil and his torments. Celebrating their faithfulness and example is far different from worshipping or praying to the saints. Hebrews 11 provides a Biblical example of setting the saints forth as examples of righteousness and faithfulness to God, sometimes in tortuous situations. All these are acclaimed as overcomers, as victors! These, not the forces of evil, are to be our heroes.

Have a Fall Harvest Party or simply a costume party. Party-goers might dress up as Biblical heroes. This would be an appropriate way to celebrate the dead in heaven who are part of the "body of Christ" of which the living people of God are a part, and stands in opposition to the ghoulish and macabre celebration of the dead. Avoid symbols of death and witchcraft, gore and monsters.

Have a Bible study on what God says about the occult and witchcraft. With the Halloween emphasis on death, torture, witchcraft and other occult ideas, and the natural curiosity of teenagers (who frequently come into contact with these influences), it is better for them to learn the truth about these pagan groups and cults and their teachings so as to forearm them, rather than allow them to experiment with these groups and their teachings and then try to rescue them.

Gather for a prayer and praise meeting. During this night when Satanists and witches' covens meet to cast their spells and perform grotesque rituals, it is appropriate for Christians to gather to praise the one and only God. Let it be a celebration and the theme be something like "Victory in Jesus," and be dynamically celebrated with praise and conviction of the power and faithfulness of God, his victory over death, Satan, hell and all evil (Romans 16.20) and his eventual total and absolute defeat of all that is evil. And pray for all the people who don't know that Jesus Christ wants to give them peace with God and eternal life. These are people who are searching for the wrong things in the wrong places. May they come to realize that all that the Godless world offers them is either an illusion or leads them to destruction, whereas their searching for meaning and fulfillment will be realized in the Lord.

Take back the night. Celebrate Halloween with the Halloweeners. Only not as witches, ghouls and vampires, but as heroes of the faith. Not with vandalism, but with acts of kindness, with prayers and watching over the neighborhood kids to ensure their safety. Not as people who are uncomfortable in the midst of all these images of evil and the occult, but as people who are cheerful and fun to be around because Jesus—not Satan—owns the night! "You are the light of the world. . . Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5.14, 16)

Whatever you choose to do on Halloween, use this Biblical guideline as you make your plans: "Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10.31).

This Is How I See It: The Christian's Place in a Pagan World

We Christians need to engage our culture . . . not retreat from it. The temptations to explore the occult are coming to our children and we cannot stop it or shield them from all of it. We must prepare our children for life in this culture.

Children need to be taught that the spiritual world is real, that Satan is real, and that evil exists and is no accident. But they need to know that life with Christ has the power to overcome this darkness. This instruction must be more than simply learning catechetical precepts. If we do not lead and enable our children to want to be followers of Christ and his Way, they will be vulnerable to the mystique and attractiveness of the promises of occultists and others who prey upon children and young people.

And I am concerned about the favorable emphasis our culture places on the occult, on horror and gore, on abortion, on death and the dehumanization of people, which results in the breakdown of interpersonal relationships and acts of common decency, and dehumanizes certain more troubled individuals to more easily perform hideous acts of violence against other people whom they now regard as no longer having human worth and dignity. Being involved in the culture of death and the occult is nearly a constant among the perpetrators of mass killings and school shootings over the last two decades.

It is still a minority that drives the secularist agenda in our country, although they are very vocal, well organized and funded, militant and whose strategy is to seize control of the basic institutions of our society inasmuch as the public will not willingly accept their worldview or agenda. Christians must come together to fight off this cancer and restore the way and Christian values which birthed and gave rise to this great nation.

Some things to keep in mind as you plan your Halloween celebration:

What may not hurt you may hurt others. The Apostle Paul has words that can be applied to the Halloween phenomenon when he wrote, "We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one". . . But "Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak" (1 Corinthians 8.4,9). Some of the young are especially impressionable and have vivid imaginations. Those who are inclined to live in an imaginary world may over time become intrigued in the things of the underworld.

Some permissible things may hinder your own Christian growth. People tend to move toward the things on which they fasten the eyes of their heart, their soul, their imagination. On Halloween, are your eyes fastened on the Lord or on the Dark Side? In Hebrews 12.1-2 we read, "Throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus."

God says, "Don't imitate evil!" This warning is found in Deuteronomy 18.10-11, and reads, "Let no-one be found among you who . . . practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft or casts spells, or is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead." Even if we don't participate in such things, could Halloween's spoofing such things create a curiosity that could lead to experimentation?

While keeping these things in mind, however, my inclination is to stand against the forces of atheistic secularism, against misrepresentations of the Christian faith, against those who assign Christians to their "proper place" and are outraged when we refuse to accept that.

I see Halloween as belonging not to those who would spoof it as a remnant of ancient superstitions, nor to those who would revive the ancient occultic practices. I see Halloween as belonging to the saints of God, living and deceased, people of faith whose lives have been characterized by being victors over the trials of life through their devotion to God, and who stood valiantly to proclaim in word and deed that Jesus is Lord and there is no other. . . people to whom the Lord can point as his trophies in the battle against entrenched evil in this world. After all, "Halloween" means All Hallows Eve, does it not . . . the evening before All Saints Day? It's a reminder of what reality is, when all that the forces of evil can produce is a pretense, a fearsome face. It's time to defang the pumpkin!

I ask myself, "What would Jesus do on Halloween?" and I'm reminded that he said "Do not hinder the little children from coming to me, for of such is the Kingdom of God." I can envision Jesus romping down the street with the children, laughing and playing, and in the process showing them the face of God, and leading them to learn that all the faces of the Dark Side and all its powers are losers before the awesome power and Presence of the Holy One who created them, who loves them, and who knows them by name.

Discussions:

• What was the significance of replacing the rites of paganism with the celebration of All Hallows? If "Halloween" means All Hallows Eve, what is the actual significance of Halloween?

• Explain that there are no gods but God alone, but that the forces of evil are real and not superstition.

• Consider how Christianity led the Western World out of the Dark Ages of superstition and the occult, out of mythology and the atrocities of barbarism, and in the process enabled true science to emerge, and that this did not happen anywhere in the nonChristian world.

• What are some possible problems with the way people celebrate Halloween?

• What are some problems with the way some Christians observe Halloween?

Considerations:

• How do you plan to spend Halloween? In what way will this present a positive witness for the Lord?

• If you believe in a Holy Spirit, should it be difficult to conceive of an unholy spirit?

• To what degree are you aware that evil is an actual force in this world and not just the result of ignorance, individual or collective greed, or simply unfortunate happenstance?

• Do you believe that this evil operates in various ways, whether overt or subtle, as may best accomplish its purposes?

• How might this Darkness be influencing our culture? Our individual lives?

• How experiential is your relationship with the Lord? And how does your relationship with the Lord protect you from the subtle leading and influence of this Darkness? "There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is the way of death" (Proverbs 14.12).

• What should the real theme of Halloween be? And what will it be for you this Halloween?
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* Most of the section, The History of Halloween, and occasional comments throughout this commentary are taken from the CBN.com commentary, Hallowed or Harmful.

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Other Articles by Rod:
The Golden Compass: A Warning for Parents
Refiner's Fire
How to Take Over a Country Without Firing a Shot