A Christian Response to Halloween
When we became followers of Jesus Christ, there were many practices we put behind us; lying, immorality, drunkenness, brawling, etc. We accepted that the clear teaching of Holy Scripture is that a believer should not make such habits a practice in his life. Many, however, feel that the bible is not so clear in condemning the believerís participation in the celebration of Halloween. They would say that it is a "gray area" where each man must be convinced in his own mind. Is this true? Let us examine, from a biblical and historical perspective, what the bible has to say about the revelry of October 31st.
Reference materials are in general agreement about the origins of the practices of Halloween:
Now a children's holiday, Halloween was originally a Celtic festival for the dead, celebrated on the last day of the Celtic year, Oct. 31. Elements of that festival were incorporated into the Christian holiday of All Hallows' Eve, the night preceding All Saints' (Hallows') Day.(4)
Customs and superstitions gathered through the ages go into the celebration of Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, on October 31, the Christian festival of All Saints. It has its origins, however, in the autumn festivals of earlier times.
The ancient Druids had a three-day celebration at the beginning of November. They believed that on the last night of October spirits of the dead roamed abroad, and they lighted bonfires to drive them away. In ancient Rome the festival of Pomona, goddess of fruits and gardens, occurred at about this time of year. It was an occasion of rejoicing associated with the harvest; and nuts and apples, as symbols of the winter store of fruit, were roasted before huge bonfires. But these agricultural and pastoral celebrations also had a sinister aspect, with ghosts and witches thought to be on the prowl.
Even after November 1 became a Christian feast day honoring all saints, many people clung to the old pagan beliefs and customs that had grown up about Halloween. Some tried to foretell the future on that night by performing such rites as jumping over lighted candles. In the British Isles great bonfires blazed for the Celtic festival of Samhain. Laughing bands of guisers (young people disguised in grotesque masks) carved lanterns from turnips and carried them through the villages.
In ancient Britain and Ireland, October 31 was celebrated as the end of summer. In later centuries it was the opening of the new year and was the occasion for setting huge bonfires on hilltops to drive away evil spirits. The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on that day, and the annual fall festival acquired sinister connotations, with evil spirits, ghosts, witches, goblins, black cats, and demons wandering about. (3)
Halloween, name applied to the evening of October 31, preceding the Christian feast of Hallowmas, Allhallows, or All Saints' Day. The observances connected with Halloween are thought to have originated among the ancient Druids, who believed that on that evening, Saman, the lord of the dead, called forth hosts of evil spirits. The Druids customarily lit great fires on Halloween, apparently for the purpose of warding off all these spirits. Among the ancient Celts, Halloween was the last evening of the year and was regarded as a propitious time for examining the portents of the future. The Celts also believed that the spirits of the dead revisited their earthly homes on that evening. After the Romans conquered Britain, they added to Halloween features of the Roman harvest festival held on November 1 in honor of Pomona, goddess of the fruits of trees.
The Celtic tradition of lighting fires on Halloween survived until modern times in Scotland and Wales, and the concept of ghosts and witches is still common to all Halloween observances. Traces of the Roman harvest festival survive in the custom, prevalent in both the United States and Great Britain, of playing games involving fruit, such as ducking for apples in a tub of water. Of similar origin is the use of hollowed-out pumpkins carved to resemble grotesque faces and lit by candles placed inside. (1)
So, according to secular resources, the traditions of Halloween are based upon the worship of false gods, contact with the dead, foretelling the future, and communing with evil spirits. Does the bible have anything to say about these practices?
The worship of false gods is condemned numerous times in both the Old and New Testaments and is emphasized so strongly that it is the very first of the commandments given to Moses on Sinai. In Exodus 20:2-3 the Lord writes with His own hand: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me". In Deuteronomy 11:16 He warns the Israelites, "Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them". The Psalmist warns in Psalm 81:9, "You shall have no foreign god among you; you shall not bow down to an alien god". John even closes the "Love Letter" of 1John with the admonition to "...keep yourselves from idols" (1Jn 5:21).
The passage in the bible that most directly addresses the customs mentioned above is Deuteronomy 18:9-14, where we read:
9 When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there.
10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft,
12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you.
13 You must be blameless before the LORD your God.
14 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.
We see here about the most inclusive list of the activities upon which Halloween was established that can be found anywhere in the bible, and the practitioners thereof are labeled "detestable". Those habits are, in fact, the very reason the Pagan nations were driven out of the Promised Land.
In Amos 5:14 The Lord tells Israel, "Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. He goes on in the next verse to say, "Hate evil, love good". Note the emphasis (added) on the statement "just as you say He is". Even though one may be making a profession of faith, Amos is clearly saying that the Lord Almighty is not with those who are actually seeking evil, instead of good. Peter reminds us of this when he says "...the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil" (1Pet 3:12).
At this point some may say, "But all of that was ages ago. None of that significance remains. It is now a harmless kids holiday, isnít it?" Letís see just what significance, if any, there is in the modern holiday of Halloween.
Rowan Moonstone (a pseudonym), a self described witch, has written a pamphlet entitled "The Origins of Halloween" in which he seeks to defend Halloween from the "erroneous information" contained in "woefully inaccurate and poorly researched" Christian tracts on the subject. Following are excerpts from the question and answer style article.
1. Where does Halloween come from?
Our modern celebration of Halloween is a descendent of the ancient Celtic fire festival called "Samhain". The word is pronounced "sow-in", with "sow" rhyming with cow.
2. What does "Samhain" mean?
The Irish English dictionary published by the Irish Texts Society defines the word as follows: "Samhain, All Hallowtide, the feast of the dead in Pagan and Christian times, signalizing the close of harvest and the initiation of the winter season, lasting till May, during which troops (esp. the Fiann) were quartered. Faeries were imagined as particularly active at this season. From it the half year is reckoned. also called Feile Moingfinne (Snow Goddess). The Scottish Gaelis Dictionary defines it as "Hallowtide. The Feast of All Soula. Sam + Fuin = end of summer." Contrary to the information published by many organizations, there is no archaeological or literary evidence to indicate that Samhain was a deity. The Celtic Gods of the dead were Gwynn ap Nudd for the British, and Arawn for the Welsh. The Irish did not have a "lord of death" as such.(2)
Okay, it is possible that the name of the god and the name of the celebration got mixed up in someoneís research. Note that he still admits it was a "feast of the dead". He then describes its significance:
4. What does it have to do with a festival of the dead?
The Celts believed that when people died, they went to a land of eternal youth and happiness called Tir nan Og. They did not have the concept of heaven and hell that the Christian church later brought into the land. The dead were sometimes believed to be dwelling with the Fairy Folk, who lived in the numerous mounds or sidhe (pron. "shee") that dotted the Irish and Scottish countryside. Samhain was the new year to the Celts. In the Celtic belief system, turning points, such as the time between one day and the next, the meeting of sea and shore, or the turning of one year into the next were seen as magickal times. The turning of the year was the most potent of these times. This was the time when the "veil between the worlds" was at its thinnest, and the living could communicate with their beloved dead in Tir nan Og.
11. What other practices were associated with this season?
Folk tradition tells us of many divination practices associated with Samhain. Among the most common were divinations dealing with marriage, weather, and the coming fortunes for the year. These were performed via such methods as ducking for apples, and apple peeling. Ducking for apples was a marriage divination. The first person to bite an apple would be the first to marry in the coming year. Apple peeling was a divination to see how long your life would be. The longer the unbroken apple peel, the longer your life was destined to be.(9) In Scotland, people would place stones in the ashes of the hearth before retiring for the night. Anyone whose stone had been disturbed during the night was said to be destined to die during the coming year.(2)
So from the pen of a defender of the holiday we find that pretty much all that has been said about the holiday by the encyclopedias cited earlier , with the possible exception of the faulty association of god status on the name Samhain, is true. Toward the end of the article Mr. Moonstone makes what seems to be, for our purposes, the most telling statement of all:
14. Does anyone today celebrate Samhain as a religious observance?
Yes. many followers of various pagan religions, such as Druids and Wiccans observe this day as a religious festival. They view it as a memorial day for their dead friends, similar to the national holiday of Memorial Day in May. It is still a night to practice various forms of divination concerning future events. Also, it is considered a time to wrap up old projects, take stock of ones life, and initiate new projects for the coming year. As the winter season is approaching, it is a good time to do studying on research projects and also a good time to begin hand work such as sewing, leather working, woodworking, etc. for Yule gifts later in the year.(2)
So, according to a witch, for Druids and Wiccans the day still holds religious significance. It is a festival during which "various forms of divination" are practiced. This position is supported in the following article. A witch is giving tips to other homeschooling (!) Witches at a website entitled "Halloween: October Festival of the Dead".
Origins: All Hallow's Eve, Halloween or Samhain once marked the end of grazing, when herds were collected and separated for slaughter. For farmers, it is the time at which anything not made use of in the garden loses its' life essence, and is allowed to rot. Halloween is the original new year, when the Wheel of the Year finishes: debts are paid, scores settled, funereal rites observed and the dead put to rest before the coming winter. On this night, the veil between our world and the spirit world is negligible, and the dead may return to walk amongst us. Halloween is the night to ensure that they have been honored, fed and satisfied--and is the best time of the year for gaining otherworldly insight through divination and psychic forecasting. Recognition of the unseen world and the ordinary person's access to it, as well as the acceptance of death as a natural and illusory part of life is central to the sacred nature of this holiday.(5)
Note her use of the present tense to describe the various aspects of Halloween. Of special interest is the term "sacred nature of this holiday". Further down the webpage, in an article entitled "Elemental Homeschooling", she gives the following suggestions for how to enlighten your children on (and about) Halloween.
As much fun as it is for children to get great bags of sweets at Halloween, the origins of this time of year are sacred and meaningful. It is the time when nature appears to die, so it becomes natural to consider those who have passed away to the spirit world. Bring out pictures of your ancestors and re-tell the old family stories to those who havenít heard them yet. Remind yourself where you come from. Water is the element of Autumn, and the fluidity of emotion is most apparent in the Fall. We retreat within, burrow down into our homes in order to stay warm for the coming winter. We look within, and easily seek inner communication. Halloween is the perfect time to link the deepening of emotion with finding new ways to search for interior wisdom. Likewise, this is a fun and exciting holiday: theatrics, costuming, and acting out new personas express our ability to change. Here are some ideas for integrating this holy day with home schooling lessons.
∑methods of inner communication with divination tools: tarot, palmistry, astrology, dream journaling ... ∑archetypes: fairy tales, storytelling ∑the Dark Ages, the medieval era, issues about superstition and eternal truths ∑skeletons: the skeletal system, organs, anatomy ∑...issues about death, persecution (using the Burning Times as a beginning point for older children), mysteries, the spirit world ∑night: nocturnal animals ∑bodies of water: rivers, lakes, ocean, ponds ...(5)
Once again she uses the present tense and describes Halloween as a "Holy Day". She also advocates many of the activities specifically condemned by Deut 18:9-12. Obviously, there is a lot more to Halloween than some costumed kids gathering a stomach ache or two worth of candy. It is clearly a festival of the Kingdom of Darkness.
The scripture has a lot to say about participating in such activities, "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. As God has said: 'I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people." "Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you'." 2Cor 6:14-17. 1Ths 5:22 says to "avoid every kind of evil". Jesus said it best in John 3:19-21 "This is the verdict: 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". Finally, Paul gives us an idea for a costume to be worn on Halloween (or any) night: "The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light" (Rom 13:12).
There will certainly be people who will still rationalize ways to participate, at some level, in the festivities of Halloween. To this the Lord replies in Proverbs 3:7 "Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil", and 8:13 "To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech". Will we seek to push the boundaries of our faith, to see just how far we can go? Or will we seek to serve the Lord with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength? "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter" (Isa 5:20).
The Lord equates Spiritual maturity with the ability to discern good and evil. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that they should "stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults" (1Cor 14:20). The author of Hebrews makes it even more clear when he says "But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Heb 5:14).
For those who would still insist that they can participate in such activities with a clear conscience there is another aspect to think about; the example you are to those around you. "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God-- even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved" (1Cor10:31-33). It is curious to note that in the same breath that Paul says "Love must be sincere" he says "Hate what is evil; Cling to what is good" (Rom 12:9). If we have sincere love for our brethren we will do all that we can to set a good example and not be a stumbling block to them.
Rom 14:16 Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil.
17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,
18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.
19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.
21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.
22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.
23 But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
1Cor 8:7 But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.
8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.
9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
10 For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols?
11 So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.
12 When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.
13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.
The weak or new brother who sees or hears of one of us participating in Halloween may be led or feel pressured to participate himself, even though he does not have a clean conscience about the activity. For him then the activity is clearly sin, because it does not come from faith. This brother would have been pushed toward this sinful state by your indulgence.
Consider another aspect of this; who among us is weaker than our children? Can we take the risk of them seeing us participating, however marginally, in an activity rife with occultism? Jesus had harsh words for those who would cause such little ones to stumble! (Matt 18:6). We work so hard at protecting them from the evil world around them, will we then be guilty of corrupting them for the sake of a celebration of that very evil? "Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character" (1Cor 15:33).
The best thing we can do for our relationship with Jesus is devote ourselves entirely to Him. "...Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with endurance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith" (Heb 12:1b-2a). How fixed on Jesus can our eyes be if we are spending a night, or even an evening, thinking on darkness? So lets press on to know the Lord!
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