What about this strange festival? What have goblins, witches and ghosts to do with this feast of demoniacal masks and gaudy decorations?
EACH YEAR millions around the world observe the strangest of all festivals — Halloween. Especially so in Great Britain, Scandinavia and the United States. Every autumn, young and old alike adhere to its observance. It is a night of frolicking fun and frivolous foolishness. All kinds of nonsense and superstitions are associated with this festival. On this night children dress in outrageous costumes and put on witch-like masks. Then they are let loose to frighten people into giving them food and other gifts. Many are familiar with the "trick or treat" threat associated with Halloween. Buildings are desecrated, windows broken and other fooleries resorted to. Why, then, do we keep Halloween? What useful purpose does such a celebration fulfill in this "enlightened" scientific twentieth century? Is it merely a harmless celebration for our children to participate in? Or is there something more harmful and sinister behind it? It's about time we checked into this observance to see where and when it really originated and for what purpose it was established. You may not have realized it but the ancient Druids in Britain, the pagan Romans and Greeks, the Babylonians and others kept a Halloween festival. Yes, Halloween long antedates Christianity! It was only later introduced into the professing Christian world — centuries after the death of the apostles. But it was celebrated by the pagans long before the time of Christ. Notice! "The earliest Halloween celebrations were held by the Druids in honour of Samhain, Lord of the Dead, whose festival fell on November 1" (Halloween Through Twenty Centuries, Ralph Linton, p. 4). Further, "It was a Druidical belief that on the eve of this festival Saman, lord of death, called together the wicked spirits that within the past 12 months had been condemned to inhabit the bodies of animals" (Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed., Vol. XII, pp. 857-858). "It is clearly a relic of pagan times"! (The Book of Days, Chambers, Vol. 11, p. 519.) Read what this November celebration was like! It was a pagan belief that on one night of the year the souls of the dead return to their original homes, there to be entertained with food. If food and shelter were not provided, these spirits would cast spells and cause havoc toward those failing to fulfill their requests. "It was the night for the universal walking about of all sorts of spirits, fairies, and ghosts, all of whom had liberty on that night" (Highland Superstitions, Alexander Macgregor, p. 44). Literal sacrifices were offered on this night to the spirits of the dead, as they visited their earthly haunts and their friends. In 400 A.D., for instance, an Irish king commanded his subjects to make sacrifices and worship a pagan deity on the first of November. There was a reason why November was chosen for that particular event. The Celts and other northern peoples considered the beginning of November as their New Year. It was logical. This was the time when the leaves were falling and a general seasonal decay was taking place everywhere. Thus it was a fitting time for the commemoration of the dead. Since the northern nations at that time began their day in the evening, the eve leading up to November 1st was celebrated. According to our Roman calendar it would be the evening of October 31st.
Halloween, or All Souls' Eve, was kept throughout the pagan world. Note how widespread such an observance was : "There was a prevailing belief among all nations that at death the souls of good men were taken possession of by good spirits and carried to paradise; but the souls of wicked men were left to wander in the space between the earth and moon, or consigned to the unseen world. These wandering spirits were in the habit of haunting the living. . . But there were means by which these ghosts might be exorcised" (Folklore, James Napier, p. 11 ) . To exorcise these ghosts, that is, to free yourself from their evil sway, you would have to set out food and provide shelter for them during the night. If they were satisfied with your offerings, they would leave you in peace. If not, they were believed to cast an evil spell on you. "In Wales it was firmly believed that on All Hallows Eve the spirit of a departed person was to be seen at midnight on every crossroad and every stile" (Folklore and Folk-Stories of Wales, Marie Trevelyan, p. 254). In Cambodia people used to chant: "O all you our ancestors, who are departed, deign to come and eat what we have prepared for you, and to bless your posterity and to make it happy" (Notice sur le Cambodge, E. Aymonier, p. 59). In China in 1875, the following placard was posted by order of the emperor throughout the district of Rangoon: "There will this year be scarcity of rice and plenty of sickness. Evil spirits will descend and inquire into sickness. If people do not believe this, many will die in September and October. Should any people call on you at midnight, do not answer; it is not a human being that calls, but an evil spirit..." (Folklore, p. 12). This sort of Halloween festival was strenuously observed throughout the non-Christian world. Pagans would pray to their false gods to prevent demons and witches from molesting them. Notice ! "The Miztecs of Mexico believed that the souls of the dead came back in the twelfth month of the year, which corresponded to our November. On this day of All Souls the houses were decked out to welcome the spirits. Jars of food and drink were set on a table in the principle room, and the family went out with the torches to meet the ghosts and invite them to enter. Then, returning to the house they knelt around the table, and with their eyes bent on the ground, prayed the souls to accept the offerings" (Adonis, Frazer, p. 244). This, then, is the way the heathen world celebrated their Halloween, their All Souls' Day. Although some aspects of the Halloween festival varied with each country, the overall pattern and purpose did not.
But how did the professing Christian world come to accept and keep such a day? Here is how! For numerous years prior to the 6th century, Rome was invaded and ruled by Barbaric tribes from the north. But in 607 A.D. the Roman Emperor Phocas defeated the Barbarians. The Roman Pantheon, a pagan edifice which had been wrestled from the barbarians, was given to Pope Boniface IV. Emperor Hadrian rebuilt the Pantheon around 100 A.D. He dedicated it to the pagan goddess Cybele and to the other Roman deities. This temple then became the central place in Rome where the pagans honored and commemorated their gods. With this splendid edifice now falling into the hands of the professing Christians, the question was, what should be done with it? After several ideas were put forward, this is what was finally decided. Whereas the pagan dedication had been to Cybele and all the gods, the Roman bishop now consecrated it to the Virgin Mary and all the saints of both sexes. (See The Mysteries of All Nations, Grant, p. 120.) Thus, this pagan building became a "holy" structure. No more did the pagans use this edifice to pray for their dead. It was now the Christ-professing Romans who employed the Pantheon in praying for their dead. This rededication of the pagan temple to Mary and others occurred in 610 A.D. Now converted into a Christian shrine, an annual festival was instituted to commemorate the event. The day chosen was May 13. The Christian-professing populace now paid homage to the consecrated Pantheon and to those for whom it was dedicated. The masses were encouraged to pray to Mary and the other saints. This day became known as "All Saints' Day" — a day on which prayers were offered for the souls of saints who had died. The more prayers were offered, the less they would suffer the interim time in "purgatory." Later, even money was solicited for expiation purposes, thus curtailing the saints' sufferings. This commemoration of the dead saints, going by the name of "All Saints' Day," continued to be held in May within the Empire until 834 A.D. At this time, the name and date were changed. "The time of celebration was altered to the first of November, and it was then called ALL HALLOW" — from where we get the name Halloween; all hallow merely meaning all holy, and the "een" is a contraction of evening (Folklore, p. 177 ). Thus in 834 A.D., the church at large kept Halloween on the first of November for the first time. And yet, this was the very same day the Druids in Britain, the Norsemen in Scandinavia, and the pagan Germans among others were keeping their festival of All Souls' Eve, in commemoration of Saman, lord of death and his demons.
Reason for Change
Why did the Roman church change the date to November 1st, thus coinciding with the pagans' feast of All Souls'? Here is the reason! It was a general practice of the Christianized Roman Empire and the church at Rome to convert the pagans within the Empire as quickly and on as large a scale as possible. Ever since the time of Constantine — who made Catholicism the state religion — the Roman emperors realized how essential it was to have a unified Empire, where as many as possible would be of one mind. The civil and religious leaders saw how important it was for the sake of unity to allow only one religion within the Roman domain. It became, therefore, a stringent state policy to force all non-Christians to accept the orthodox faith. The condition for "conversion," of course, made it very easy for the pagan population of Rome and elsewhere to accept Christianity. If "acceptance" of Christianity was made simple, refusal was made difficult. This plan of action led vast numbers of the heathen population within the Empire to flock into the fold of the church.
Conversion of Germans
Here is an example. When Charlemagne — who was crowned in 800 A.D. by the Pope — invaded and conquered parts of Eastern Germany, he compelled the conquered German king, Wittekind, to be baptized and to accept Christianity. With his life at stake, this heathen — who .knew nothing about Christ — was forced into "conversion." And with him his entire people. This policy did, of course, help the cause of unity. But it also provided the church with complex problems. These pagans, who were usually baptized en masse, were still pagans at heart. Even though they became nominal Christians, they still yearned for the heathen practices they were expected to discard. With Wittekind's baptism, for example, a vast number of barbarians were added to the roll call of the church. And within 50 years of this occasion, the church changed the date and name of their All Saints' Day to November 1st, calling it Halloween. All within the Empire were now expected to keep this festival on the newly decreed date. Wittekind's professing Christians, with other conquered pagans, had a profound influence on the ecclesiastical affairs of the church. Along with numerous other "Christianized" pagans, these barbaric and uncultured people brought with them many outright pagan practices and celebrations. Halloween was merely one of many. The pagans were fervent in clinging to their past ceremonies and observed them openly — yet supposedly they had been converted to Christianity. What was the church to do? Excommunicate them and thus reduce her membership? This she would not do. Was she to force them into discarding their heathen practices? This, as she had learned in past times, was not possible. There remained only one other way. This, then, is what was decided: Let the recently converted pagans keep certain of their heathen festivals, such as Halloween or All Souls' Day. But with one stipulation. No longer were they to pray to pagan gods, and evil spirits, but now they must use this day to commemorate the death of the true saints. They were to worship and pray to the saints on this day. To make it easy for them, the Roman church even changed the date of All Saints' Day from May 13 to November 1st. The church felt that, by divesting Halloween of its heathen basis, she could allow her followers to observe this festival. The church understood the yearnings pagans had for their old ways. But she reasoned that these heathen practices they were allowed to observe were now put to a good use. She thought that by uprooting the pagan deities from Halloween and embedding the dead saints into that festival instead, she would cleanse or purify this festival. Often, throughout her history, the Christian-professing church would resort to this action. We have a prime example of this given to us by Pope Innocent. He refers to a heathen festival the pagans kept in the early part of the Roman Empire. Here are the Pope's own words: "The heathen dedicated this month (2 Feb.) to the infernal gods... In the beginning of this month the idolaters walked about the city with lighted candles, and as some of the holy fathers could not extirpate such a custom, they ORDAINED that Christians should carry about candles in honour of the Virgin Mary" (Folklore, p. 181). Time and again the church allowed her followers to resort to heathen days and practices in worshipping God, or what she considered to be the worship of God. [Editor's Note: To find out more about the church in general, read our FREE article Why So Many Denominations?]
Church Failed to Control Heathen
"Thus, at the first promulgation of Christianity to the Gentile nations... they could not be persuaded to relinquish many of their superstitions, which, rather than forego altogether, they chose to blend and incorporate with the new faith" (Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, John Brand, p. xi). If a pagan practice or festival could not be forbidden, the church felt, then let it be tamed. Thus the church persuaded her followers to transfer the devotion of these former heathen from their gods to the Christian God. So it was with the festival of All Sods' Eve. Not able to dissuade her new recruits from observing this heathen festival, the church allowed her followers to celebrate Halloween if they were to honour the saints on that day, instead of pagan deities. But did she succeed? Did the pagans, in keeping this heathen festival, really transfer their former devotion from demons to saints? Did these recently converted pagans worship the true God on this day? Not at all! The church failed in attempting to focus the pagans' attention upon the true God and away from their own idols. Being used to nature worship, they retained many heathen embellishments in their celebration of this rededicated Halloween festival.
What About Our Time?
Now we come to the 20th century. You will be surprised to what extent we have inherited pagan rites and ceremonies from our forefathers, so obvious in the celebration of Halloween. Note this classic example. "In many Catholic countries the belief that the dead return on this day is so strong that food is left on the tables (Tirol, Italy) and people (France, Italy, Germany) still decorate the graves of their dead [on this day]" (Funk and Wagnalls' Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend, Vol. I, page 38). Also in Protestant countries — in Britain, Scandinavia, Germany, the United States, etc. — many pagan and superstitious beliefs and practices have become an integral part of each year's celebrations. In many parts of Britain, bonfires are set alight on the eve of Halloween. Of course, fire has nothing to do with praying for dead saints. The original reason for the fire, however, was to frighten away witches and evil spirits on this night. Fire has always been an essential part of Halloween in Great Britain. Also, each year on the 5th of November, huge bonfires are started in all parts of Britain. These fires are wrongly associated with Guy Fawkes, who attempted to blow up the House of Parliament during the reign of James the First. In reality, these bonfires date back to the Halloween or All Souls' Feast, kept by the ancient Druids. But most Britons don't realize this.
You and Your Children
What about you and your children? You may see the pagan origin of and the superstitions associated with Halloween. But you might reason that after all, don't we honor and pray to the saints during this time? Perhaps you do. But the question is, should you? If you claim to be a Christian, here are two good reasons why you should not observe this festival ! One reason is that Halloween has a pagan origin. The basis of this festival is heathen. It is not based on the Bible, but has its foundation in a false, pagan religion. If you claim to be a Christian, you would want to make sure that all your beliefs are based on the Bible, and have Jesus Christ as their foundation. That is not true of Halloween, a feast that is utterly heathen. Consider! What comes to most people's minds when thinking about Halloween? Do people think about dead saints who have need of their prayers? Do the celebrants of this festival focus their attention primarily on the saints, whose spirits are supposedly in purgatory? Are these the thoughts that permeate the minds of children and grown-ups on this occasion ? Not at all! On the contrary. When most people think about Halloween, weird and frightening masks come to mind, where the persons wearing them portray witches and demons. Pumpkins and turnips are hollowed out in the shape of eerie-looking faces. Lighted candles are placed inside to help bring out the more frightful side of these carvings. Dough is baked into small figurines resembling witches, and spiders' web cakes are baked by the dozen for this occasion. Children, dressed up in the most revolting garments, are let loose on the neighbors, trying to scare the daylights out of them. Let's be honest. When Halloween comes around, there is little thought given to the poor souls of departed ones supposedly suffering in purgatory. I have before me Good Housekeeping's Book of Entertainment, which my wife picked up from the local library. On page 168 of this much-read book, there is a section on what to do on Halloween. Notice the astonishing advice given! "Halloween decorations are quite as important as the food. When planning them, remember that if the room is to be dimly lit (preferably by candle and firelight) the decorations must be bold to be effective. Orange, black and red, the devil's colours, are the colours associated with Halloween and this scheme should be carried out as far as possible. ... Have paper streamers and lanterns hanging from the ceiling, or, if you would like to have something less usual, you could make a giant spider's web with black and orange strings, or in narrow strips of crepe paper coming from the four corners of the room, complete with a large spider — one of the devils favourite followers." Notice so far where the stress lies — on saints or on devilry? Read further of the black magic associated with this festival. "To decorate the walls, make large silhouettes of cats, bats, owls and witches on broomsticks.... For the supper table small witches with broomsticks can be made by using lollipops on 4-inch sticks." Weird lanterns, witch-balls, and witches' cauldrons are some other objects the book suggests must fit into the evening somehow. How pagan can you get?!
Consider the second good reason why a Christian should not observe Halloween or All Saints' Day. NOWHERE does the Bible — which should be the foundation of our beliefs — command us to pray to anyone except God the Father and His Son or to make intercession for the dead. Praying for the dead is not Biblical (Psalm 49:7). None of God's people in the Old or New Testaments has ever prayed for so-called departed souls. There is a reason for this. Man just does not have an immortal soul. Nowhere does the Bible speak of a person having an "immortal soul." In other words, there is no such thing mentioned in God's divine Word as souls leaving the body at death. This erroneous idea also stems from paganism. The Bible does speak, however, of a "soul." But by the word "soul," it merely means a person, a human being, or a living being. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die"! (Ezekiel 18:20.) If man had an immortal soul, he could not possibly die. All this is explained fully in our FREE reprint entitled "DO You Have an Immortal Soul?" Write for Halloween and several other annual festivals people observe in the Christian professing world have no Biblical basis, but rather originate in paganism. The testimony of history stamps Halloween as a heathen festival with a pagan foundation. And the Bible warns, "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (I Cor. 3:11). What is the BASIS of your practice and belief? It is time we discovered the SOURCE of our religious beliefs and found out whether we ought to observe them. TO understand where many religious ideas have come from — and whether we ought to follow them — you need to read our FREE article Why God Is Not Real to Most People. This surprising article explains why we need to be careful about what we carelessly take for granted and offhandedly practice.