A reflection on cultural issues confronting Western Christians.
Over the past few decades, Australians have been increasingly influenced by American culture. The emergence of basketball, baseball and gridiron with their associated paraphernalia (ex. Caps, collectors’ cards) is a good example. The adoption of the baseball style cap by the traditional Aussie sport of cricket because of the attraction of its image for the youth of our country is a further illustration.
Another aspect of American life that has been embraced by some Australians (usually young people) is the celebration of Halloween. Traditionally in America (and to a lesser extent England) this event takes place on the 31 October when young children dress up and go door-knocking on people’s houses demanding a reward by uttering the phrase “trick or treat” as the door of the house they have ventured to is opened.
Interest in Halloween is reflected in the number of primary schools which have major projects focusing upon witches around this time of the year. Teachers are often ignorant of the historical significance of Halloween and the origins of the practices associated with it, yet that does not stop them from “education” children in something they themselves do not understand. “It’s only fun!” is their way of dismissing any objections to such activities in the classroom.
Personally I found this to be the case when speaking with my son’s third grade teacher in the early 1990’s as I explained why he would not be permitted to take part in a class project on Halloween. When I informed her of the historical background of the celebration, she was not only shocked and somewhat embarassed, but unable to provide any reason why the children should study the subject any further. Nevertheless, despite the sound and factual historical evidence presented to her, the class continued its focus on witches. Their images adorned the walls of the classroom for over a month. Unfortunately, this is a common experience in the lives of many primary school children at this time of the year.
Such activities place pressure upon Christian families. Some Christian parents claim there is nothing wrong with the practice and hope the issue can be avoided, others become pre-occupied with the event and find their thoughts dominated by it. Most parents at some time or other will be faced with an invitation for one of their children to attend a Halloween party. How should they respond? The October, 1994 issue of New Day (a Christian magazine) pointed out that to say ‘no’ because of ignorance is not a healthy approach. Neither is remaining in ignorance!
What is the historical background to Halloween?
The earliest practice of Halloween is attributed to the Druids who were the teachers and priests of the ancient Celts in France, England and Ireland. Interestingly, there has been a resurgence of Druid worship in England during the latter half of the last century. The Druids believed the hours of midnight and noon, the oak tree and the mistletoe were sacred. They were a secret (ie., occult) group who handed down their practices and beliefs by word of mouth. They forecast events by interpreting the flight of birds and the markings on the liver and other entrails of animals they sacrificed. This is a form of divination which the Scriptures prohibit in Deuteronomy 18:9-11. They also made live sacrifices to their gods.
The main festival of the Druids took place around the winter solstice (near 31 October) in conjunction with the full moon. At this time they usually offered a human sacrifice to their god “Samhain”, who was considered to the “Lord of the Dead”. The offering of the sacrifice was seen as a communication link between the spiritual realm and the natural, earthbound world. Even to this day, Druid worshippers meet at Stonehenge in England on Halloween to offer sacrifice to Samhain.
The manner in which a human being was acquired for sacrifice was as follows. The Druids would go to a castle or house demanding a female for sacrifice. If they received their request, they would leave a jack o’ lantern there as a sign of good luck for the year ahead. However, if they were met with refusal, a hexagram was left on the door as a sign of a curse. Usually someone would die, most likely the first born son. Some claim that this tradition is echoed in the current practice of children demanding candy which, if given, is the equivalent of attempting to appease the ‘gods’; trick or treat, be blessed or hexed.
During the Dark Ages it was common for Christian missionaries to facilitate the transition from paganism to Christianity by mixing church holidays with pagan ones thereby providing an alternative focus. By the 700’s in Europe, 31 October had become known as All Hallows Eve. The following day, November 1, was called All Hallows Day which was one that the early Christians had set aside in memory of those who had died for their beliefs over the ages. It was an annual remembrance which also went under the name All Saints Day. Over time the night before came to be known by an abridged version of its original form, namely Halloween.
This has caused confusion for Christians today, for the mention of Halloween evokes thoughts for some of a Christian practice and for others an occult one. Interestingly, the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 900’s was challenged by the same sort of confusion surrounding the practices being followed on All Hallows Eve. He set punishments for “those who goeth about in the mask of a stag bull-calf ... those who by their craft raise storms ... sacrifice to demons ... consulteth soothsayers who divine by birds.” I wonder if there is any link between the mask of the stag bull-calf referred to and the masks worn by children on Halloween? All the acts mentioned in the quote are a part of wicca craft (ie witchcraft) which is prohibited in the Scriptures (Deut. 18:9-11) and was incorporated in the pagan rituals followed by the Celts and Druids. It appears that the same issue confronting us in the Twentieth Century was alive and well in the tenth, namely a clash of spiritual cultures.
What can we say about the modern day practice of Halloween?
Firstly, there needs to be a distinction between two expressions of Halloween. There are some people, a growing minority, who see this celebration as an important, perhaps the most important, event in their worship year. They were referred to in the Canberra Times on Saturday (15 October 1994) in an article titles “Neo-pagan cult membership grows.” This piece was written by Bruce Wilkinson of the Institute for the Study of Religion, a secular organisation. He contends that these groups are actively involved in pagan worship and many are caught up in witchcraft and Satanism of the very worst kind, even to the point of human sacrifice. Halloween is the major annual sacrificial event in their understanding and practice. Evidence confirming that such rituals occur in our society has been collected by the Australian Federal Police, which had a task force monitoring the activities of groups like the “Church of All Worlds” which has several hundred members in Canberra meeting in South Tuggeranong and the “Council of Twelve” which has a similar profile. In fact, the article claimed that Canberra was rapidly becoming the headquarters of paganism in this country. Whether we like it or not, our next door neighbour could be involved in this sort of cultish behaviour.
The second group are ordinary folk out to have what they see to be a bit of fun, perhaps with their children, doing something the roots of which they know nothing about. In fact, they would be horrified to know there was any religious significance associated with Halloween. All they want is a good time. These people are both innocent and ignorant. It is fair to assume that the majority of Australians who take an interest in Halloween are in this category.
Nevertheless, the original relationship between the acts of demanding and giving, of blessing or cursing, and human sacrifice to a god called “Samhain” lurk in the shadows behind the statement “trick or treat” even if the intention does not. In my opinion, knowledge of this is sufficient for any Christian to avoid a personal support or involvement in Halloween. Remember the golden rule, “if in doubt and you feel uneasy about something, don’t!”
Even if the link between occult sacrifice and Halloween is ignored, its emphasis alone should deter people (let alone Christians) from participating in anything remotely connected to it. Halloween is negative, emphasises superstition and “plays upon the natural fears of childhood – the dark, the ugly, the unknown, the mysterious” to use the words of Geoff Strelan in the October, 1994 issue of New Day magazine. He goes on to note what he sees as the crucial point, namely, “that fear is often a gateway for spiritual oppression.” Some seemingly innocent happening in the life of a child can open the doorway to a spirit of fear taking up residence. I have counselled people in their 40’s who have been afraid of the dark and have had to keep a light on in their room at night ever since they saw a horror movie in childhood.
What can we do for the child interested in Halloween?
One thing is to look for constructive alternatives. Why not get in first by having a party at your house focusing on something else? If you have children, sit down and explain to them as best you can the background to Halloween and its possible implications.
It also helps to have a small gift ready for those children who come knocking in innocence upon your door. It could be a Jesus pencil or eraser with some Scripture verse on it. Further, you may decide to give them a statement outlining the dangers of Halloween for their parents.
Perhaps the most important thing apart from being prepared and informed is to discuss the issues with our children emphasising that the Christian has nothing to be afraid of for the Lord Jesus has defeated any ‘Lord of Death.’ This reality is testified to by the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:35-39.
If nothing else, I hope this issue of perspective encourages you to prayerfully think through your own position on this modern day interest in Halloween.
Finally, if you are inclined to think that witchcraft/Satan worship is a thing of the past, think again. It is alive and well in our society. Over the past few years numerous people, who have come out of satanic covens that operate in the Canberra and Southern NSW region, have been counselled in the ACT region.
1. New Day October, 1994
2. Halloween and Satanism Dave Poulton (former head of the Australian Federal Police Task Force on the occult)
3. Hallowing unmasked * Should Christians participate in an occult holiday? Keith Moore (a former member of the Church of Wicca in Newbem, North Carolina. A Satanic church)
4. The World Book Encyclopaedia