I just love autumn! We harvested our garden and began to store up what we have for winter, exploding our pantries with the good things God has given us. We've begun to put a fire in the fireplace, drink warm cider and soups and all sorts of comfort foods have come back into our diet. Its now time to break out the afghans and sweaters and cozy up together and enjoy the colors of the trees as they prepare for dormancy and the eventual coming back to life in the spring. They are going to sleep in a hopeful and spectacularly dazzling explosion of beauty…as God intends for us to do someday…makes you think, doesn’t it? Ahhh...cozy.
Then come the witches…and the zombies…and the ghouls and goblins, the gore and the blood. Yes...it’s Halloween. I have become very opinionated on this topic since I became a mother, so please indulge me while I rant...I mean, share.
So, where did this festival come from, you may ask? The History Channel website and Neopagan.com provide some insightful information, some of it straight from the witch’s mouth, so to speak. Halloween originated about the time of Christ’s birth…hmmm…very interesting.
The Celts, who lived half-way around the world from Jesus, in what is now Ireland, northern France, and the UK, celebrated their new year on November 1, to mark the end of the summer harvest and the preparation for the long cold winter. This was a time that many farmers of that area culled their herds, killing off the weakest and most fragile of their animals who would probably not survive the coming winter. In this way they provided food for the coming winter, but also provided a lot of thinking about death, as many humans would not survive the cold either. The Celts, who were pagan druids at the time, held a belief that on October 31, the night before their new year, the boundaries between the living and the dead relaxed and that the souls of the dead returned to them to scare and play tricks on them.
Celtic society at that time was usually very well ordered and regulated, and this festival allowed the Celts an extreme diversion from their orderly routine. Chaos would reign during the three day festival; people did strange things. Men dressed as women and women as men, tricks and pranks were played on everyone, and children would knock on doors and beg for treats, something which would otherwise not be done.
The druid priests would take advantage of this time and try to communicate with the spirits, asking them for answers to problems and predictions of the future…we know how dangerous it is to initiate any kind of conversation with spirits! The druids built bonfires to carry out the animal sacrifices, and to offer some of their harvest to the dead, and to their many gods, in order that they might not be harmed and that their next harvest would be plentiful. This was the festival of Samhain. The Druid Celts wore costumes for this celebration, usually of animals. It was also noted that many Celtic myths held that spectacular events happened on the feast of Samhain due to the fact that it was such a magical time when the forces of darkness temporarily overcame the forces of light...also very interesting.
In the year 43 AD, the Roman Empire had conquered almost all of the Celtic lands. They brought with them two of their festivals which coincided with the native celebration of Samhain. But by the ninth century, Christianity had come to Ireland and the UK and the customs of Samhain would be challenged by the teachings of Christ. Two centuries earlier, Pope Boniface IV had designated that November 1 would become All Saint’s Day in the western Church, instead of the first Sunday after Pentecost, as it was celebrated before. Many say that this was an attempt by the Church to prepare to evangelize the Celts who, although they had a festival involving the remembrance of the dead, were severely confused about the actual state of the dead and their impact upon our earthly lives.
Our Byzantine Church was not involved with Samhain, or the Celts, or any of that matter in any way, and so of course it was obvious that they would leave the original date alone and to this day we continue to celebrate the Sunday of All Saints on the first Sunday after the feast of Pentecost. Today, we Eastern Christians who live in the west tend to join in the observance of the westerners who live all around us. We dress in costumes and go trick or treating, decorate our yards with jack o' lanterns and all, but we still celebrate All Saints Day on the first Sunday after Pentecost…kind of begs for another party, don’t you think…we’ll talk about this later.
As serious Christians, we need to be mindful that there is a real spiritual danger which can result from the participation in some traditional Halloween activities. Let us gather some perspective: We know that the larger Roman Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of All Saints on November 1, and that this feast honors all those who have departed in faith, and have been set before us by our Church as examples of behavior and virtue. We too honor the saintly dispositions of those who have rejected evil and embraced holiness in the face of certain martyrdom. We stand to gain abundant grace celebrating the lives of these great Christians. In short, it is quite a spiritually powerful day. As this day approaches, through the intercession of these very saints, the enemy looses his grip on many, many souls who would have otherwise gone his way if it were not for the graces gained by these older brothers and sisters in the faith. He becomes angry and jealous. His followers use this day as one of their busiest recruiting days in a last-ditch effort to tire out and distract those souls who would have otherwise been strengthened in their faith on All Saints Day. We know that October 31, All Hallow’s Eve for the majority of Christians, is indeed an important feast in the enemy’s camp. As proof of this, we see the glorification of death in the costumes and decorations which characterize this day. Before we go forward, let us take a moment and characterize our enemy.
His greatest thrill is to be like God, but in a perverse way. He wants power like the Almighty, but because of our free will, and often because of our sacramental baptism, he is unable to act directly; he must trick us into harming ourselves. Often this influence takes the form of drug and alcohol abuse, mental instability, a feeling of inadequacy or lack of self worth. This can result in the degradation of that soul even to the point of self inflicted death. The enemy wants to act in souls (possession) in mockery of the infusion of the Holy Spirit into our souls when we pray to do God’s will. Because he once existed as an angel of light, he has the power to bend the forces of nature, (gravity by levitation, etc.), as if they were his to control. He acts in defiance, knowing that the universe was created by God in perfect balance and deemed by Him to be “good”. We often are attracted to such activity out of curiosity, but there are some are lured by the prospect of success or personal gain.
As true Christians, we are on somewhat of an inside track when it comes to understanding the ways of the enemy. He mocks what is true about God, and our Church is the guardian of that Truth. We have the saints, holy ones who have lived exemplary lives to model ourselves after. We wear crosses, and medals depicting these saints, knowing that the one they depict is somehow mystically “attached” to it and blessings flow from God, THRU them to us. The enemy attaches himself (and his minions, the demons, do this as well) to various objects that he finds attractive. When we wear or display these items, symbols, fashions, in our homes or on our bodies, (or listen to certain music***NOTE TO PARENTS HERE ***be vigilant!) the demons, in complete mockery, enter too and wreak havoc which can be both spiritual and even physical. I recently read on a Catholic information site the story of one unsuspecting woman who, somewhat innocently dabbled in the occult, possessing a witches costume with somewhat of a disreputable history in a downstairs closet. Each night she awoke to frightful nightmares until the costume was discovered and destroyed.
As we pray and invoke God’s blessings upon friends and neighbors, the followers of the enemy curse those they meet with spells and incantations. These are a direct mockery of prayer. If we are in harmony with God, we must reject these attempts by His enemy to mock Him. No Ouija boards, no séances, no spells, no posing as the enemy himself or his ghoulish minions by wearing frightful or indecent costumes, no foul words, no desecration of our temples of the Holy Spirit by inappropriate conduct.
Of one thing we are certain; from scripture we know that divination, sorcery and communication with the “dead” are wrong:
Deuteronomy 18:10-12 "There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. "For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you.
So much for Harry Potter…just sayin’. Well he is a sorcerer, isn’t he? God finds sorcerers detestable, that‘s good enough for me. Same applies to witches. There appears to be no such thing as white magic, good witches etc. God says “No witchcraft”…period. Divination? I’ll skip the fortune telling, thank you. Why rock this boat?
How about ghosts? Now here’s a different story. I like ghosts at Halloween. Why? They’re spirits; and spirits don’t necessarily have to be evil. There are many spirits who are holy and in need of our prayers. When I see the ghostly decorations, and the tombstones and skeletons, I think of these poor souls and I am prompted to pray. This is good.
Jack O’ Lanterns came into the Halloween celebration because of an Irish folktale about a man named Jack who was so wicked that he merited hell, but because he once tricked the devil himself, even he didn’t want him upon his death and poor Jack was doomed to wander the earth for eternity, carrying the burning coals that he snatched from the hellfire as he was kicked out, in the hollow of a rotten turnip. Not a bad story. During the Irish Potato Famine of 1845, many Irish immigrants brought this custom with them, but not finding turnips as plentiful as the native pumpkins, they made the necessary replacement. We can claim it as a Christian custom if we remember the light of Christ that enlightens every man who comes into the world. We can ask God to clear out the gunk inside us and open our minds, our eyes, our ears and mouths to glorify Him, and fill us with the enlightenment that only the Holy Spirit can give. I like this.
Trick or Treat is a harmless tradition, though its origins are a bit questionable. The Celts began the wearing of the costumes, the trickery, and the visiting of the neighbors, asking for treats but they were as yet, separate issues. During the Middle Ages, Europeans began the custom of sending the children to beg for “soul cakes” which were cookies or cakes given in exchange for prayers for the deceased members of the baker’s family on All Soul’s Day. Not a bad idea! We encourage our children to pray for the souls in purgatory whose families are generous enough to have given them treats on All Hallow’s Eve.
In many circles, Halloween becomes party time. As Christians we must not invite the enemy to invade our temples by abusing drugs or alcohol, thus lowering our guard. He will advance. He will attempt to invade. If left unchecked by sincere repentance, he will dig in and prove very, very difficult to exorcise from one’s life. Is all this really so far fetched? Do we really want to take the chance that we, or our CHILDREN, are “strong enough” or “smart enough” not to be influenced? After all, we are dealing with the ultimate professional when it comes to deceit.
To live in this manner is irresponsible as a Christian. It would insult our Master. We are His and His alone. We promised our children to His service at their baptism and have an obligation to shield them from these temptations and give them every weapon against temptation. This battle between the enemy and Our Lord is all too real. We are the pawns in the middle. It is up to us to choose which side to glorify and which side will thereby become our eternal home. This is no trivial matter and it is that simple.
Halloween doesn’t have to be the baby that we throw out with the bath water. What is necessary is an adjustment of our perspective. We are not Celts or Druids. We are Christians. If we celebrate the eve of All Saints as the Holy Day that it is, with the glorification of Christ and His teachings foremost in our minds and actions, we will not be in error. There are many aspects of the season that are better left behind, but still there are many that we Christians can seize as a “teachable moment” among the neo-pagans we encounter today. Now that you have some history and clarification behind you, dress as your favorite saint, light your Jack-o-Lantern for Christ, and go beg for some soul cakes! (Just don’t forget to pray for the souls of the dead!...and throw one in for me;)