by Rafael Martinez, Co-Director, Spiritwatch Ministries
(Prove) what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. Ephesians 5:10-13
With the arrival of autumn comes along our annual October 31st observation of Halloween. Across the Tennessee Valley, we’ll see the trappings of Halloween found in settings as diverse as the halls of middle schools to the interior cubicles of telemarketing offices and everywhere in between. Communities across our region will hold festive “block parties” complete with games and activities for young and old, social service organizations will host “haunted houses” aimed at scaring the daylights out of visitors who are led through them, and brightly costumed children will make their annual evening visitations to neighborhoods and trailer parks in city and countryside for their “trick or treating” candy harvests. For our community, by and large, it would seem that Halloween is just another harmless season of celebration and party-going.
The dominant theme of Halloween’s draw is, of course, directly related to the morbidly supernatural, sufficiently sanitized for popular consumption. Costumes of witches and demons will be worn in abundance, paper cut-out bats and ghosts decorate restaurants and businesses, and carved “jack-o-lantern” pumpkins will be found alight on many a doorstep across the Valley. Thousands of people – many of them professing Christians – will engage in a hearty embracing of the evening with little thought as to the underlying significance of what they are doing. Few can deny awareness of Halloween’s undeniably yet inexplicably dark, even frightening overtones, but fewer seem to even care. We believe that if these same folks knew what they were involving themselves in, they might think twice about dabbling with our annual cultural infatuation with the “spooky.”
What is this “dark side” and why should we speak of it in such dire terms? The answer to that question is one few Halloween fun-seekers want to grapple with, yet the truth remains. Unknown to most people, the underlying essence of our celebrations of Halloween is based upon modern Wiccan interpretations of pre-Christian paganism and involve occultic rites and practices that Christians should have no dealings with. Why should involvement with such activities be avoided by those who make even the most nominal confession of faith in Christianity? In this article, we urge you to consider this point and its implications.
The Essence of Halloween: The Pagan Feast Of Samhain
The term “pagan” is often thrown loosely around by most people, who use the word often in a very negative sense, as a label applied to a person or a belief supposedly devoid of any redeeming virtue or decency. There are many who would sharply disagree with this definition of the term and have embraced it as one that describes their deepest spiritual and cultural passions. These folks proudly call themselves pagans and are more often than not actually quite decent people with family lives, responsible positions on their jobs and who just simply happen to have embraced a spirituality that is entirely different from Christianity. This is a very important distinction that must be kept in mind when considering who pagans are. Two pagan authors, Dan and Pauline Campanelli have concisely described – in terms very open to no little interpretation and debate by other pagans – what paganism in general essentially teaches:
As Pagans, we believe that: All of nature is a manifestation of Divinity or the Creative Forces, and that everything in Nature has a spirit. These Divine Creative Forces can be perceived as a pantheon of Gods and Goddesses. As everything in Nature has its complement, so must it be with the Gods, a polarity of male and female, spirit and matter, God and Goddess. As Nature proceeds in the cycles of the season, so must we be born to die and be born again. And that by actively participating in these natural cycles through ritual, we can attune ourselves to the Creative Forces that flow through us, to live happy, creative and productive lives, for our own benefit, and that of the planet. The simplest way to do this is to celebrate the seasons of the years according to the ancient Pagan traditions of our ancestors ..(1)
As we can see, paganism is a spirituality based upon a belief in many gods and goddesses (this is called polytheism) and upon man’s essential union with them as a manifestation of their divinity (this is called pantheism). This divinity has both male and female aspects, and both are revealed in both nature and the passage of seasonal time. Man is seen as a vital part of the energy that these gods and goddesses supposedly originate and that interaction by ritual and experience with these “creative forces” is to bring about personal prosperity and empowerment as well as global transformation. The emphasis on the polytheistic versus pantheistic views of divinity in pagan thought may differ widely but these generally are seen as compatible with one another.
Obviously this is radically unlike Christian belief in many ways. This is a generic definition of the pagan worldview, which is found in many belief systems around the world from Native American spirituality to the many schools of Hindu religious practice. These beliefs were generally shared in particular with the ancient Celts, peoples of ancient western Europe that were guided by a priestly class called the Druids. The Druids served as advisers to Celtic rulers, led them into ritual communion with their own gods and goddesses, and preserved their mythology and learning, much of which was quite sophisticated. Many of the contemporary Wiccan (witchcraft) community fully embrace many of these foundational pagan teachings, as well as a host of other pagan traditions from the ancient world.
And it is from these Druidic traditions that the observation of a Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced sah-win) originated, one that affects us to this day. It was observed over three nights in the fall season across the ancient Celtic regions and involved prayers, offerings and ritual magic that sought contact with the Celtic deities, as well as attempts to divine the future and commune with the spirits of ancestors. The festival, orchestrated by Druid priests, was a series of ceremonies clearly aimed at invoking and tapping into supernatural inspiration and power. Through their casting of spells, induced dream states and sacrificial offerings at sacred hilltops with blazing bonfires, we can see that the Druids made Samhain an earnest time of search for contact with their gods and goddesses, a vital part of pagan thought and practice (2).
The ancient Celtic pagan religion began to decline early in the first century A.D. when the military conquests of the region by the Roman Empire under Julius Caesar disrupted the Celtic culture with occupying Roman legions and control. With the advent of Christian missions (under the leadership of men like Patrick and Columba) in the next four centuries, the decline isharply intensified as Christian conversions of Celts and Druids who had preserved the “old ways” escalated. By the fifth century A.D., Christianity clearly was the dominant spirituality in the Celtic regions, particularly in the British Isles, but observation of various aspects of Druidic tradition stubbornly endured. The festivals of Samhain were one of these. Many converted Celts saw no reason to discontinue participation in them, and continued to mix the old Druidic traditions with their newfound Christianity. This came about primarily because the Christian Church failed to disciple their new converts regarding God’s command to honor Him alone and to forsake pagan god and goddess worship. This lamentable failure has always been a thorn in the side of the Church throughout history, and continues to this day globally.
It was made even worse in the eighth century when a decision was made by Pope Gregory IV that attempted to sanctify the season: he established the celebration of All Hallowed Evening (on October 31) followed by All Saints Day (on November 1) as a means to both honor the martyrs of the Church and assert its’ authority. This led to the establishment of a Middle Age custom of celebrating “All Hallows” with parades of parishioners dressed as saints, angels, devils and other church icons around the churchyard and then through town. It was a compromise, and a serious one with major implications for our day. Over time, the condensed term of “Halloween” became the most popular form used to identify the evening celebrations. And while most of the pagan religious aspects of Samhain were largely discontinued, some of their elements were preserved by the Celtic peoples in their folklore that continued to be handed down among them for hundreds of years. Irish emigrants to American soil brought along with them their distinctive traditions, which included some of the practices that were found in Samhain. These practices were imported into American popular culture by the mid 1800’s and used to celebrate Halloween. It is these practices that are based purely upon pagan spirituality that we now wish to look at.
Pagan Occultism In Halloween
The term occult literally means “hidden” in Latin: it is refers to the secret wisdom or knowledge about supernatural powers and the spirit world that man can acquire so as to use them for his benefit. Exploration of the occult has been a habitual fascination and even way of life for mankind for thousands of years. Occultic systems of thought widely differ in their outward appearance, but they all share a common bond, that being the practice of techniques many pagans would call magick. These are performed to access the powers of the supernatural or to commune with the spirit world. As we have said, many schools of witchcraft and other pagan traditions fully identify with this sort of occultic practice: certainly, the manner in which the Campanellis have described it is a good example. They have shown us that preserved elements of Druidic tradition about Samhain were freely re-interpreted and practiced by the newer Wiccan and neo-pagan movements around the turn of the century, complete with its emphasis upon necromancy, divination and community festivity.
The Church’s attempt to sanctify the feast by renaming it “All Hallowed Evening” (or Halloween) and adjusting its’ focus was irrelevant to both pagans and Wiccans who simply ignored the effort to re-establish the purely pagan essence of the time. To them, Halloween is an actual religious holiday that is central to the practice of their beliefs. Renewed attention to Samhain (however reinterpreted) by the pagan and Wiccan communities is their attempt to maintain a distinctive continuity and connection with the pagan past so as to preserve their faith for the future.
And Samhain’s pagan elements of Druidic tradition hold a profound spiritual significance yet are freely – if not ignorantly – entered into by many a non-pagan at this time of year. Millions of people across the United States and thousands here in the Tennessee Valley will involve themselves in Halloween activities that were originally intended to literally invoke pagan gods and goddesses, spirits of the dead, and to even invite some form of literal possession by them to receive revelations and guidance. So the following commentary of the Campanellis on the significance of these pagan elements is quite revealing and show us how Halloween is viewed by many a pagan:
The Wearing Of Masks – “The purpose of wearing a mask in most primitive religious traditions is to make a spiritual connection with the deity or the Nature Spirit represented by the mask. … The mask would then have a spirit or magickal power of its own .. it seems like the most natural thing, to use masking as a part of the Samhain Sabbat. .. That the practice of masked dancing is still today associated with Samhain, the time when the veil between the living and the spirits of of the dead is very thin, suggests that in some way the masked dancers were trying to contact the spirits of the slain and hunted animals. .. Though much of this has been lost or temporarily forgotten, there is still much about the tradition costumes worn by children today that tells us Halloween is a celebration of the spirits.”
The Jack O Lantern – “The pumpkin, an American vegetable, certainly symbolizes the season; but it is the candle inside the pumpkin that is of magickal importance. The candle flame represents not only the element of Fire, but also the white light of pure spirit. .. It has become traditional among many Pagans to mark the four quarters of the Samhain Circle with Jack-O-Lanterns, but it might also be in keeping with the season to light one white candle in a Jack-O-Lantern placed in a window or on a front porch as a beacon to the spirits. .. In Japan .. paper lanterns are hung at gardens to welcome home the spirits of the deceased. In Egypt, candles are lit in cemetaries to guide the spirits of the dead back .. and in Ireland candles are lit in cottage windows to welcome home the ghosts of the dead.”
Contact With The Dead (Necromancy) – “At this time of year, the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is very thin. As the old Pagan year draws to a close, it is time to receive messages from those who had gone before .. Necromancy is technically the raising of the dead for the purpose of learning the future from them. Spirits can contact us directly, conveying messages to us telepathically, or in rare cases, controlling the physical body and the vocal chords. This type of necromancy is the focus of Spiritualism and is believed to come from the deceased. But any message from the spirits is welcome .. There is much wisdom to be gained from contact with spirits. .. These two elements, contact with the spirit world and divining the future, are as much a part of Halloween celebrations today as they were during the earliest shamanic beginnings of the Pagan religion.”
Divination – “There are a number of devices that might be used for the purpose of contacting spiritual entities, such as the Ouija board .. and the pendulum and the alphabet board .. Our personal preference is the wine glass, which, like the Ouija board, can be worked by quite a number of people at one time, thereby making self-delusion a bit more difficult .. In more recent times, a variety of games and objects for predicting the future on Halloween night have been developed and mass produced. .. To people who have developed the ability to scry, images of the future might appear in a mirror, a bowl of water, a crystal ball or the polished blade of a sword. .. Probably the most popular object for scrying with among Wiccans is the cauldron,, another symbol of the Goddess.”
Dark Clothing Of Witches – “The black clothing of the Halloween Witch represents not “the powers of darkness,” as followers of the new religion would have people believe, but that great luminary of the night, the Moon, in its waning phase. The waning phase of the Moon, of course, represents the Crone aspect of the Triple Goddess .. These three Goddesses preside over life, at the end of which each individual spirit bids farewell to the realm of the Goddess and crosses the threshold into the realm of the Horned God of Death and that which comes thereafter. Samhain represents this threshold separating the dark half of the Wheel of the Year, presided over by the Horned One, from the light half presided over by the Goddess.” (3)
“Trick-Or-Treating” – “Trick-or-treating originated in Ireland when on the eve of Samhain, people would go house to house looking for food contributions to Muck Olla. The group was led by a man in a white robe with a horse-head mask. After him walked young men blowing cow horns. They would stop at each house recite some verses that told the farmer that his prosperity was due to Muck Olla and if he wishes to prosper he should make a contribution to the spirit. .. people in costumes and masks went begging from farm to farm, reciting verses that described the damage that spirits would do to a farmer’s house or barn if the farmer refused to give something. This is not unlike the American way of trick- or-treating, in which we sometimes recite the verse, ‘Trick-or-treat, smell my feet. Give me something good to eat!’ It is assumed that a practical joke will be played on an unwilling neighbor.” (4) While the identity of a Celtic deity named “Muck Olla” is in serious question (we don’t have any evidence that the Druids identified any god by this name), the practice of trick-or-treating is what we are focusing on. The practice of making offerings of some sort to Celtic deities is what contemporary children’s visitations to homes on Halloween is largely based upon.
It often amuses pagans and Wiccans to see many people around them who would never think of involvement with witchcraft or paganism any other time of the year jump head first into Halloween participation. For they are fully aware of Samhain’s ancient spiritual roots and nature of the popular Halloween activities that so many ignorantly engage in. It is quite clear in considering these facts that Halloween truly is a holiday based upon ancient pagan spirituality and that it is alive and well as seen in the diligence which many pagans and Wiccans put forth in observing it as a holy day, as one of the “Great Sabbats” of their religion, even if it is a freely reinterpreted version of the ancient reality. And it is indirectly reaffirmed by the uninformed attention the non-pagan culture bestows upon it, even if distorted by commercialism, sensationalism and sanitized adoption of morbid motifs (death, ghosts, monsters and the generally macabre). Indeed, Halloween is great seasonal business for pumpkin farmers, occult book sales, costume manufacturers and so many other sectors of our national economy from Hollywood to candy makers that this affirmation and subsidizing of the pagan worldview is guaranteed to continue indefinitely. Much of the business of costume rentals by adults comes during the Halloween season who want to make Halloween simply another excuse for partying tinged with an occultism they can play with.
And while pagans meet and observe Samhain according to whatever perspective they hold, in many a party or private gathering thousands of people will test the waters of the occult by dabbling in “party games” that directly involve the kinds of practices we have spoken of. Ouija boards, candleburning rituals, and seances will be the experiments of choice in many a den or bedroom. Most people – young and old – do so “in fun” to amuse themselves, but many others will often go along with it out of curiosity, even wonderment. And then there will be those who will enter into it in serious earnestness and who do so seeking answers, power and direction. For many of these persons, for the first time in their lives on Halloween, they will make contacts with powers beyond their ability to understand or control and will find themselves inexorably drawn into deeper involvement with the occult as time goes by.
For many people, this begs the question: “So what?”
To these folks, dabbling with the occult is no worse than anything else. To make anything of this, in their eyes, is to make a big deal over nothing at all. The occult to them is just another exotic playground for free spirits to explore, no more dangerous than going to a rave, whitewater rafting or cruising the Web in chat rooms. Kids, grandmothers and all kinds of people should freely toy with such stuff as long as they don’t go “over the edge.” Anyway, if something really was to come of it, certainly it could be useful the same way a good tip on the stock market could be. It could be even be empowering, enlightening, even sublime. Getting uptight about such a harmless thing like necromancy can only be seen as a “fundy” tantrum of narrow minded intolerance. So many people see absolutely nothing wrong with our cultural infatuation with Halloween for this and many other reasons.
If someone’s experimentation with the supernatural was nothing more than an absorbing pastime or a series of metaphysical parlor tricks it certainly would be foolish to get upset over them. However, that is not the case; the occult is a reality that cannot be toyed with, and the spiritual stakes for all who do are far too high to ignore. What are these realities? What are the consequences? Why do so many Christians strongly oppose Halloween? Should you really be involved in any way with Halloween?