What’s hallowed about Halloween?
Malcolm’s mother thought it was a bit of a joke. Her son, with other teenagers, was going regularly to a local graveyard trying to communicate with the dead. I gently explained that what he was doing was dangerous and forbidden in the Bible, and pleaded with her to urge him to stop. She, however, was sure it was just harmless fun and he would soon grow out of it. A few months later, on Halloween, Malcolm and his mates went to the graveyard to call up the spirits of the dead, but ‘something’ happened that night which turned this bright, effervescent boy into a nervous wreck, who eventually tried to take his own life.
On 31 October, many children, young people and even adults dress up as witches and ghosts and play ‘trick or treat’. Most of them, in their naivety, regard it as little more than a fancy dress party. Sadly, others go to parties where they get out the ouija board and the tarot cards and for a bit of amusement try to get ‘a message from the other side’. Others do far worse. They go to a remote spot in the woods or on a beach and get involved in witchcraft.
The word ‘Halloween’ is an abbreviation of ‘all hallows eve’ (the evening before All Saints Day). It originated with the ancient Druids who held a festival in honour of their god ‘Samhain’ (pronounced ‘sah-ween’) – the lord of the dead. They believed that on that night
…the normal order of the universe is suspended, the barriers between the natural and the supernatural are temporarily removed, the sidh lies open and all divine beings and the spirits of the dead move freely among men and interfere sometimes violently, in their affairs.
Professor Francis McCann (Proinsias Mac Cana), Celtic Mythology, p.127
It was the night when the Druids ‘called up the spirits’ of those who had died during the year and spoke with them in order to get their advice about the future. That is how the idea arose about ghosts being around on Halloween. Understandably, many ordinary people were scared. Some lit bonfires (bone fires), into which they threw the remains of animal and human sacrifices, to ward off evil spirits. Many tried to hide from them by disguising themselves as a devil. Others prepared a kind of treat for them. They believed that if the evil spirits did not get a treat, then they would trick them in some terrible way. Spells cast on Halloween night were supposed to have special power and that it was an exceptionally good night for fortune telling. For centuries, Halloween has been a key night of the year for those who dabble in witchcraft and black magic.
Halloween is big business. Last year, in Reading, I was held up in a traffic jam, caused by people queuing to get to the fancy dress warehouse in order to buy or hire their witch’s outfit! The pastor who speaks against Halloween will not be the most popular guy in town. Many Christians, even, will regard him as a killjoy.
What should be our attitude?
We should have nothing to do with the occult. We need to teach new Christians never to play around with ouija boards or tarot cards; never to go anywhere near a séance, not even out of idle curiosity; to keep a million miles away from any gathering where people may be fooling around with witchcraft and spells; and if they ever find themselves at a party where others start to dabble with occult practices, to get out as quickly as possible.
This is not just my opinion. Isaiah, who lived at a time when there was a great deal of interest in the occult, urged people to shun it (8:19-20):
When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people enquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.
The living God has spoken to us in His word and He is the one to consult, not the dead, witches, mediums and clairvoyants who claim to communicate with the dead. Other Bible passages give the same warning (Lev. 19:31, Deut. 18:19, Acts 13:9, etc).
Maybe you think it’s a bit over the top to apply these verses to Halloween and urge people to have nothing to do with it. ‘After all,’ you say, ‘Halloween may have dubious roots but nowadays it’s just a bit of silly nonsense. Witches! Ghosts! Evil Spirits! Voices from the dead! Stupid but harmless!’ That’s the view of many Christians. Even if they are right (which they are not) they still need to ask, ‘Ought Christians even to joke about things which are evil? Ought they to allow their children to pretend to be a devil or witch?’ The Bible is clear (Eph. 5:11-12):
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.
Even the archangel Michael teaches us, by example, not to poke fun at the devil (Jude 9). Missionaries and pastors who are trying to reach animistic people, who are frequently tormented by evil spirits, would be aghast at the light-hearted way in which some sophisticated, ‘enlightened’ western Christians treat the devil and the demonic.
Halloween is not just silly nonsense. As the story of Malcolm shows it can be dangerous and often is. On that night, many people get drawn into activities which are demonic. Evil spirits really do exist. We are not among those who see them everywhere, but they are far more active than some Christians imagine. It is possible for men and women to be tormented by them and even possessed by them (Acts 5:16; 16:16-18).
Positive things to do at Halloween
- Comfort nervous, lonely, elderly Christians.
It can be a frightening time for them, so we need to remind them that if they are trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ and His redeeming work, He will take care of them (Ps. 91:1-6).
- Help our young people.
They will be under great pressure to go to Halloween parties. Why not put on an event at the church, or in a believer’s home, where they will have good food, clean fun and hear about the Lord Jesus Christ? At the very least they will be able to tell their mates at school that they have something better to do on 31 October.
- Have a few sweets and a simple tract ready.
Give these to children who come knocking at the door. Tell them pleasantly that you do not celebrate Halloween, but that you would like them to have some sweets and read the leaflet.
- Pray for those who are caught up in terrible darkness.
Miracles do happen. Whilst writing this article, I went to church and heard the testimony of a young man who had been rescued from Satanism. Praise God.
Jane was the mistress of the high-priest of a witches’ coven, indulging in unspeakably vile practices. In the early hours of 1 November 1978, driving home from a Halloween orgy in the forest, she turned on the car radio and heard the name ‘God’. That startled her and she realised one day she would meet with Him. The next Sunday she came to church and heard that there is hope even for the vilest sinner. She was gloriously saved, completely delivered from the power and tyranny of the devil and became a radiant Christian.
Just after her conversion she came to the prayer meeting and quite spontaneously sang a hymn about our need of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was an amazing night. It was one of the greatest prayer meetings I have ever known, as one after another, the people praised God for His mercy to this woman. I am sure she would never wish to celebrate Halloween, nor would she understand Christians who do.
Our Saviour is able to set men and women free from the grip and power of these evil spirits.
He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free:
His blood can make the foulest clean;
His blood availed for me.
Charles Wesley, 1707-88
Basil Howlett has an itinerant ministry in the UK and abroad. He is the secretary of the FIEC Pastors’ Association and lectures at the London Theological Seminary.