I Hope I Never Forget:

“Anything that one imagines of God apart from Christ is only useless thinking and vain idolatry.”- Martin Luther

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


It's interesting to me how off target a conscience can become. I've often wondered if a loving Canaanite woman might have felt guilt at having kept her infant back from being used as a fiery sacrifice to her people's god.

Our consciences are formed by the stories we've been told. Stories are powerful things. The untrue one's are doubly sad for it.

Evangelicalism, like all other worldviews, rests on stories. Many of these I applaud and affirm, but some are hurtful, ridiculous and embarrasssing.

One of my least favorites is the Origins of Halloween as a Satanic Festival myth.

For those who don't know what I'm talking about, you can check out these nuggets of silly paranoia.

Steve Carl has summarized a more winsome and accurate account. Hat Tip to the Jolly Blogger. Everything below was written by Mr. Carl:

Separating Fact from Theory

For nearly a generation Hallowe'en has been a bone of contention among Christians. Some celebrate it blindly, not knowing (or caring) what it may represent. Many believe it is a pagan ritual whose roots are planted in the soil of historical Druidism. Others abstain from Hallowe'en, convinced that those who celebrate it are unknowingly worshipping Satan. More and more Christians are simply ignoring the day or creating alternatives to it.

But many Christians resent being told that they are really worshipping Satan when they dress-up their five-year-old as a princess and hand out candy. They know that just as you cannot accidentally worship Jesus, you cannot accidentally worship Satan, either. Worship is an act of volition, and our symbols mean only what we mean by them. Consider Communion, where we ritually eat His body and drink His blood. Without its story it would look just as "satanic" as Hallowe'en!

In spite of all the talking we do about it, little is actually known of the true Hallowe'en. And, what we do know -- the facts, not the theories -- might surprise you! It has been said that, "Nature abhors a vacuum." So it is with the story of Hallowe'en. Historical accounts leave us with unanswered questions, and in order to "fill-in-the-gaps" historians have suggested possible links to other cultures and their celebrations. In this way, our search for the truth naturally leads us into the other celebrations -- often leaving Hallowe'en far behind. The result has become such a tangle of fact with theory that it is difficult to separate the two. What we believe about Hallowe'en today, has been built upon the rather tenuous foundation of "It-Looks-Like-That-Over-There."

Consider that many otherwise logical minds accept that we and the apes have common evolutionary ancestors -- because we appear to resemble each other. That they defend this idea "religiously," demonstrates their bias, rather than their grasp of the facts. Over-simplified, they have tangled fact and theory as they attempt to "fill-in-the-gaps." In much the same way, Hallowe'en is often confused with pagan festivals because they apparently resemble each other. And, in our zeal to stand against Satan at every opportunity, we Christians are often guilty of blindly throwing the baby out with the bath water.

This pamphlet is intended to shed a little light on the subject of Hallowe'en, by identifying facts as facts, and theories as theories. What you choose to believe about Hallowe'en is left to you. May God richly bless you as you seek to do His will.

Hallowe'en was created by the Early Christian Church during the 4th century.1 Originally celebrated on the 13th and 14th of May as "All Martyr's Day," it was instituted to remember those who had given their lives for the Faith during the Great Christian Holocaust, by Rome.2 It was, in other words, the Christian Memorial Day -- the second most important holy-day in the entire Christian Calendar. Fact.Somewhere along the way it apparently became customary to hold Church pageants on the preceding evening. Everyone, even the audience, came dressed as their favorite martyred saint.3 Those who chose Paul, came beheaded. Those who chose Matthew, came with a spear thrust through them. In skits, congregations would reenact the valor and passion of the Church-in-persecution. Others dressed as the antagonists of the stories -- Satan, his demons, the wild animals of the coliseum, the soldiers and the Caesars. These were the defeated enemies, booed and hissed, while the victorious heroes were cheered. Afterward they would all spill out into the streets of the city, begging food for the poor among them.4 Fact.

Some three hundred years later, the city of Rome donated a building to the Church in memory of all the "martyrs" of the Great Persecution. The building had formerly been used as a place of torture and the execution of Christians. Now, it would be used to worship Jesus Christ. The irony was not lost on the Church, and many shifted their All Martyr's celebration to the day the new building was dedicated -- November 1. 5 Within the next fifty years that change became official in the Western Churches (the Eastern Churches still celebrate in the spring, to this day6). The celebration was gradually expanded to include any who had been persecuted for the name of Christ, and many began calling it "All Saints' Day." Fact.

In the centuries that followed, the name was finally changed to the "Holy Day" - or more popularly, the "Hallowed Day." The festivities traditionally began the night before, because until recent times both Jews and Christians began their day at dusk. This is not the result of culture or superstition, but because God made them that way ("… and the evening and the morning, were the first day", etc.). So, to the early Church the evening of a Saturday, for instance, was the night before, not the night after -- Saturday began with Saturday-evening (what you and I would call Friday night). In fact, what we call "Christmas Eve" today, was originally the evening of/before Christmas-Day. The same is true of New Year's Eve. Similarly, the Hallowed Day began with the "Hallowed Even'," which was ultimately contracted to the "Hallowe'en" we know today. Today, we still begin our celebration on the evening before - what appears on our calendars as October 31. Fact.

If this is new to you, it is because in the process of "filling-in-the-gaps," scholars have added a great deal of theory to the mix. Along with these theories come theoretical motives ascribed to the Church, to explain why they did what they (theoretically) did. Eventually, no one was talking about a Christian Memorial Day anymore. No one was talking about Christ, the Church, or the Great Persecution anymore, either; only about Satan, and pagan rituals. When was the last time you were "reminded" that nearly seven million men, women and children were horribly tortured and finally brutally murdered in terrible ways, over the course of three hundred years - all because they refused to recant the Name of Jesus? Could we find that many Christians, so committed to the Name of Christ today? Listen… this is the real meaning behind Hallowe'en!

Filling-In The Gaps

The controversy over Hallowe'en is not now, nor has it ever been, a controversy over the facts, above. They are just that; facts of history. Facts recorded at the time, by the Church itself. Instead, the controversy is over the various theories surrounding a single question… "From whom did the Church copy their Halloween symbols?" Why did the Church begin dressing-up in costumes? Where did they get the idea of going door-to-door with a basket of treats? Why did they play "tricks" on those they didn't get a "treat" from? What about the pumpkin, the bat, the cat, etc.? Where did the Church get these symbols? And, if they are from wholly pagan sources, what can we surmise about the motives of a Church which not only allowed it to happen, but enthusiastically embraced such an extraordinary indiscretion?

Notice that the question is not, "What meaning did the Church ascribe to the symbols?" Amazingly, today's authors don't seem to care! They are apparently only interested in their origin. We know from Church history that they dressed in costumes of the dead, to memorialize them. But did they think this up out of thin-air? They went door-to-door to collect food for the poor, but where did they get the idea? They celebrated on November 1 because a famous building was dedicated on that day, but could there have been a more sinister motive than the one recorded by the Church? "From whom did they copy their symbols?" This is the true basis of the controversy. Today, there are three possible answers to this question. Since no one was there recording it, each of them are only theories. Each of us should be capable of making up our own minds -- and, capable of tolerating those who chose differently.

1. An Original Idea

Couldn't the Church have originated their own symbols for Halloween? While clearly possible, it is commonly agreed that this is the least likely of the three theories. The symbols of Hallowe'en appear in the historical records fully formed and complete. Though not impossible, it remains unlikely (based on the evolution of other holidays) that the Church could have created a such a set of "mature" symbols, from the very beginning. It is simply more likely that they copied them from another people.

2. The Druids

Another theory is that the Church adopted its Memorial Day symbols from the pagan rites of an ancient religious cult known as the Druids. In spite of the marvelously-detailed accounts of these rituals appearing in both secular and Christian histories (some of which often read like the pages of a Hollywood Tabloid), in truth we know very little about them.7 This is because they were a very secretive sect among the Celts of ancient Europe, and neither they nor the Celts around them had a written language8 -- there is simply no historical record of who they were or what they celebrated, except a few accounts written by their Roman enemies, as they struggled for survival against the advancing Legions.9

What we know of the Druids, is this… They were first seen by the outside world in 61 A.D.10 (though some theorize that they may have been much older). They were the civil and religious authorities11 over the Celts, until roughly 500 A.D.12, when they died-out during the war with Rome. Down through the centuries since, there have been several attempts to resurrect the cult. In each case, they had as their guide, only unwritten tales and Gaelic-poetry, passed word-of-mouth from generation to generation (the earliest written accounts by the Celts themselves began to appear around 1200 A.D.13). In each case the attempt was unsuccessful, and cult died-out again. The current Druidic cult (in England and Texas) is no older that the early sixties. Today, our understanding of Celtic rituals is limited to two eye-witness accounts, both written by their enemies. Both accounts essentially agree in detail, and both were accounts of the execution of prisoners-of-war. In one of these accounts, the prisoners were woven into baskets of reeds and then burned alive. By the manner in which the events were described, it seems logical that this was a common practice. The earlier account insisted that there was much superstition surrounding the event, including the understanding that their gods would grant these executions to be the fate of all their enemies.

In and of itself, there is little here, that is unique to the Druids. Frankly, other cultures before and after the Celts have displayed just as much barbarism in the execution of their criminals. What makes the Druids case special, however, is that the specific god involved was their God of Death and War -- a deity called Samhain -- whose major religious rites were celebrated in the fall of the year, at the autumnal equinox of the sun (that day between summer and winter when the days first begin to shorten). The Celts had no formal calendar beyond the shadows cast by the sun (some believe this is what Stonehenge was used for), but on the Roman calendar (as on ours, today) the date of the equinox is September 22nd. It is surmised by many authors that during this festival the same type of executions may have taken place, perhaps with wild abandon.

Today, the Gaelic peoples celebrate a New Year festival they call Samhain on October 31, thirty-nine days after the equinox. Why they changed the day, and when they made the change is open to scholarly speculation. Some believe that it was changed prior to the eighth century, and others, after the thirteenth. What difference does it make? Just this… if it happened earlier than 700 A.D., then it was already being celebrated on that day when the Church changed its All Martyr's celebration to November 1. Those who adopt this "early-change" theory, see a secret motive behind the Church's move to November 1 -- to "corrupt" the Samhain celebration with a more Christian meaning. Both Church and secular records are silent regarding such a motive, however.

On the other hand, if the shift of Samhain to October 31 followed the Church's own change, then perhaps a rapidly Christianized Ireland consolidated its holiday into the Church's Hallowe'en in order to keep its own pagan traditions alive. This "late-change" theory has the additional advantage of supplying us with a viable reason for the change from September 22 to October 31, in the first place ("early-changers" have no motive for the change).

In either case (the theory goes), the mixture of pagan and Christian symbols was responsible for a gradually weakened celebration that ultimately lost all Christian values, in favor of the pagan ones. The prevailing theory is that such customs as trick-or-treating and costumes must have been present in the Celtic celebrations (though no historical record exists of it), and copied by the Church. Today, contemporary Irish history (written within the last few hundred years) insists that it was not their ancestors that were "corrupted," but the Church. They speculate that the customs of the Christian Hallowe'en were copied by the Church from what must certainly have been celebrated long before by their ancestors at the "Vigil of Samhain" -- all the way back to the Druids themselves.

3. The Jews

There is a third theory. Some 600 years before Jesus was born, the Book of Esther, in the Old Testament, recounts the near extinction of the Jews by their enemies, and the story of their deliverance by God through Queen Esther of Persia -- who was secretly a Jewess, herself. The chief enemy of the Jews, one Haman, recommended that the King greatly honor someone who had done a great service, thinking that it would certainly be himself. Instead, it turned out to be Mordecai, the secret Jewish uncle of the Queen. Haman's hatred of the Jews finally peaked (according to the Jewish Midrash) when his own daughter maliciously dumped a full "bedpan" on him by mistake, having confused the clothing worn by the two men. There is a considerable "Clark-Kent-style" to the story.

According to Scripture, Haman's plot to kill all Jews, all over the world, was to take place in the spring, on the 14th day of the Hebrew month Adar. But on the day before it was to happen, just as the dark got darkest, God intervened to turn the tables. Now the Jews stood in authority over their enemies. The 13th was to become a day of rejoicing, rather than a day of mourning (Est. 9:1). These two days (the 13th and 14th) would be known as Purim (9:27). They sent letters to all Jews, all over the world, commanding them to celebrate them forever by, "sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor." (9:22)

Ever since, observant Jews celebrate the Festival of Purim (beginning on the evening preceding the 13th) by dressing their children up in costumes of the heroes and of the enemies in the story of Esther. Many of the costumes are of those that died. It is common to see old Haman and his ten sons, all with hangman's nooses around their necks. Special pastries and treats are prepared to resemble Haman's hat, buttons, even his ears (orecchi di Haman) -- which are eaten with a grisly glee! The costumed children are sent out with baskets of these ready-to-eat treats to be delivered to the doors of their most favored friends and relatives (Mishloah Manot), and to the poor as well (Mattanot le-Evyonim). As each basket is delivered, the children receive a "tip" of edible treats.14 And it continues, in every Jewish community all over the world, to this day!

Those who are "stilted" ("I thought I was among your favored friends? Why did I get no Hamantashen from you?") can take good-humored retaliation on each other the following morning. In Israel, great parades (adloyada) are held comprised of revelers carrying silly plastic hammers, sold by vendors on every street-corner. The "stilters" are sought out and soundly bonked on the head because they sent no treats last night! (Trick-Or-Treat!)

They hold pageants where the story of Esther (Megillat Esther) is reenacted, and tradition demands that the name of Haman be blotted out so they boo and hiss each time it is mentioned, while cheering the heroes of the story. Some historians claim a much later date for the inclusion of costumes and pageants into the Purim festival, but apparently it was well established among many groups by close of the second century. The trick-or-treat look-alike, goes back to the beginning (c. 600 B.C.), however, as it was a Biblical commandment.

The theory that Hallowe'en's symbols were copied from Purim, contends that the new Christian Church of the first and second centuries was quite Jewish. Indeed, we know there were no gentile Christians for the first several decades of its existence. Jesus was a Jew, as were the Apostles, and all continued as Jews, attending Sabbath Synagogue services, and celebrating the Old Testament feasts. Those who subscribe to this theory claim it would be naive and short-sighted to believe that Purim and its symbols was unknown to the Early Church.

This same Church withstood incredible persecution by Rome for over three hundred years, their enemies planning for their complete annihilation. Then, just as the darkness could get no darker, the tables were turned! Under the reign of Constantine, Christianity was elevated overnight to the state religion of Rome. Suddenly Christians found themselves (for better or worse) in authority over their former enemies. Thus, just as today's Communion is essentially the Old Testament Passover festival with new meaning given to its symbols, so too (according to this theory) new meaning was given to the symbols of Purim by the Early Church, which began calling it All Martyr's Day.

Both Purim and Hallowe'en were (originally) celebrated in the spring (both on the same days of the month). They share a common heritage, history, Bible, and God. They both celebrate essentially the same kind of worldwide persecution followed by the same miraculous deliverance. They are both Memorial Days.

Thus, proponents of this theory contend that the symbols of the Christian Hallowe'en were not copied. Instead, they suggest that Hallowe'en was just a new name, with new meanings attached to the old symbols of the Biblical Feast of Purim. They further theorize that these same symbols (devoid of their Christian meaning) were subsequently copied by the Irish into their Samhain New Year festival (rather than the other way around).

Creeping Secularization

A few of the symbols of Hallowe'en are not traceable to the very beginning (c. 350 A.D.). There was simply no specific mention made of them in Church or secular records relating to Hallowed Day celebrations. This does not mean that they didn't exist from the beginning, only that it is unlikely. These include the bat, the cat, bonfires, and the Jack-O-Lantern. Today, scholars believe that with the exception of the Jack-O-Lantern, their association with the Hallowed Day is seasonal, rather than memorial. That is, they became associated with Hallowe'en because it was THE Christian holy-day during the harvest season, and these elements were symbols of the harvest.

Some suggest that cats are a symbol of Hallowe'en because it was worshiped in Egypt. But then, everything was worshiped in Egypt, even the dung-beetle. This does little to explain why the cat (and not the dung-beetle) became a symbol of the season. Others offer that witches sometimes use a cat as a familiar. But then, witches apparently so used many animals, including dogs, rabbits, even horses. Why the cat and none of these? The list is amazingly diverse, and equally improbable.

The only thing that all ancient cultures have in common, when it comes to the cat, is a reverence for it at the harvest season. The cat is the one and only defense-mechanism that an agricultural world had against the mouse, the rat and the snake -- all of which were pests that could destroy a harvested-crop. Thus, in all agricultural economies the cat is a hero, especially at this time of the year when the harvest has just been brought in.

Bats have a similarly obvious connection with the harvest. Scientists tell us that the bat is not only completely harmless, but consumes 1400 mosquito-sized insects every night.15 When, in the heat of the season, laborers have been beating the field all day long, the bat is a welcome entry into the evening harvest festivities. The common association of the vampire-bat is apparently insupportable, as it exists nowhere in the world, except in South America -- not in the Mid-East, nor even in Transylvania! The mythology surrounding a vampire turning himself into a bat was proposed for the first time anywhere, during the late 1800's, in the fiction "Dracula."

Bonfires were common each and every evening of the harvest, all over the world. Apparently this had no religious application, only the practical burning of the stalks and chaff from each day's winnowing.The pumpkin, which many of us associate so strongly with Hallowe'en, is native only to North America, and grows nowhere else in the world. They simply did not have pumpkins to use as symbols, until about 300 years ago! The original Jack-O-Lanterns go back a little further, but were usually made from turnips or potatoes, and are a relatively recent European invention (c. 1200 A.D.).

According to tradition, the Jack-O-Lantern is the good-natured result of an old Irish-Christian wives-tale about a miser named Stingy Jack16 who refused his good wife's exhortation to go to church. Jack instead frequented saloons, were he eventually met and tricked the Devil himself into paying for the drinks. A year later, on the eve of the Hallowed Day, Jack choked to death, eating a turnip. When he arrived at heaven's gate he was turned away as an unrepentant sinner. At the gates of hell, Satan drove him off by throwing glowing embers of hell-fire at him, still angry over being tricked. Jack was doomed to walk between heaven and hell until the Judgment Day, still carrying his half-eaten turnip, in which burned the glowing embers he had caught.17 They called it Jack's-Lantern, and Christians would put them up to mark the locations of their Hallowe'en parties. According to the legend, if Satan saw such a lantern he would turn and walk the other way rather than risk meeting Stingy Jack in such a gathering.


Though we often hear otherwise, Hallowe'en is a Christian holy-day. Criticism of the celebration actually concerns its symbols, rather than what it was intended to be from the beginning -- the Christian Memorial Day. Some object that stories of martyred saints are inappropriate because they do not appear in Scripture. But it would be myopic to assume that God stopped working miraculously among His people, with the 28th chapter of Acts. Furthermore, our heritage -- those who became examples for us -- goes all the way back to Genesis. There is no reason to limit our remembrance to those three centuries. This is not man-glorification, but the awesome power of God's Spirit making new and fearless, the hearts of mere men.

Evil does exist; everywhere, everyday. Those who practice evil on our Memorial Day, are the same ones who desecrate all our other holi-days, too (Christmas, Easter, etc.). This does not mean we should flee the day -- you cannot win a battle by retreating from your own ground.
Whatever you choose to believe about Hallowe'en's symbols, never let it cease to be a memorial of faithful believers that, following the example of Jesus, laid the foundations that you and I stand on today with their own blood. And remember this too… The true story behind Hallowe'en must remain a secret! Whatever you do, don't let the Public School System get wind of it! They are perfectly willing to expose our children to all manner of unknown and potentially dangerous things. But if they ever found out that they were embracing a wholly Christian festival, the Memorial Day of the Church… they'd drop it like a hot rock!

1 "A Feast of All Martyrs was kept on May 13 in the Eastern Church according to Ephraem Syrus (who died 373 AD)." v.1, p.275, 2a, Encyclopedia Britannica, Chicago, IL, 1992
2 "In the late 4th century, a feast of All Martyrs was observed by the Eastern Syrians on May 13 and by the West Syrians and Byzantines on the Sunday following Pentecost. Pope Boniface IV received from the emperor Phocas (reigned 602-610) the Pantheon at Rome, which he dedicated on May 13 to St. Mary and All Martyrs. The Feast of All Saints on November 1 was promulgated by Pope Gregory IV in 835, in place of the May festival." v.16, p.308, 1a, Encyclopedia Britannica, Chicago, IL, 1992
3 "On All Hallows, many churches staged plays called pageants for the benefit of their members. Each pageant participant dressed up as the patron saint of his special guardian. Those who did not play the part of a 'holy one' played the part of devils. The procession then marched from the church out into the churchyard where the play might continue until late in the evening." p 36b, Phillips, P., Halloween and Satanism, Starburst Publ., Penn, 1987
4 "[They would] walk door to door begging food for the poor… chanting: Soul, soul! for a soul cake! I pray, good mistress, for a soul cake! An apple or pear, or plum or a cherry. Any good thing to make us merry. One for Peter, two for Paul, Three for Him who made us all. Up with the kettle, down with the pan. Give us good alms and we'll be gone. Alms, were the money of the common people. A soul cake was a square bun decorated with currants. During the holiday, bakers would fill their shops with soul cakes." pp. 31, ibid.
5 "The first evidence for the November 1 celebration and of the broadening of the festival to all Saints as well as Martyrs occurred during the reign of Pope Gregory III (731-741), who dedicated a chapel in St. Peter's Rome on November 1 in honour of All Saints. In 800, All Saints Day was kept by Alcuin on November 1, and it also appeared in a 9th century English calendar. In 837, Pope Gregory IV ordered its general observance. In medieval England, the festival was known as All Hallows, and its eve is still known as Halloween." v.1, p.275, 2a, Encyclopedia Britannica, Chicago, IL, 1992
6 "All Saints' Day is a religious festival honoring All Christian Saints. It is observed [today,] on November 1 by the Roman Catholics and members of the Anglican Communion, and on the first Sunday after Pentecost (Whitsunday) by the Eastern Orthodox Church." v.1, p.585, Encyclopedia Americana, Grolier Corp., Danbury, CN, 1991
7 "…little is known of the doctrines of the druids." Rhys, Prof., Celtic Heathendom, Modern American Corp., Chicago, 1936
8 "Little is known of the Druids because their rites were never written down." Compton's Encyclopedia, E.E.Compton Co., Chicago, IL, 1984 "No early Celtic literature has been preserved… The Druids, did not commit their learning to writing." "Celts," c.1, Twentieth Century Encyclopedia, World Literary Guild, 1934
9 "Our information respecting [the druids] is borrowed from notices in the Greek and Roman writers, compared with the remains of Welsh and Gaelic poetry still extant. …That the Druids offered sacrifices to their deity [Be'al, the Sun] there can be no doubt. But there is some uncertainty as to what they offered, and of the ceremonies connected with their religious services we know almost nothing. The classical (Roman) writers affirm that they offered on great occasions human sacrifices; as for success in war or for relief from dangerous diseases. …Many attempts have been made by Celtic writers to shake the testimony of Roman historians to this fact, but without success. …It is certain that they [the druids] committed nothing of their doctrine, their history, or their poetry to writing. Their teaching was oral, and their literature (if such a word may be used in such a case) was preserved solely by tradition." p358-361, Bulfinch, Thomas, Bulfinch's Mythology, Anenel Books, NY, 1978
10 "The only specific reference to druids encountered by the Romans when they invaded Britain is in connection with the assault on Mona (Anglesey) in 61 A.D. under the command of Seutonius Paulinus." v.9, p.420, 1a, Encyclopedia Americana, Grolier Corp., Danbury, CN, 1991
11 "Druids of Gaul were both judges and priests, who sacrificed criminals to their gods. The Druids of Britain, on the other hand, were chiefly religious leaders." v.4, p.185, 2a, Compton's Encyclopedia, E.E.Compton Co., Chicago, IL, 1984
12 "…finally, after the Anglo-Saxon invasions in the 5th century, [Druidism] is supposed to have been exterminated in England, and survived only in Ireland, Wales, Isle of Man, the Scottish Highlands, and Cornwall. "Celts," c.1, Twentieth Century Encyclopedia, World Literary Guild, 1934 "… The druids' fierce resistance to the spread of the Latin culture, led to their suppression by Roman authorities in Britain and Gaul; in Ireland, which never came under Roman rule, druidism survived until A.D. 500." v.6, p.281, 2b, Academic American Encyclopedia, Danbury, CN, 1989
13 "The ancient Celts did not write down their history and religion and poetry. Literature written in the Celtic languages did not begin to grow up until much later. The earliest Celtic literature that we have was written about 1200 A.D." p.343, col.2, par.5, Illustrated World Encyclopedia, Bobbley Publ., NY, 1978
14 p. 195, The Jewish Holidays, Rabbi M. Strassfeld, Harper & Row, NY, 1985
15 "Bats eat thousands of bugs every night, yet they remain one of the most misunderstood creatures in nature… A single bat of average weight will consume well over 1400 mosquito-size insects each night." Tuttle, M., America's Neighborhood Bats, Bat Conservation Int'l, TX, 1989
16 "The origin of the Jack-O-Lantern is found in a fanciful tale of a down-on-his-luck Irishman named 'Stingy Jack'…" Phillips, Phil, Halloween and Satanism, Starburst Publishers, Penn, 1987
17 According to an Irish legend, jack-o-lanterns were named for a man called Jack, who could not enter heaven because he was a miser, and could not enter hell either, because he had played jokes on the devil. As a result, Jack had to walk the earth with his lantern until Judgement Day. v.9, p.25, 1a, World Book Encyclopedia, Chicago, IL, 1992

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


You and I are sitting across from each other. I'm grinning. You're not. (You can see already that the cards are stacked in my favor. But it is my blog, and you, dear reader, as addressed in this Interlude are imaginary. Alas, I'm afraid all of my readers are imaginary ones)

Your pained expression betrays the fact that you're not sure whether you heard what you think you heard nor what it would mean if you did. "Is he serious? Is he sane?" you wonder. "If so,… is that "spooky God stuff" okay to say?"

You study my face. No reassurance there- same 'ole yahoo face. Should you respond? "Is there culpability in encouraging him" you question. You rub your face in exasperation. Then, you begin.

"Let me get this straight…um, we see God in creepy moments."

"That's right, or at least we were meant to"

"You're saying God is creepy, then? Is that what you're saying!?"

"I'm not sure. But I am suggesting that the unease we feel when we encounter spooky, eerie or uncanny places or things was God's idea. He put them there to teach us something about himself."

"That he's creepy? How can you say he's creepy"

"No, I didn't say that he was creepy. That would be like looking around for Divine feathers because Isaiah declared that God lifted him on eagle's wings. Eagles…and foreboding windy black nights point to God, but I don't believe he's a winged creature or a meteorological event."

"But an eagle speaks of strength. A comparison with an eagle says "God is strong." What does a comparison with a haunted house imply if not "Creepiness?"

"I see you're point. I'll try to answer it after I skillfully maneuver your conversation into the appropriate query- that way I'll look in control, but until I figure out how to do that, I'd say that a haunted house teaches not only that he's "Other" but what it might be like to be in the presence of "Otherness." Creepiness connotes creeping, loathsomeness or things foul. I'm not meaning to include them- at least not at this point. What I'm after is the fear of the unknown- the unknowable. I'm not sure what to call it precisely, but it's present in a haunted house. You're not scared because you believe you will be hurt, but rather because you are with something you do not understand, that doesn't belong there, but which you imagine could very easily work in unpleasant ways. It's the effect that unnatural things have on us."

"But unnatural…that's bad stuff. How can you say that God is unnatural?"

"It depends on what you mean by unnatural, doesn't it. If you mean "bad stuff or bad behavior", then certainly God is not unnatural. If you mean distinct from nature, he's certainly unnatural. I could say "supernatural," I guess; but that would create problems that we'd have to clear up later. What we think of as supernatural is really a large segment of creation or nature."

"But unnatural!"

"It seems to me that calling God unnatural is less problematic than calling him natural. What could that possibly mean? Anyway, I…"

"Tell me what I'm to learn of God from seeing my neighbor in a Freddy Krueger mask! It's horrific. Violent, even demonic- Freddy hurt people. Where's God in that?"

"Let me try again. I've been talking about eerie places or things- trying to argue for the positive value of this category as a category. That isn't to say that every individual example of creepiness is positive. I'm sure that sexual desire was first dreamed up by God, but that is a far cry from saying that I endorse everything that invokes sexual desire. Also, Creepy always involves fear. But there are other sources of fear, as well. Witnessing a violent car wreck ought to scare you, but that's a whole different thing. Don't you think?"

"But the whole Halloween monster thing implies violence. You can't have a monster without implied violence"

"Well, I'm not so sure about that, but I do understand that Halloween tangles many different themes into its celebration. I was meaning to start by looking at only one- the spooky, eerie aspect. I think you can distinguish the experiences of being on a lonely tree lined road, or in a windy autumn night, or hearing a wolf's baleful howl- I think you can distinguish those things from the grotesque. Maybe not. But for me that would most likely mean that the grotesque has something to teach us about our God, not that the grotesque should be totally avoided. Anyway, I've had nothing to say about the whole grotesque thing. Let's talk about it next. Right now its all more than I know"

Thursday, October 18, 2007


I've a suspicion that the lessons of nature that go unlearned end up being...well, unlearnable…period.

Let me try again: Our knowledge is metaphorical and imaginary….

Let me try again: We cannot appreciate a concept unless we have had an experience from which we can image it. No, wait, wait, wait. This is what I mean, if I tell you that a Krag is a creature with wings like a Jorg and the teeth of a Mulph, how much have I told you? Maybe you've learned some new words, and if they're Latin ones, they might be useful in sounding intimidating in a smart sort of way. But beyond that, not a lot has happened- not much was learned. No communication took place. But if I say a Krag has the thin skinned wings of a bat (only these wings are enormous) and that its head resembles a lion's head, then you can begin to form some idea of what a Krag might be. Does that make sense? We cannot appreciate a concept unless we've had an experience from which we can image it.

When we are told by St. Paul that God's attributes are evident from nature's book, we should expect to find the creaturely finger that points to his power, beauty, justice etc. And they are very evident. Now, if I were to say that God is acertonastical. What does that mean? Maybe I'd add that it refers to an indefinable, completely and utterly unexperiencable state of acertonisty. "Oh" you say knowingly, "I see," but you're lying because there is nothing there to learn. If you've not experienced something analogous, there is nothing there to see.

How about the word holy? What does it mean? If Otto was right about The Numinous, then where do we go in our experience to fill up the meaning? More often than not we go to one of the other attributes- to things like power or justice. "Holiness is really one of these," we say. We end up making God's people speak in redundancies- "God is good and (good)." We might as well drop one of those "goods," and it really ought to be the one that isn't spelled g-o-o-d. Holiness disappears.

This is one of two possible outcomes, if what we are talking about is beyond our experience. Either the particular facet of God, to which the word Holiness is meant to refer becomes lost because mistaken for something else, or we are simply going around mouthing words that have no meaning at all. Either way, the practical molding influence that only an understanding of God's Holiness can provide is lost. Is that a big deal? It depends on how important God's holiness is. You tell me.

It seems to me (another suspicion) that there is more than coincidence involved in the fact that experiences of "Otherness" are "pooh-poohed" in both nature and in the worship of nature's God. A disregard for the transcendent seems to lie at the heart of the whole business. Or worse, it's the collapsing down of the transcendent into the mundane and immanent. Spooky moments are nothing but superstition and irrational fear. God is nothing more than Creation blown infinite. A lot of "Nothing mores" and "Nothing buts" going on there. But that is the great error of our time- "Nothingbutteryism."

Modernity knows (for dissection has established it to be a fact) that one place is no different than another. Any desire to lower your voice in a cathedral, a graveyard or darkened forest is "nothing but"…and should be out grown. God's holiness is nothing more than sheer power and majesty and so you should obey him simply because he can squish you like a bug if you resist. Just like Hitler or…wait. That can't be right. Why do we follow/worship God?

Practically, I believe that a disregard for the mysterious and disturbingly "other" experiences of our world is both a symptom and a cause of the loss of reverence. That's where the piper comes to be paid- in the loss of Reverence. We are taught that there is nothing in this world that is truly unnatural, uncanny…spooky- at least not for the educated. God is explicable in terms of human qualities- only ones blown up really big. And so we should approach him like we approach anyone else- only really loud. In our relationships there is no area, station or calling that can be considered "other." There is nothing sacrosanct. Not the umpire overseeing the game- "punch the blind bastard," not the King- "who does he think he is," nor a woman's honor.

The whole concept of Reverence seems as old fashioned and nonsensical in our culture as taking seriously a child's fear of the night. But that is the point.

Thomas Howard tells of a group of students taken by a learned cultural anthropologist into the depths of an unmapped jungle. They wander into a village just in time to see a scantily clad witch doctor slicing the head off of a chicken. Violently flinging the warm blood across the altar in front of him, the old man repeatedly bows towards the image. The scientist turns towards the students and says "Here we have a perfect example of the earliest stages of religious evolution and a clear manifestation of the myth of the fertility god's enacted death…" Obviously, the two men see something very different taking place.

If you had to choose, who would you side with? Are you with the Scientist or the Witch Doctor? Seems a clear choice to me: The witch doctor knows many things the Scientist does not- that there are some things before which we must bow, that sacrifice is required and that it must be made in blood, that there is more to reality than can be seen, etc, etc

The battle is decided when one side concedes the bedrock contention of the other. It seems to me that we need to be careful whose weapons we are using and what we are aiming at.

If there is "more than" to God, if he is truly "other," then that otherness finds expression in the image of his creation. Those innocent, profound and radically molding places, times and encounters should be recognized and treasured- brought captive to the King to whom they rightfully belong. This is simply seeing them for what they are- facets of our God's great glory. Since the garden, this has been man's challenge- to properly name God's creation. It's always been that way. Modern men and women have the distinction of adding an additional challenge- they have set out to feel shame at the awareness of certain creatures (Spookiness wasn't the first) or to deny that they exist at all. That's a tough row to hoe...because they do.

One night you'll be alone. The moon will be full, but ducking behind the gray stretched clouds, as if afraid to watch. A solitary dog will bark in the distance and a cold blast of air will send the dead leaves past your face and swirling upwards. A thought occurs to you. Not a thought really, more of an awareness; and you respond by glancing over your shoulder at the woods that lay behind. You're looking for something in the almost perfect blackness that lies between the trees. Not sure what, just …something. You shudder and gather up the groceries as quickly as you can; trying to tell yourself that nothing is going on.

Is there? Anything going on, I mean. I hope you answer, "Yes, Indeed" and offer thanks for the visitation.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


When my kids were small we taught them that "God is a spirit: infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth." I regret it now- not because I think any of that stuff is wrong, but rather because taken together I think it gives the wrong impression. It's too impersonal. Too…well, precise. I wouldn't define any of my children in that way. Maybe a tractor or a college course- but not a person. Instead I'd say "that one is charmed when it comes to animals. Why once she…" or "That one is too much like me; she…" You see, I'd tell them a story.

Moderns (and I'm sure you know that's not a category I want any of you to fall into) subscribe to the whole reductionistic definition thing. They believe we understand something best when we've taken it apart and labeled all the innards. The problem with that is you loose the thing you're trying to get to know and the sort of knowledge you end up with is of a rather limited kind. If I were to gut your mother and analyze precisely her chemical makeup, I wouldn't learn half as much about her as a trip to the beach would reveal…and I'd get to take her home afterwards, too. You can see the advantage. The definition of God up there can (I didn't say must) give the impression that our God is a substance of some sort (maybe a giant glowing silly putty like blob of "BEING") or simply the sum total of his various attributes. If it's not possible to define your mother in that way, it's surely not possible with your God.

You can see that there's something else there- something beyond all the parts. Rudolph Otto has written the classic work on that "something." His book is called The Idea of the Holy. C.S. Lewis listed it as one of the ten most important books in his life. In it Mr. Otto claims that the "something" is really the heart of our concept of the Divine. It, not the attributes listed above, is common to all the religions of man. He calls it the Numinous. I like that word. Numinous. Anyway, it refers to the mysterious, indefinable and overwhelming sense of power, inapproachability and raw energy of God. He is similar in some respects to his creation, because she was created to be so; but there is an unbridgeable chasm between the Creator and his creation. He is "Other". He alone is God. People know they are in the presence of the Numinous by the effect it has on them. This effect has been called the mysterium tremendum . That's a mouthful, so people have tried awe, dread and similar words to describe it. But they don't quite do the trick either. When you're in the presence of the Numinous you're struck dumb in amazement because it is so different from what you expected to encounter, you shudder as this Absolute begins to touch the deepest points of your feelings, and there is a profound awareness of your creatureliness, our dependence, our vulnerability and sheer contingency before this Totally Other.

C.S Lewis illustrated it in the introduction to his Problem of Pain, "Suppose you were told that there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told "There is a ghost in the next room," and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is "uncanny" rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous. Now suppose that you were told simply "There is a might spirit in the room" and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking–described as awe, and the object which excites it is the Numinous."

Along with the mysterium tremendum comes an almost irresistible attraction. Otto called this the mysterium fascinosum. Here's an observable distinction between animalistic fear and the mysterium tremendum. We long to get away from what we fear. We are drawn to that which fills our heart with terrifying awe.The traditional word for all of this is holiness. It's not first and foremost about right behavior. Rather it's about the "Otherness" that lies at the heart of our God. To be in the presence of the Holy is to be struck dumb, trembling and on our face. Witness St. John in his Revelation- the same John who laid his head on the Savior before- falling down speechless at the Holiness' manifestation. It is terrifying to behold…and yet ecstatically beautiful and attractive. With sin, certainly, a new experience of fear began. But the mysterium tremendum is part of the Creator's and his Creation's relationship. It never depended on sin for its kindling. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom." This was as true of unstained Adam as it was of David untold ages later.

If it's true that Creation was meant to point towards it creator, if it's true that we see his power in the sea, his care in a mother's look, his beauty in a flower and taste his goodness in a nibble of stinky cheese, then where do we find creaturely images of his Numinance? This seems to me to be a very important question.

Lewis hinted towards my view in his comment about ghosts in the quote above. There are dark corridors that frighten and draw us, shadowy, solitary stands of trees that touch us to the point of shuddering as we contemplate passing through them. There's Luna's bright roundness flirting out the wolf's lonely howl. We stop to look. We stop to listen and shiver at the thought. Could it be that certain creatures have been gifted with this particular "telling." Is it coincidence that both Egyptian and Celt shuddered at the passing of a black cat? Or are there places and things that were "painted" just so to remind us that He is frightening because…well, like the face in the window He doesn't belong- not to this world.

Creepy, Eerie, Uncanny, Disturbing, Awesome. Holy…Spooky. Amidst our overly familiar Christianity centered on a God who is little more than a "buddy from out of town" don't we need a better understanding of his untouchable otherness. "You think that was something" we should say to our friends as we're leaving this year's most unsettling haunted house. "Wait till you meet my God."

Monday, October 8, 2007


He could have put us on a great, flat ping-pong table. God, I mean.

If simply "being" was the point, then a ping-pong table would have been just the thing. Of course it would have needed to be big, really big…but "the world as table" is imaginable. He could have painted it all white, too. Nothing fancy. He could have done without the whole beautiful, rolling, landscape thing. No poofy dandelions. No "wet" water. No sunsets or peacock feathers. He could have, but he didn't. Do you ever wonder why?

Jesus' people have always answered that a big white table wouldn't, or couldn't, serve God's end. You know, like sleeping in a wet bed or taking your sister to the prom just doesn't cut it. It's imaginable, but not worth the trouble. There was more to food than fuel, more to legs than movement, more to love than reproduction. More! And that more was wrapped up in all the unnecessary, impractical and seemingly superfluous stuff. The big white table isn't sufficient, because our God envisioned creation as having something to say. Something to declare. And a big white table just wasn't up to saying it.

Creation was meant to state, "God is like this. God is like that." He's a rock, a father, an ocean and a lion. Not those things exactly. They're creatures. He's Creator. But each has something to say about him. Each declares his glory. The whole creation, all of it, pulls on our sleeve and points upward to her source when we give her our attention. The whole earth is full of the glory of God. That was the idea, anyway. Since men and women began mistaking the advertisement for the real thing, Creation has gone wrong. But she keeps on declaring, none the less. While the naked bodies of husband and wife have something wonderfully important to say about the God who first dreamed up such a thing, the bleating terror of the baby wildebeest being flayed by lion's claws shows the reality of the same thing when love is removed. We're surrounded by images. Some of them "were from the beginning". Others came with the fall. Everything pulls at our sleeve.

I want you to think about a particular creature. Tell me if she was present in Eden before the damned serpent caused our parents to question the Fatherhood of their God. I'm speaking of Spookiness. Did she exist when our God declared all things good, or did she arrive only when the situation had changed and the new fallen reality required new ugly images? I believe she was always there. I think she will still be there at the very end, because she has something to say about God that needs saying. Finding what that might mean will require that we take a more direct look at our God. I hope to do that next.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


We really enjoy collecting and listening to Old Time Radio shows. One of my daughters has collected the complete X-Minus One series. It's a fun and inexpensive family sorta' thing to do.

A favorite October activity at the James house is to sit out on the deck at night and listen to the spookiest OTR shows we can find. It's all the better if we are wrapped in blankets, sipping hot chocolate and watching a fire in the chimenea while the wind whips dead leaves into the air around us. I hope the weather cools down enough for that!

My youngest daughter really recommends Three Skelton Key.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


I’ve a little project that will require a good deal of time over the next month. I won’t have much oppurtunity to post my undercooked thoughts. This is a shame because the next great feast day is All Saint’s Day. Of all my half-baked thoughts, none have been accused of being as thoroughly half-baked as the ones I’ve pondered regarding Hallowe’en.

In the spirit of the diabolical season, It seems appropriate (and time saving) to put up some musings I began last year regarding the topic.

Here’s the first one:

Thoughts on Hallowe’en

"You ask me why we don't celebrate Halloween, Timmy? Because we're superstitious, reactionary, gullible, and we refuse to check things out for ourselves. Now, let me finish signing this petition so we can stop Madalyn Murray O'Hair from taking "Touched By an Angel" off the air. Why don't you take your mind off the fact that your friends are out having fun by reading one of your Left Behind: The Kids books?"

Funny stuff, that!

But I wouldn't have always appreciated the humor. It wasn't so long ago that I was judgmentally prideful…er, grateful for our congregation's informed Reformation Day party- thankful that my children weren't like those unsuspecting "devil's night" revelers quickly scurrying past my darkened porch- their poofy Wal-Mart fairy princess wands calling out to the nether world like stinky chicken liver to a catfish.

The point being that I understand 'em. With a testimony similar to this, I can feel the strength of the objections. I know that they are sincerely held. I know they grow out of fear, and I've been held by the kind of fear that can make you blind (totally-never-occurred-to-me blind) to how horribly unloving and unneighborly it must appear to darken your home on the one night that our communities take on any appearance of…well, community. The irony of being the only foreboding, unwelcoming and darkened home in a sea of friendly, lighted and self-consciously welcoming front doors- all in the name of being a "beacon of love", was lost on me. Of course there was that other house, but everyone knew he was a mean bastard and you'd better stay out of his yard- even on Halloween, but you see that just makes my point.

In my vitriolic and reactionary "Hallowe'en- God's gift to an uptight, rationalistic, judgmental, gullible, uninformed…and worst of all, modernistic evangelical yahoo" response, I worry about giving my children the impression that there aren't lines to be drawn or that this some how doesn't matter. Of course it does, but not for the reason's usually given. It matters because I suspect that The Spooky is a gift of our God and must be returned in blessing- like all of our fellow creatures who look to our priestly service. It matters because it ought to, not because it ought not.

Anyway, I figure this is as good a place to start as any. I want to embarrass all who know me by thinkin' on the meaning of Spookiness, take a brief digression down the whole "edifying nature of the grotesque" thing, fumble through the "universal needs that even a pagan understood" bag, and finally explain my understanding of the actual historical pedigree of the Christian feast day itself. (Yes, I said Christian Feast day. It's my blog. You need one of your own to worry about.)

That's the plan. We'll see how it goes.

Incidentally, I suspect that there may be a reason that I've never run across this sort of thing before- most people know better. So discretion (of which I have less than the average allotment) compels me to point out that this is half-baked and loosely held. I have no doubt that the epiphany will occur somewhere in the midst of my posting and I'll have to repent. That being said, I do think I'm on to something. Anyway, keep all of this in mind as you read. Read with discretion. Help me think it through.

Monday, October 1, 2007


And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. And the dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who Is called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

The Revelation of St. John

Three guests joined us this year for our Michaelmas celebration. That made eleven of us thanking God for ordering things in such a way that men and women are privileged to stand beside angelic warriors for the cause of King Jesus. But more than that, in Him (like Lucy, Susan, Peter and Edmund) we stand as the Captains of these ancient and fierce warriors. Unbelievable!

We spent the morning and early afternoon at the Ringgod Middle School Duck Race. The weather cooled down and it was a glorious day. But this meant that our celebration would have to come later in the evening.

You'd think from the pose that I'd killed the thing myself, but alas, I had it flown in from Romania. This was the first time many of those present had every eaten Roasted Dragon's Tongue.

Though the tongue's the least expensive cut, it was still too costly to allow any to go to waste; so we made Dragon Slime Bread. Delicious!

Michaelmas Pie, an old Irish recipe.

It went great with vanilla ice cream.

Dragon Sweet Bread Competition...

...Fierce Competitors...

...the completed entries

...and the Grand Champion!

Glory to you, Lord Christ!