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).
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