Halloween: Should Christians Participate?/Program 1

By: Dr. John Weldon, Dr. James Bjornstad; ©1996
Where did Halloween come from? From what did Halloween originate? Here are his answers.



Dr. John Ankerberg: Welcome. On October 31, Halloween night, hundreds of thousands of children across America will dress in costumes which range from the cute and the sweet to the macabre and satanic. These children will go from door to door in the neighborhood yelling, “Trick or Treat!,” and collecting as much candy as they can.
But where did the customs, rituals and symbols of Halloween come from? Why do we do the things that we do on Halloween night, like carving jack-o’-lanterns? Why do children dress up in costumes? Where did the tradition of bobbing for apples at parties originate? Why is it that when children approach a stranger’s door that they yell out “Trick or Treat”? How did the custom of orange and black as the colors of Halloween get started?
These are some of the questions that Dr. John Weldon and I set out to answer before writing our Facts on Halloween book. Dr. Weldon has co-authored with me over 44 different books now, and is a dear, dear friend. He has three masters degrees and two doctorates, one in comparative religions and the other in contemporary religious movements. He is the chief researcher of the Ankerberg Theological Research Institute.
To start us off today, I’d like you to hear his answers to the questions: Where did Halloween come from? From what did Halloween originate? Here are his answers:
Dr. John Weldon: John, I think it’s very important for parents, especially Christian parents, to realize that Halloween is not a Christian holiday. In fact, its roots go back to ancient paganism and the Celtic and Druid beliefs that involved such things as divination, contact with spirits, and even something as horrible as human sacrifice.
Ankerberg: If you’re not up on your history, you are probably wondering, who were the Celts and the Druids? Where did they live? Tell me a little bit more.
Weldon: Who were the Celts? The Celts were a group of people that came from Asia and migrated north to northern France and the British isles. Their priestly class was known as the Druids and they’re the ones that regulated the religious observances and practices of the Celts.
Ankerberg: But next you may be asking, specifically, how does Halloween relate to the ancient pagan religious practices of the Celts? Dr. Weldon explains, and I want you to listen very carefully.
Weldon: Halloween relates to this ancient pagan religion in a variety of ways. For example, there were two key days celebrated in the Celtic religion. One of those days was the day in which the god of the dead or the “god of death,” Samhain, actually was believed to release the souls of the good and evil spirits. And these good and evil spirits were released for a period of time to go back and mingle among the living. Today, the idea that Halloween involves good and evil spirits that are roaming about actually is traced back to this ancient Druidic belief.
Ankerberg: What else has come down to us from the past to make Halloween what it is today? I think if you understand what Dr. John Weldon says next, you will start to put some important pieces of the puzzle together.
Weldon: What the Druids and Celtic peoples were involved in really was a form of spiritism, of contacting the spirits, of attempting to appease or placate the spirits so that the spirits would treat them in a good manner.
Of course, biblically, this is something that God is very concerned about. For example, in Deuteronomy 18:10-11 God says, “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire.” That refers to human sacrifice–something that the Celts and the Druids themselves practiced. “Who practices divination or sorcery”–something else that was practiced. “Interprets omens, engages in witchcraft or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist, or who consults the dead.”
Almost everything in these Scriptures goes back to the ancient Celtic Druidic practices. And, of course, this is something that the ancient Celts practiced as well. In fact, some of them would actually fall upon the graves in an attempt to establish contact with the dead and to get divinatory or information about the future from the dead. Very clearly we see that God condemns the practice that the ancient Druids and the Celts engaged in of contacting the spirit world and attempting to contact the dead.
Ankerberg: Now, let me ask you a question. What is the date every year that we celebrate Halloween? You know that it’s October 31. But do you know why we celebrate Halloween on October 31? What’s significant about this particular date? Dr. Weldon explains.
Weldon: I think it’s very interesting that the very day that we celebrate as Halloween, October 31, was the last day of the year in the Celtic religion. Their new year began on November 1. And on the day before their new year, it was believed that the “god of death” or the “god of the dead” actually released the different souls of the good and evil. The evil souls were ultimately decreed to go into the form of animals, whereas the good souls were allowed to come back as humans. In other words, there was a belief in reincarnation. But essentially, the people believed that souls of good and evil spirits roamed about on this day, on Hallow’s Eve, just before their new year began.
Ankerberg: After hearing that, you may be saying, “You guys must be making this up. I mean, isn’t Halloween nothing more than an innocent holiday with some fun-filled practices? Who else agrees with you that Halloween stemmed from such terrible pagan practices?”
Well, if you’ve got an Encyclopedia Britannica in your home, turn to the article on Halloween and you’ll read this: “In ancient Britain and Ireland, the Celtic festival of Samhain was observed on October 31 at the end of the summer.” Samhain was the name of the chief Druidic god, the name they gave to him showing he was the lord of the dead or the lord of death.” The Encyclopedia Britannica continues: “The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on this day and the autumnal festival acquired sinister significance, with ghosts, witches, goblins, black cats, fairies and demons of all kinds said to be roaming about. It was the time to placate the supernatural powers controlling the processes of nature. In addition, Halloween was thought to be the most favorable time for divinations concerning marriage, luck, health, and death. It was the only day on which the help of the devil was invoked for such purposes.”
In the weeks to come we’re going to look at why ghosts, witches, black cats, Ouija boards and various other forms of divination all are associated with Halloween. As you will learn as we go along, these practices all go back to the occult and spiritistic pagan religious practices of the past. In fact, I’d like you to listen as Dr. Weldon explains why Halloween night was considered in ancient history to be the very best day in the entire year for contacting the spirit world.
Weldon: In fact, Halloween back then was thought to be the very best time for contacting the spirit world because the veil that separated the material and spiritual worlds was thinnest at that time. And this, in fact, is something that is believed in witchcraft today. And that is why they celebrate October 31 as one of their most special days.
Ankerberg: Now let’s get down to brass tacks. What specific customs and practices of Halloween are our children involved in today that are directly related back to the ancient pagan religious practices of the Celts? Dr. John Weldon tells us.
Weldon: What specific customs of Halloween today are related to the ancient practices of the Celts? Well, almost all of them. For example, we have the idea of dressing in costumes. The ancient Celts believed that the spirits were released on this day; and because there were both good and evil spirits released, they would set out food for the good spirits, but they attempted to hide from the evil spirits because they feared them. So some people would put on masks and costumes in order to hide from the evil spirits. Trick or Treating is related to the ancient Celtic practice. If food was not placed out for the spirits, the spirits could get angry. The Celts believed it was important to appease the spirits in order to keep them happy. And so by placing food in their homes, they were either welcoming the spirits, the good spirits, or they were attempting to keep the evil spirits appeased.
Ankerberg: Now, I don’t want you to miss this. Why is it that our children go down the streets wearing costumes, collecting food and candy and yelling out “Trick or Treat!” when they come to the door of somebody’s house? It’s because these customs came out of the pagan religious beliefs and practices of yesteryear. In Volume 1 of Man, Myth and Magic, page 67, we’re told: “All Hallow’s eve [or Halloween], as the beginning of winter and the dying time of the old year, was a night when the dead supposedly stalked the countryside. Offerings of food and drink were put out for the ghosts.”
Further, in Volume 4 of Man, Myth and Magic, page 440, we’re told that because the Druids believed that during Samhain, or Halloween, the dead would play tricks on mankind and would cause panic and destruction; they had to be appeased. Part of this appeasement process involved the giving of food to the spirits as they visited the homes. This formed the foundation of the modern practice of “Trick or Treat.”
What other specific customs of Halloween today are related back to the ancient pagan religious practices of the past?
Weldon: Another Halloween practice that goes back to the ancient Celtic religion is that of displaying fruits and nuts. And this, of course, has a dual aspect: one to keep the spirits that were released on that day happy by giving them an offering of food, and another because the Celts believed that certain nuts, for example, were sacred. They even thought that the acorn was a god.
Ankerberg: Next, let’s examine the question of Halloween and whether or not Christians should participate in it from a different angle; namely, can it be shown that the activities of Halloween are in any way connected to the world of the occult? I asked this question of Dr. John Weldon. Here’s what he said.
Weldon: To the question, are the activities of Halloween in any way connected to the world of the occult, let me assure you that they definitely are. Several days before Halloween we find our children’s classrooms decorated with ghosts and witches and black cats. The kids are all out buying costumes related to the occult. What do you think these symbols mean? Let me again assure you that these symbols and many of the practices associated with Halloween are clearly related to the world of the occult!
Ankerberg: Now, maybe you’re wondering, “How do you guys define the word occult?” I’m glad you asked; here’s the answer.
Weldon: What is the definition of the word “occult?” The occult actually means something hidden and it’s used in the sense of establishing contact with supernatural forces in order to get power and knowledge from them.
Ankerberg: Now, if that’s the definition of the word occult, how is Halloween connected to the occult?
Weldon: How are Halloween and the occult connected? Well, they’re connected both historically and today. Historically we find that many of the practices of the occult, such as seeking contact with the spirit world, various forms of divination, were practiced by the ancient Celtic peoples who came from Asia and settled in the British Isles, in northern France. We see that today many of the practices of Halloween are also involved in the occult. It’s a special day of witches where they believe that the line connecting the material and spiritual worlds is thinnest and it’s one of the best times for establishing contact with the spirits.
Ankerberg: Now remember, even the Encyclopedia Britannica teaches that Halloween is connected with occult activities. Remember, it said, “The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on this day and the autumnal festival acquired sinister significance with ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, black cats, fairies and demons of all kinds said to be roaming about. It was a time to placate the supernatural powers controlling the process of nature.” Are there people that are carrying on these same occult practices today in our society? The answer is yes, and Dr. Weldon explains.
Weldon: Margo Adler, in her book on modern witchcraft, says this, “The greater sabbaths are Samhain,…” and that’s Halloween or November’s eve. That’s also the Celtic new year. Notice that the witches actually use the name Samhain here. This was the Celtic god of the dead, who was said to have released the good and evil spirits in order to allow them to come back and communicate with the living. Witches believe that Halloween eve is the most crucial day of the entire year for establishing contact with the spirit world because the veil is said to be thinnest on this particular day.
Ankerberg: Now, if you dress up one of your children as a witch, you need to realize what witches in our own society do on Halloween. If you want to know why there’s a picture of a big black cat next to a witch on your child’s bulletin board at school and what that signifies, Dr. Weldon explains.
Weldon: What do witches do on this special day, Halloween? They seek to establish contact with the spirit world, and in particular, their own spirit guides. Many of you are familiar with the witch’s black cat. This was actually a belief that the cat’s spirit was a familiar spirit that could be contacted in order to get information about the future or other important things to the witch. This goes back to a belief called shamanism and animism that believes that everything in the world has an actual spirit. And, therefore, there’s a spirit in the cat, there’s spirit in trees, and they can be contacted for information. One former witch says this: “As a witch, you always seem to seek the counsel of a spirit guide.”
All of this goes back to Halloween and the Celtic new year in which the god of the dead was said to have released the spirits of good and evil individuals in order to establish contact with the living.
Ankerberg: Now, what are we driving at? What’s the point of all of this information? Well, we’re just starting to scratch the surface on the implications of these practices, but in a nutshell, here’s what we’re driving at. Dr. Weldon explains.
Weldon: The issue here is whether or not it is wise and good to dress our children as witches, given the symbolism we find in Halloween and the reality of witchcraft in the world today and the evil that is associated with it.
Ankerberg: I too find it ironic that on Halloween so many parents are dressing their children as witches when we have this terrible reality of witchcraft historically as well as many people in our own society who are promoting and practicing witchcraft today. Many parents don’t seem to realize the implications of allowing their children to dress as witches. If you’re a Christian, let me just read you a few scriptural statements about what God thinks about his people copying or emulating or imitating the ways of those in the occult.
In Deuteronomy 18:9 God told Moses and the Jewish nation, “When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations.”
It’s interesting that in the New Testament, in 3 John 1:11, we find the word imitate again. There the apostle writes, “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but what is good.” The Greek word here is mimeomai, which comes from mimos, from which we get the word “mimic,” which means an actor, or someone imitating someone else’s action or way of life.
The same word is used in a positive sense in Hebrews 13:7 where we read, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the Word of God to you, and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” In other words, do as your Christian leaders do; follow their actions or mimic their way of life. But in relation to the question of whether or not Christians should participate in Halloween, I think what God says in the New Testament applies, namely, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. [3 John 1:11]
The Old Testament seems to be even more specific. God says, “You shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations.” [Deut. 18:9] What are the detestable things of the nations? God lists them in Deuteronomy 18:10-14 where we read: “There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or daughter pass through the fire [that is, human sacrifice], nor one who uses divination [such as using the Ouija board or astrology], nor one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens or a sorcerer or one who casts a spell, or a medium or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.” God says, “For whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable things, the Lord your God will drive them out before you. You shall be blameless before the Lord your God. For those nations which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do so.” Further, in Jeremiah 10:2 we find: “Thus says the Lord, do not learn the way of the nations.”
We are going to talk more about imitating, learning, and teaching our children about the evil ways of the nations in the weeks ahead, but in brief, it seems to us that Christians should not allow their children to dress up as devils or witches, demons or ghosts. If we allow this, aren’t we saying that 1) we either don’t believe in these things when the Bible says that such things are real; and 2) aren’t we saying that we are willing to give credence to the spirit world, that is, it’s okay to hold on to the tradition of the spirits and the witches, ghosts and evil spirits? It doesn’t bother us, even though in our world today, we have more than a thousand channelers channeling spirits in Los Angeles alone and people in the New Age Movement are contacting spirit guides. This in spite of the fact Christians know we’re in the midst of an occult revival and Christians cannot be neutral toward this revival. God condemns such practices. It seems to me that Romans 12:9 applies: “Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good,” or 1 Thessalonians 5:22, where it states Christians are to “abstain from every form or appearance of evil.”
We’re going to talk more about this in the weeks ahead. But I asked Dr. John Weldon to summarize why it’s important for Christians to know about the origin of Halloween.
Weldon: Why is it important for us to understand the origin of Halloween? First, because these things are factual; they really happened. Second, because the symbols and practices of Halloween all harken back to ancient pagan occult beliefs and practices that God has condemned in Scripture. Third, because having this information will allow Christians to make a determination on whether or not they should participate in Halloween.
Ankerberg: Next week, we will look further at how the customs, practices, costumes and symbols of Halloween are all tied to the occult. Then in the weeks leading up to Halloween, we’re going to talk about haunted houses and ghosts and poltergeists and why it is that we carve pumpkins and put a candle inside of them. I hope you won’t miss all five of our programs in this series.

Read Part 2

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