Halloween: Should Christians Participate?/Program 2

By: Dr. John Weldon, Dr. James Bjornstad; ©1996
How do the customs, practices, costumes and symbols of Halloween tie to the occult. Why do we do these things? Where did the customs and symbols of Halloween come from? Why do children wear masks and costumes? Why do they yell the phrase “Trick or Treat”? What do these things symbolize? What do they mean?

Contents

Introduction

Ankerberg: In just a few weeks, hundreds of thousands of children will dress in costumes, go down the streets in neighborhoods yelling, “Trick or Treat,” and collecting as much candy as they can.
Before that time, many of you will buy a pumpkin, carve a face in it, put a candle inside and place it in your window or on your porch. But why do we do these things? Where did the customs and symbols of Halloween come from? Why do children wear masks and costumes? Why do they yell the phrase “Trick or Treat”? What do these things symbolize? What do they mean? Today we’re going to answer those questions.
On our program I have two guests: Dr. John Weldon, our chief researcher here at the Ankerberg Theological Research Institute, and Dr. James Bjornstad, Professor of Philosophy at Cedarville College. First, Dr. John Weldon. I asked him, “What is the most important thing that Christian parents should know about Halloween?” Here’s what he said.
Weldon: John, I think it’s very important for Christian parents to realize that Halloween is not a Christian holiday. In fact, its origins go back to the ancient Druid priests in the Celtic religion which was involved in things like divination, human sacrifice, forms of spiritism and other things that are clearly prohibited in the Bible.
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—“interpret 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.
Ankerberg: Now, if you can remember back to when you went Trick or Treating, what did you do? Well, first you had to get a good mask and a costume. Maybe you dressed up as a ghost or Dracula or Frankenstein or as a witch or some famous person in history. Why did you do that? Where did that custom come from? You may be surprised. Listen as Dr. James Bjornstad, Professor of Philosophy, tells us.
Bjornstad: Well, John, today there are a variety of masks that we see in the stores. We see those that are very contemporary, popular characters. We also see those that relate back to the occult: Frankenstein, Dracula, and a host of others—ghosts, spooks. And it’s very popular to use the masks and the costumes. But there is a real history to it.
Hundreds of years before the time of Christ there were people called the Celts who believed that on that night there were spirits and ghosts of the dead who would wander around. And what the people would do, first of all, is they would wear masks in order to hide themselves from these people. It’s also possible that in part of the history they wore masks so that people would not know who they were as they went to a grotto for their witchcraft practices.
It seems that there are also times later where they would dance around the fire and wear costumes. Sometimes they would even try to lead the spooks off, in a sense, by wearing those costumes. But historically, the costumes deal with people in their celebration, in their worship, in their involvement with demons, from a biblical perspective, or as the witches would say in their view, the dead.
Ankerberg: Now, another symbol that we are all familiar with at Halloween is the pumpkin. What in the world does a pumpkin have to do with Halloween? What does it symbolize? Again, I think you’ll be surprised. Dr. John Weldon explains why.
Weldon: Almost every one of you out there watching will go out and buy a pumpkin for Halloween and you’ll clean out the pumpkin and carve a face on it and set it in your window with a candle inside.
Now, why do you do that? Many of you may not realize that this has an origin in the occult and is related to certain views of the afterlife that you as Christians really don’t believe. Let me tell you the story. Witches historically would sometimes use a skull with a candle stuck inside it to light the way to covens.
A coven was a meeting or gathering of witches and it was held in a specific, usually secret, location. This usually happened at night, so they needed some way by which they could light their way to the coven or the gathering place. They would either use a skull with a candle lit inside, or perhaps a carved pumpkin which would help them get to the coven where they would engage in their various witchcraft rituals. Now, that’s one origin of the pumpkin. Another relates to kind of a folklorish legend that we find among the Irish. This concerns a stingy drunk named Jack
Jack carved the sign of the cross in a tree which had the devil in it and prevented the devil from coming down. Jack made the devil promise him that he would never come after Jack’s soul. Since Jack was a drunk and lived a life of sin, when he finally died and went to heaven he was forbidden entrance to heaven. He was then sent to hell but the devil kept his promise to Jack and would not keep him in hell. So Jack was condemned to wander the earth. But as Jack was leaving hell, the devil threw a live coal at him. Since Jack was eating a turnip at this time, he put the coal inside the turnip and carried his “jack-o’-lantern” with him as he was condemned to wander the earth forever.
There’s another possible origin for the pumpkin which I’ll read to you: “According to ancient folklore for many places, a will-o’-the wisp”—that’s another term for the jack-o’-lantern; it’s also called the corpse lantern—“According to ancient folklore for many places, a will-o’-the wisp wanders about swamp areas enticing victims to follow. Should a person succumb to curiosity to follow the light of the spirit, he may become hopelessly lost or led to his death in a bog or pool. There are also tales of these mischievous spirits chasing terrified victims through mud and brambles until confused and then leaving them stranded with the sound of mocking laughter ringing in their ears. Today’s leering pumpkin face is a symbol of that mocking spirit.”
So there are three possibilities for the carved pumpkin that you use on Halloween. One is that it symbolizes a skull with a candle inside it that lit the way to witches’ meetings. The other is the legend, the Irish legend of Stingy Jack who, as he was leaving hell, stuck the devil’s coal inside a turnip, which later became a pumpkin. And the third is the idea that spirits would use a strange light that would entice people to follow it and they would eventually lead to the peoples’ demise.
Ankerberg: Soon children will be coming to your door and yelling out the phrase, “Trick or Treat,” and asking you for candy. Where did the phrase “Trick or Treat” come from? What does it mean? Since most of your children will be going Trick or Treating, you need to listen to what Dr. Bjornstad says next.
Bjornstad: When I was as child growing up, like many of my classmates, many of my friends, I looked forward to Halloween. I mean, a time to go door to door to neighbors and friends and fill a sack full of candy, have a real good time, and meet a lot of different people. And today it’s really the same. I mean, children look forward to this. The parents encourage them to go out, take them from home to home. And what they do, of course, is they go up to the door and they’ll say, “Trick or Treat.” And the door opens and people come out and they take a little candy and they put it in the sack and it’s so nice.
Well, I’m sure that if I were to ask the question, “Why do you go out and do this? Why do you say, ‘Trick or Treat’?” some of the people would say to me, “Well, it’s because we’ve always done it this way. It’s the way we’ve grown up. We’re used to doing this.” But the question still persists: “Why do we do this? Why do we say, ‘Trick or Treat’?”
And the truth of the matter is, in all the sources that you want to look at, you will discover that if you go back prior to the time of Christ, the same basic area, we go back to the Celts in history. And what we discover on this night is that this is the night when the spirits of the dead, good and bad, would wander about. This was the time you could communicate with them, that you could have contact. The problem is that you had both good and evil spirits, and so what people would do is they would put out food; they would give treats. And the words that would come out as “Trick or Treat” would mean that either you provide a treat, or the evil spirits would do something to you. And they can be vicious and very harmful. And so that’s where the origin of it comes from, the appeasement of spirits. Through the years, of course, it’s been polished a little bit, but it’s amazing that we use the same words today! And what we go out and we say it: “Trick or Treat!” and those are the same words historically that were used to appease demons.
Ankerberg: Now, the basic question we’re trying to answer is this: Should Christians participate in Halloween? In order to answer that question, we need to know the origin of Halloween; we need to know how the symbols and practices have evolved down through history; what it means to some of our people today; and finally, what Scripture advises in light of all of this information. To help you begin answering the question, “Should Christians participate in Halloween?” here is Dr. Jim Bjornstad.
Bjornstad: John, when I was a child growing up in Brooklyn, New York, I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood. And I can remember a young child in a Jewish home on the night of the Passover saying, “Daddy, why is this night so different from all other nights?” to which the father would respond and say that this is in remembrance of God’s mighty works and power in delivering the nation of Israel from Egypt. If I were to take that question on the night of Christmas and perhaps a daughter or son said, “Daddy, why is this night so different?” we would all point to the birth of Christ; if it was with regard to Easter, the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. But if we raise that question of Halloween, “Why is this night so different from all other nights?” what response would you give?
I think many people today would say, “Well, this really takes us back into the Catholic Church. We should go back to the ninth century AD when Pope Gregory IV proclaimed All Saints Day” or as it was termed, “All Hallows Day.” And so “Halloween is the eve or the evening before All Hallows Day on October 31. That is the origin of Halloween.”
Now, believe it or not, John, I have heard Christians who have tried to support the idea that we can do certain things on Halloween, haunted houses and different things, that that’s the origin. And I would say, well, you’ve stopped at least a thousand years too early. You need to go back beyond that. Because that day, All Hallows Day or All Saints Day, was shifted from May 13 to that day on October 31 simply because of the fact that it related to a pagan practice.
What is the pagan practice that we Christianized at that time? Well, the pagan practice takes us back into the British Isles, Gaul, the northern part of France. And back there you had people that were called Celts. And they had a high priestly order that were called Druids. Now, our information of them is not in great abundance, but we do know certain things about them. It seems that they had two major holidays. One would be something of like the spring solstice or the beginning of summer, which would be the night before May 1. May 1 was their great holiday, Beltane. The second holiday, which is the greater holiday, would be the time that leads to winter, and that would be the night before November 1. Or November 1 was that great holiday, so the night before was important. That was called “Samhain.” And Samhain was given to the name of the god of the dead. And what it takes us back to in history is that night when the souls of those who have died, as the Celts believed, were wandering around. And it was a great time to get information from them, to have contact with them. But it was also a time in which the people engaged them. And out of that comes the practices that we still do today in terms of Halloween.
Ankerberg: Next, whenever we discuss “Should Christians participate in holidays such as Halloween?” there are some that say, “Well, what about Christmas and Easter? If you’re going to say that Christians shouldn’t participate in Halloween activities because many pagan festivals were held on this date, isn’t it true that on Christmas and Easter these also were days on which pagan festivals were held? Yet you still hold Christmas and Easter celebrations, so what’s the difference? Dr. Jim Bjornstad answers those questions.
Bjornstad: Well, John, there’s no denying the fact that Christmas, of course, goes back to the Roman Saturnalia, which was a pagan festival. And Easter goes back to the idea of the fertility cults. And certainly, Halloween goes back to the Celts and their understanding of the dead and involvement in activity and things that they did. So they all have a commonality, as you mentioned, in terms of heathen pagan religions. But there’s a difference.
When the Church went and took those holidays, what they did was to add to them to try to make something that was Christian. For Christmas, of course, they put the birth of Christ. Now, I know that when Christmas comes there are secular items to it because we’re very mass market oriented in terms of gifts and everything else. You know the Christmas tree is there and that has some roots in paganism. But what I think about Christmas—and there’s a solid biblical content to it—is that it is the day when God entered human history, the Lord Jesus Christ was born. When I think of Easter, I don’t think of Easter eggs and little chickens and bunny rabbits and all the rest. What I think about is the fact that Jesus Christ rose bodily from the dead.
However, when I come to Halloween, it’s very different. When I think of Halloween, what is that? What is that? Some might say, “Well, let’s go back to All Hallows Day and we’re going to worship the saints and remember the saints.” That’s Roman Catholic tradition, and the idea basically on that night was to pray for the dead, to do expiatory, to do sacrifices, to do prayers on behalf of the dead so somehow we might gain merit for them in terms of the afterlife. But that’s not what the Bible teaches.
What is there in the tradition of Halloween, in Halloween today, that is in any way a Christian message, a godly message? What is there? It’s nothing more than that which emulates paganism.
Ankerberg: Next, I asked Dr. John Weldon pointblank: Should Christian parents let their kids participate in Halloween activities? Should we decorate for Halloween, and buy a pumpkin, and put it out on the porch? Here’s what he said.
Weldon: I think if we understand what Halloween really means historically and what it really means today in the world of the occult, we have to ask ourselves, “How does God view Christians participating in Halloween?” As God looks down and sees Christian children out dressed in costumes, whether they’re costumes of the occult or not, what does He think when He knows the true reality of this day and actually what’s going on on this day in the world of the occult? Is this something that honors Him and pleases Him when He has told us so strongly in His Word not to imitate the evil things that the pagans do and to avoid all semblance of evil? I think that a question like this should be answered by every parent before they allow their children to go Trick or Treating.
Ankerberg: Now, if you are Christian parents or a Christian teenager sitting and listening to all of this, maybe you’re asking another question: “What if I don’t believe in any of this religious stuff?” or “Maybe that’s what people believed and practiced in the past on Halloween, but that’s not what I mean today. I’m simply going out and having fun. I’m not trying to appease the spirits; I’m not trying to contact the dead. So why can’t I participate in Halloween if that’s the way I look at it?” I asked this question to Dr. Jim Bjornstad. Here’s what he said.
Bjornstad: I could envision parents saying to me, “But I don’t believe in this stuff. Why would it be wrong?” And perhaps we might just think of an analogy for a moment. Let’s say in a town, for example, where you live years ago, you know, there were great groups of the Ku Klux Klan, but in years past they’ve moved out and gone. But one of the traditions in town has been the idea of dressing up with a hood and a white robe and every Halloween going out like that. Now, when you think of that for a moment you say, “But, yeah, I don’t believe in that stuff or whatever.” But the fact of the matter, first of all, is that the garments themselves—things that you do—do carry some content, some understanding with it. And secondly, if the KKK ever came back into town, what you would have communicated to your children is the idea that this is okay—to dress like them, to be part of them and whatever.
What I am simply saying to you is, think of that in terms of Halloween. What you’re doing in terms of the pumpkin and the costume and “Trick or Treat” and all the rest carries with it an idea that takes us back to the past, so that there is a reality to it. But secondly, because we have witches and spiritists and occultists today, does it not communicate the idea that you could get right in line with them and do these things? Would it not communicate that? But you might say, “Well, but I use a contemporary mask” or whatever. But there’s still elements that you practice—“Trick or Treat” and other things. So we don’t get out of that by that. And that’s what I’m concerned about. What do we communicate in this? What is the reality of it? What is truth?
Ankerberg: Thanks for tuning in today. Next week our topic will be, “Why is it that ghosts, skeletons, haunted houses and poltergeists are associated with Halloween?” I think you’ll find it a very interesting program.

 

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