HALLOWEEN: Invitation to the Occult?
Every year on the last day of October, American children paint their faces, color their hair, don gowns, capes and fuzzy suits, and traipse about from door-to-door collecting bags of candy. Their parents join them, visiting parties and high school haunted houses. Together, they carve crazy faces on pumpkins, cover apples with caramel, and work to win contests for the scariest or most creative costumes.
But why? How did this holiday originate? This night of orange and black offers opportunities for spooky fun, parties with Chex mix and candy corn, and faces wet from apple bobbing. It also offers opportunities for involvements that are genuinely dangerous as people willingly meddle with the occult when they would otherwise never do so. Every year, Christians are left wondering exactly how to handle this holiday that focuses so much on death.
We might not see witches’ cauldrons bubbling in local caves or Druids marching circles in the park, but it’s still easy to find remnants of our pagan past in the day-to-day walk through our world. Our days of the week and the months of the year are largely named after pagan gods from Roman and Teutonic traditions. We even find aspects of those old days at Christmas – the time of year we’ve dedicated to honoring the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. I think most of us are sensitive to the fact that we are immersed in a pagan culture, and it’s become fascinating, and disconcerting, to watch as the world grows increasingly more open to the dark side.
Ancient pagan traditions have leaked through the centuries into the present day. The custom of kissing someone under the mistletoe can be traced back to druid beliefs about the connection of that plant to sexual potency. The term “druid” originally referred to a priest of the oak cult, by the way. Easter is the season we commemorate the death and resurrection of Christ, but all that business of chicks, baby rabbits, and eggs ties back to the Babylonian fertility religions and the goddess Astarte or Ishtar, from which “Easter” gets its name. The egg was a fertility symbol that originated in debauched fertility cults. We think of Easter egg hunts as fun activities for children. The original cult practices were anything but child-friendly. If we understand the rabbit as a symbol of fertility, we can understand how both eggs and rabbits became associated with Easter. Cadbury might give us bunnies that lay treasures of gooey chocolate wonder, but that strange idea that we take for granted - an Easter bunny hiding eggs - hearkens back to these ancient practices.
Our culture is filled with the vestiges of ancient paganism. The custom of giving out cigars at a baby’s birth may hail from the times when ancient Mayan fathers would blow tobacco smoke toward the sun god as an offering of thanks for a newborn child. June is a lovely time to hold weddings, so it’s no coincidence that June was named for Juno, the Roman goddess of marriage. Most aspects of the American wedding ceremony can be traced to ancient pagan customs, including the bride’s white dress and veil, the exchanging of wedding rings and the father’s giving away the bride. Our childhood tooth fairy, strangely enough, can be linked to efforts to hide personal physical items, like teeth, from practitioners of Voodoo (or Hoodoo). To connect a Voodoo doll to a person, a piece of his or her clothing or fingernail clippings, a lock of hair or tooth were incorporated into the doll. People hid any teeth that fell out to keep them from being used by the Voodoo priest for curse rituals. The culture in which we live is a smorgasbord of cultural influences handed down from the ancient world, just as the English language is a mixture of Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, and Latin languages. (The word smorgasbord, for instance, is Scandinavian.)
We can celebrate Christmas and Resurrection Sunday with hearts devoted to Jesus Christ, turning the focus away from the pagan roots of these seasons and giving honor to our Lord. However, Halloween seems to have little to redeem it. As Bible believing Christians, we get confronted with this particularly pagan celebration, and it should be giving us some difficulties. Once a year we face the dilemma, the problem, the burden of how to approach this holiday called Halloween, the evening before the historical Christian holiday of All Saint’s Day. We can shrug off Halloween as a costume party, a time for kids to dress up and collect candy. We can let them enjoy the harmless spookiness of an autumn evening. However, there’s more to Halloween than we realize, and it’s a time when dangerous opportunities arise for our children to make their acquaintance with the occult.
Halloween generates cash flow. According to estimates by the National Retail Federation, consumers spent $8.4 billion on Halloween in 2016 and $9.1 billion in 2017. Half of Americans will decorate for this festival – compared to the 80% who decorate for Christmas. All Hallow’s Eve is not just a quaint reminder of days gone by; it’s now the third most popular cause for throwing parties, just behind the Super Bowl and New Year’s Eve. Halloween is big business, and I wish that’s where it ended. It’s always a difficult time for Christians and especially those with children.
How should parents deal with this time of year? Dressing up in costumes is fun! Eating candy is fun! What harm is there in that, besides tummy aches and cavities?