Halloween 2007

As I’ve said before, I try to be as time-appropriate as possible with my posts, so I will write about Halloween today. These are some of my meandering thoughts.

I grew up in a denomination (Armstrongism) that did not observe Halloween, since it was considered a pagan and Satanic festival. But, unlike the Jehovah’s Witness boy in my class, I was allowed to participate in the school festivities. I don’t remember everything I went as. When I was in kindergarten, I dressed up as a wizard. I had a really tall hat and a wand, and both made a mess because they got glitter all over the place. But a lot of love went into the construction of my outfit. In fifth grade, I wore a dark turtleneck sweater with a bag over my head. People called me a “low priest” because of the turtleneck (and whatever other reasons). The other years are a blur, though there was one year when I was sick for Halloween and could not go to school. I was really bummed out about that, since I liked to dress up, plus I had a slight fascination with monsters and wizards and witches. But I was told not to feel too bad, since Halloween was pagan anyway.

In preparing to write this post, I was trying to figure out what exactly Halloween means. What was its origin? I was told growing up that it had to do with worshipping the devil and that people originally dressed up either to placate or to ward off evil spirits. My parents probably got those ideas from the encyclopedia or religious literature. Our religious leader, Garner Ted Armstrong, gave trick-or-treaters the following account:

“[T]his is the evening before `all saints’ day’ of the Roman Catholic Church. You see, they assigned one day of the calendar to each one of their `saints,’ and when they had more saints than three hundred and sixty-five, they simply lumped them all together on November 1st, and called it `All Saints’ Day.’ They chose November 1st, because this was the day celebrated by the pagan Druids of Ireland, who believe that `Samhain,’ the lord of the dead — who is like Satan, the devil — would consign the souls of their departed loved ones to the bodies of animals, and they sought a lighter sentence. To do this, they would placate the evil spirits by offerings of food, or even by sacrificing cats. They put jack o’ lanterns in their windows to frighten away evil spirits, and lit bonfires, and had all sorts of superstitions associated with that night — especially their belief that witches and demons were abroad. It’s called `Hallowe’en‘ because it merely means `hallowed evening,’ or the evening of `All Hallows'” (Halloween Is Pagan!).

Garner Ted backed up his claims with some books. What I read on wikipedia overlapped some with his explanation, but it also had some differences. I did not read anything about Samhain being the lord of the dead, but wikipedia includes etymological connections of Samhain with “summer’s end” and “assembly.” It states that Samhain was a time to celebrate the end of the summer harvest and the beginning of winter. During that time, there was greater contact between the world of the dead and this world, so people would honor or feed their ancestors. Wikipedia also offered a less positive description of the ancestors: the dead spirits would cause a lot of havoc, so people would wear costumes to placate or imitate them. I don’t understand why people would want to imitate the spirits, unless they were saying, “Why are you hurting us? We’re spirits like you!” At some point, Samhain was combined with the Catholic All Saints’ Day, which commemorates the saints who went straight to heaven.

What are my reactions to all of this? Of course, the Bible condemns the worship of ancestors. Pick up any commentary of the Torah, and you will read that the biblical authors tried to discourage the ancestors’ cult. The ancestors’ cult was pagan, and the Bible forbids us from doing heathen customs, so my denomination had a point in disapproving of Halloween. Why the Bible forbade the pagan way of honoring ancestors, I don’t entirely know. What exactly was wrong with feeding the ancestors or looking to them for guidance? Maybe there was a fear that people would focus on their ancestors rather than God. That is a problem I have with the Roman Catholic focus on saints: it seems to give God a little less attention and removes him further from the worshipper.

Another explanation is that the ancestors were not really the ancestors but were demons. My denomination probably held this view, since it assumed that there was no conscious afterlife until the resurrection. That meant that, if you contacted the ghost of your death mother, then that was not really your dead mother. It was a deceiving spirit. I don’t rule out the possibility that demons can take the forms of departed people, but I wonder if the biblical authors dismissed the reality of the ancestral spirits. The text says that Saul talked with Samuel in the cave of Endor, not a spirit pretending to be Samuel. So I tend to go with explanation number 1.

People can argue that Halloween is not about honoring ancestral spirits these days (at least not for non-Wiccans). It is about fun. Maybe. I have a problem, however, with the way that witchcraft is becoming more accepted in society today. Halloween is a day when people freely dress up as wizards, witches, or even the devil. And the Harry Potter books don’t help matters.

So these are my concerns, and they are things that I want to keep in mind for myself as well. After all, I still like horror movies. And I intend to see the latest Harry Potter movie, notwithstanding the recent revelations on Dumbledore. I hope that doesn’t make me a hypocrite.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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2 Responses to Halloween 2007

  1. Steven Craig Miller says:

    The real test is having children, and then you have to decide what you will or will not allow them to do. Personally, I don’t like holidays, I could do without them all. But children view them differently, they see all the fun they imagine other children having and they want to join in on the fun.


  2. James Pate says:

    Yeah, I think that’s why my parents let me do the school activities. We didn’t do Halloween and Christmas and Easter at home, but they realized it would be hard if the other kids were having fun and I had to sit in the library (which was what the Jehovah’s Witness kid did, unless his mom picked him up).


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