Halloween—Hobgoblins and Heresy

The Christian and Halloween

Joe Maniscalco is an associate professor of art at Pacific Union College, Angwin, California.


LONG BEFORE the birth of Christ a group of people in England called the Druids gathered with their priests in oak groves to celebrate the harvest festival. The date was October 31, the last day of the autumn season.

As night drew on, a group of men and women watched as the high priest put a torch to a large pile of wood. Fire crept upward along with spirals of smoke ascending toward the heavens. Some of the celebrants drew closer to the fire, glancing fearfully at the dark groves behind them. Their priest intoned a prayer to Saman, sometimes called Samhain, the so-called. mighty lord of the dead. They expected that, as a result, Saman would release the souls of those who had died during the past year, and for the next forty-eight hours these spirits would be free to roam about the earth. This was a mystic and much-dreaded time of the year.

One can imagine the stark terror of a people who believed that the dead came out of their graves on what was called All Hallows' Eve. Many even believed that the souls of wicked men were condemned to inhabit the bodies of animals. A black cat was thought to be the abode of the devil, and symbolized death and magic. Other cats were looked upon as former human beings, who were changed into animals in punishment for some crime. This superstition took many forms, and cats later became standard equipment for anyone who practiced witchcraft.

It is common knowledge that ancient pagans offered gifts to the spirit world to appease their gods' wrath. They also followed this same custom in order to lighten the supposed sufferings of the restless spirits as the time came for those spirits to come out of the graves for a brief period of time.

In his book The Golden Bough, Sir James Frazer states that throughout Europe, Halloween, the night that marks the transition from autumn to winter, seems to have been the time of year when the souls of the departed were supposed to revisit their old homes in order to warm themselves by the fire.

All Hallows' Eve, or Halloween, was originally a festival of fire, roaming spirits, and the powers of darkness. Bonfires on high hills were a conspicuous feature of the old Halloween rites. At times people danced in a circle around the fires, which symbolized the sun and its life-giving powers. Originally, these bonfires were probably meant to provide light and heat, which would help the sun through the winter, when it seemed to grow weak under the attack of darkness and cold. Winter brought to mind the chill blackness of the grave, and on All Hallows' Eve the ghosts of the dead were supposed to pass by to the west, the direction of the dying sun at sunset. The frightened people placed food and drink offerings out for the ghosts as they supposedly passed by.

Much more could be said about demons and hobgoblins, witches and masks, carved pumpkins and owls, but one thing is plain, Halloween gained its impetus from a misunderstanding of the Bible's teaching concerning the immortality of the soul. Thus we might turn to Genesis 3:1-5 to find the origin of Halloween: "Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."

Modern spiritualism, as well as ancient witchcraft and idol worship, is founded upon Satan's first lie to Eve, "Ye shall not surely die." This lie has reechoed down through the centuries in contradiction to what the Bible reveals to be the state of the dead. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Eze. 18:20) and "For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten" (Eccl. 9:5, 6).

This Halloween, as usual, children will again wear masks and dress up as visible representations of ghosts and goblins. These "reincarnated denizens of the grave" will visit their neighbors asking for treats, a custom which reflects the ancient practice of offering food to the souls of the dead.

We naturally can't expect our children to ignore Halloween completely, but we certainly should do what we can to provide some viable alternative that will prevent them from becoming fascinated with that which is contrary to Bible teachings.

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Joe Maniscalco is an associate professor of art at Pacific Union College, Angwin, California.

October 1977

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