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Who's Getting Tricked by Halloween?

Why do witches, goblins, jack-o'-lanterns, cobwebs, graveyards and symbols of the occult surround this holiday? You need to know the real story.

by Ken Treybig

There's a knock on your door one night. When you open the door, the darkness and a covering hide the person's face. All you hear is a voice calling out to give something or face the consequences.

photoYour mind quickly races to assess where you're vulnerable. Your car is in the driveway. The family dog is in the backyard. On the side of the house are the fruit trees and the little garden on which you've worked so hard. Spending hours cleaning egg off your house and car, picking broken glass out of your yard or removing toilet paper from your trees is not an enticing prospect.

You quickly decide it is better to simply pay. In modern language, that's called extortion. But on the evening of Oct. 31, it's called "trick or treat." Of course, many would explain that they're happy to give treats to the children, so what's the problem? Isn't it just a harmless night of fun when people get to put on costumes?

Come along with me as we briefly explore this topic of Halloween. Where did it come from? What's behind its practices, such as dressing up and going "trick-or-treating"? What about the decorations with the focus on witches, goblins, jack-o'-lanterns, tombstones, cobwebs and items of the occult? Where did this theme originate? If it's just a harmless night of fun, why are many churches now teaching against its observance?

First, we should note that Halloween has a huge economic impact. Estimates are that it earns around $7 billion (U.S.) for retailers each year—$2 billion for candy alone. Only Christmas surpasses it in financial impact. So there is a strong incentive for merchandisers to emphasize the event, vying for their "slice of the pie" of money spent on costumes, decorations, candy and other related items. Large Halloween-themed store displays begin well in advance of Oct. 31.

Celebrating Samhain—Lord of the Dead?

Compton's Reference Collection (1996) says the celebration of Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, precedes All Saints Day (a day set aside by the Catholic Church in the seventh century to honor all saints). But the celebration has its origins in autumn festivals of much earlier times.

The Druids (priests of the Celts) held a three-day festival at the beginning of November. The Encyclopaedia Britannica-Micropaedia (1981, article "Halloween") says this feast was the festival of Samhain, Lord of the Dead, and coincided with the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon new year. The souls of the dead were believed to visit their homes that night, and it was believed that witches and warlocks (male sorcerers) flew abroad playing tricks on people and wreaking havoc, so bonfires were kindled to frighten them away.

Since the Celts came through Asia Minor in their migration from the area of the Middle East to the British Isles, they were exposed to the Roman festival dedicated to Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruits. This festival took place around the same time of year. Nuts and apples, part of the winter food supply, were used to honor Pomona. The Celts then added this custom to their celebration of Samhain.

This night was considered the best for divinations concerning marriage, luck, health and death. It was the only day on which the help of the devil was openly invoked for such practices. Young people played games, such as bobbing for apples, to supposedly ascertain which ones would marry in the coming year.

Small stones were placed in the dying embers of the bonfires to represent the people present. If any were displaced the next morning, it was considered certain that those the stones represented would die within the next 12 months. Bands of young people, disguised in grotesque masks, carved lanterns from turnips and carried them through villages.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica concludes that the celebrations of Halloween are purely Druidical, which is further proved by the fact that as recently as early in the 20th century the night was still referred to in parts of Ireland as Oidhche Shamhna, "Vigil of Saman," a variation in spelling for Samhain, god of the dead.

As the Catholic Church began to encourage the festival, poor families began to beg for pastries in exchange for promises to pray for the donor's dead relatives. This gave way to the modern "trick or treat" practice.

Satan enters "Christianity"

So how did Satan "worm his way" into the so-called Christian calendar by getting the eve of all witches and demons transformed into the eve of All Saints Day? The short version is that the Roman Pantheon (a temple) was dedicated by Emperor Hadrian around A.D. 100 to the pagan goddess Cybele and other Roman deities. In time, it fell into the hands of the barbaric tribes from the north. In A.D. 607 it was recaptured by Rome and given to Pope Boniface IV. In A.D. 610 it was rededicated, this time to Mary and all the saints, and people were encouraged to pray for all saints on May 13 each year.

Since the time of Constantine, the Roman Empire had usually allowed only one religion (Christianity) in an effort to unify all its conquered peoples. So when Charlemagne invaded and conquered parts of Eastern Germany, he required their king, Wittekind, to be baptized and accept Christianity. The Germans continued to insist on their old religious practices, though, so in A.D. 834 Pope Gregory IV felt he could solve the problem by changing the date of observing All Saints Day to Nov. 1 throughout the empire. So the empire tried to transform this evil night by giving it another name and calling it good.

Notice what the apostle John had to say about God and darkness: "This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Throughout the New Testament there is a recurring theme of Satan being the god of darkness, in contrast to God and Jesus Christ who are of "the light."

Yet Satan constantly presents himself as good. In 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 Paul wrote that "Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness." Those are powerful words warning about attempts to "transform" something from a pagan background into something good.

So the seemingly innocuous practice of trick-or-treating has much more sinister ramifications than its similarity to extortion. The combination of Bible verses condemning Satan's secretive influence, the ready availability of historical information about the background of Halloween with its focus on evil spirits, and with the awareness that Wicca and Satanism are among the fastest-growing religions in the United States today, have led many churches to begin teaching against the observance of this "eve of the dead." They now recognize it for what it is—another attempt by Satan to get into the lives of people.

Don't allow him into your life. Follow the instruction of Ephesians 5:11, which tells Christians to have nothing to do with the evil works of darkness. VT

About the author:
Ken Treybig is the director of United Youth Camp Carter and pastor of United Church of God congregations in East Texas and Texarkana, Texas.

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