The Spirit of Halloween

Last Halloween when the doorbell rang, I was greeted by an adorable bunch of little kids doing their level best to look like gruesome witches and vampires. I bent down as I distributed apples and oranges in response to lusty cries of "trick or treat!"

"You kids want to know something?" I asked very softly.

"Yeah!" came the unanimous chorus.

"With the Lord Jesus there is no trick. He loves every one of you very much.

Several little faces beamed up at me through their ghoulish makeup. "That's neat!" exclaimed one little girl. "Yeah!" chimed in a few others.

"This is Jesus' night," I said. Why, I'm not really sure. I was poignantly aware of the fact that it is a night the devil has made a point of claiming for himself.

"No it's not!" snarled a hidden voice. "It's Jason's night!"

A boy who was taller than the rest stepped out from the shadows. He was wearing the white hockey mask of Jason, the demented, ghoulish killer in the movie Friday the 13th and was brandishing a very realistic-looking hatchet. I have to admit that the boy gave me a start, but I stood my ground and dropped a banana into his bag.

"No, Jason, this is still Jesus' night!" I repeated.

Jason evidently resented the competition, however, for he ripped our mailbox right out of the ground and left his banana squished on the stair.

Most of us in the United States have grown up observing Halloween in one form or another. From the time we're in preschool we make drawings or cutouts of sinister black witches — the haggier the better. We make paintings of gruesome black cats with gleaming, evil orange eyes; we hang up smirking paper skeletons with dancing limbs; we glue together ghost and bat mobiles; and we design demoniacal faces for our pumpkins.

For several years now, on thoughtful kindergarten teacher in Southern California has even provided ghosts for her pupils to commune with at Halloween. I spoke with one of the mothers from that school who told me that her little boy was sent home with a note from the teacher informing the parents that their child would be bringing home a "special friend" the next day. The child was to nurture his "friend," name it, feed it and talk to it — all as a part of a special class project that was designed to "develop the child's imagination."

The next day the little boy came home with a sealed envelope along with explicit instructions that his parents were not to touch it; only the child was allowed to open the envelope. Mom said, "You bet!" and promptly opened it up. Inside was six inches of thick orange wool string with a knot tied a quarter of the way up to make a loop resembling a head. The mimeographed "letter" that accompanied it read as follows:
Haunted House
001 Cemetery Lane

Dear Customer,
Thank you for your order. Your ghost is exactly what you ordered. You will find that your ghost is attached to an orange string. Do not untie the special knot until you are ready to let your ghost go.

Your ghost will tell you when it is hungry and what it prefers to eat. It will sleep in the air beside you all day. It especially likes quiet places where there are cobwebs, creaky boards and corners.

If you follow the above directions, you will have a very happy ghost.

Yours Truly,
Head Ghost

The mother, a Christian, didn't cotton to the idea of her son taking in a pet ghost, however housebroken. So she confiscated the thing and put it in the garage on a shelf until she could decide what to do with it. The next day his sister was in the garage on an errand, unaware of the matter of the "ghost string." Suddenly she was frightened by the sense of a threatening presence around her. She heard the sounds of a cat hissing in the corner and something like a chatty doll mumbling incoherently at her. Later that night they threw the "ghost string" into the garbage pail and prayed to bind and remove the entity. They were never bothered by the presence again. This family had no trouble whatever believing that a spirit had indeed been sent home with their little boy and that it didn't much like having been assigned to a Christian household.

The Halloween ghosts were given out again last year by the same teacher. The mother managed to get hold of the envelope, orange ghost-carrier and all, and sent it to me. It is possible of course that the teacher meant nothing sinister by it. Perhaps to her it was just a cute exercise in imagination for her kindergartners. Nevertheless, in light of the stated intent of many "transpersonal" educators to introduce children to spirit guides, I can't help but be a little curious about any teacher who sends the children home with imaginary friends.

Even in the church, Halloween is a time of spooky fun and games. Any number of good, solid churches, ever mindful of their youth programs, will sponsor haunted houses designed to scare the wits out of the kids. In Bakersfield, California, Youth for Christ's Campus Life, Pepsi, Burger King and a heavy-metal rock radio station are yearly sponsors of "Scream in the Dark," an event held every night for about a week before Halloween. At least 20,000 people brave the chilly corridors and dark passages every year to face ghoulish figures, terrifying tunnels and screams in the dark.

A certain Assemblies of God church in Tampa, Florida, got more than it bargained for in that department a couple of years ago when it borrowed a coffin from a local mortuary for use at a Halloween fund-raiser and found a long-forgotten corpse still in it.

The Lawndale Christian Church in Lawndale, California, offers discount coupons for "The House." The advertisement reads: "You are entering at your own risk. Young children strongly recommended not to enter The House. Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult. Persons with heart conditions, health problems or pregnant women are not allowed."

Church-sponsored horror isn't a particularly new phenomenon. My husband's Lutheran church in New York always sponsored a "Chamber of Horrors" when he was a boy, complete with fluorescent skeletons, scary pop-ups, peeled grapes to simulate dead eyeballs and a bowl of cold spaghetti that was supposed to be well, you know.

Halloween has become a full-fledged national children's play day, but for hundreds of thousands of people in the Western world Halloween is a sacred time, the ancient pagan festival of fire and death.

The origins and traditions of Halloween can be traced back thousands of years to the days of the ancient Celts and their priests, the Druids. The eve of October 31 marked the beginning of the Celtic New Year. The Feast of Samhain was a fearsome night, a dreaded night, a night in which great bonfires were lit to Samana the Lord of Death, the dark Aryan god who was known as the Grim Reaper, the leader of the ancestral ghosts.

On this night the spirits of the dead rose up, shivering with the coming cold of winter and seeking the warmth and affection of the homes they once inhabited. And even colder, darker creatures filled the night: evil witches flying through the night, hobgoblins and evil pookas that appeared in the form of hideous black horses. Demons, fairies and ghouls roamed about as the doors of the burial sidh-mounds opened wide, allowing them free access to the world of living men. These loathsome beings were usually not in a particularly good mood by the time they arrived, and it was feared that unless these spirits were appeased and soothed with offerings and gifts they would wreak mischief and vengeance by destroying crops, killing cattle, turning milk sour and generally making life miserable.

So it was that the families offered what was most precious to them: food — a "treat" that they fervently hoped would be sufficient to offset any "trick" the ghostly blackmailers might otherwise be tempted to inflict.

The ancient Celtic villagers realized, however, that merely feeding the spirits might not be enough to speed them on their way. The ghoulies might decide it would be rude to eat and run, as it were, and might just be tempted to stick around. That simply would not do. So arose the practice of dressing in masks and costumes; villagers disguised themselves as the creatures, mystically taking on their attributes and powers. The "mummers," as they were called, cavorted from house to house collecting the ancient Celtic equivalent of protection money, and then romped the ghosts right out of town.

They carried jack-o'-lanterns to light their way — turnips or potatoes with fearful demonic faces carved into them, which they hoped would duly impress, if not intimidate, the demons around them.

As part of their ancient New Year's ritual, massive sacred bonfires were lit throughout the countryside of Wales, Ireland and France — fires from which every house in the village would rekindle their hearth fires (which had been ritually extinguished, as they were at the end of every year). The villagers would gather and dance round and round the bonfire, whose light and heat they believed would help the sun make it through the cold, dark winter.

But the great fires served another purpose as well: On this night unspeakable sacrifices were offered by the Druid priests to the Lord of Death. In his Commentaries, Julius Caesar speaks of the great wicker images "in which the Druids were said to burn scores of people alive."

Last Halloween, I watched a rerun of Garfield's Halloween Adventure. Garfield, the feline comic strip character, is thrilled at the realization that Halloween is a night when he gets to rake in free candy. "This is the night I was created for," he exclaims, with as much enthusiasm as Garfield ever seems to muster.

He decides to sucker poor unsuspecting Odie, an exceedingly dumb doggie, into going with him so that Garfield can double his personal candy haul. Well, maybe he'll give Odie one piece of candy for his troubles.

Then suddenly Garfield pauses in his Machiavellian musings and wonders, "Am I being too greedy? Should I share my candy with those less fortunate than I? Am I missing the spirit of Halloween?"

Wouldn't it be nice if that were in fact the spirit of Halloween!

The spirit of Halloween is more accurately discerned in the horror movies and videos traditionally released in honor of the season. Cinematic thrillers so popular with teenage boys today like Halloween, Friday the 13th, Thriller, Faces of Death, Nightmares on Elm Street, and any number of other slasher, blood-and-gore, murder-and-terror flicks are truer to the original spirit of Halloween — the spirit of murder and death — than is the sight of Linus sitting all night in his "sincere" pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin.

Modern witches would vehemently deny that their celebration has anything to do with the demonic horrors depicted in such films as Friday the 13th. To them, Halloween is one of the four greater Sabbats held during the year. Halloween for them is a time of harvest celebration — that season in which the Great Goddess goes to sleep for the long winter months, giving way to the Horned God of Hunting and Death, who will rule until her return on the first of May. It is a time of ritual, a time for ridding oneself of personal weaknesses, a time for feasting and joyful celebration. It is also a time for communing with the spirits of the dead.

While the witches spend the Halloween season tucking in their goddess for her long winter sleep and frolicking in joyful communion with the spirits of the dead, there is another religious group that is equally serious about its Halloween celebrations: the satanists. Halloween to them is a more sinister and direct celebration of death and Satan. Unlike the witches, most of whom do not even acknowledge the existence of Satan, the satanists are quite candid about exactly who the dread Lord of Death happens to be, and they celebrate Halloween as one of his two highest unholy days.

As is the case among witches, different "denominations" of satanists have their own peculiar traditions, beliefs and practices on this night. For some of them Satan is not a real, specific entity, but rather the personification of evil resident within all men.

Other satanists however — cult satanists — understand that Satan is very real indeed. To them the sacrifices he demands are not symbolic at all. They believe that the blood sacrifice of innocence that Satan demands as the ultimate blasphemy and sign of devotion to himself must be very literal indeed.

At Halloween the sacrifices of some of these satanic cults are unspeakably vicious and brutal. Lauren Stratford, in her powerful and important book Satan's Underground, relates the horror of the practices of the particular satanic cult that victimized her for many years. It was their practice to begin the Halloween ceremonies five weeks before the night of Halloween. In the fifth week the group performs the ritual murder of a tiny infant or a very young child. The child is often the offspring of a female member of the coven or a victim who has been impregnated for the purpose of turning her child over for the sacrifice. Because of its innocence and frailty, a tiny child is viewed by these satanists as the perfect sacrifice to their master. The infant is seen as representative of the Christ child, and it is He whom they are blaspheming.

The night of Halloween another child, as well as an adult female, will be slaughtered. Not all satanist groups participate in activities of this kind, but some certainly do.

Halloween is thus a day in which virtually everything that God has called an abomination is glorified. Christians have no business participating in that at any time, much less in the name of fun.

There are any number of creative alternatives that can be provided for children on Halloween without participating in the ancient religious traditions of the witches and the satanists.

Parents or churches could hold parties and have kids come as Bible heroes. Some families view the occasion as a witnessing opportunity and hand out gospel tracts with the treats. Some churches are now sponsoring "Bible houses," which kids go through to hear different Bible stories read or acted out — a godly alternative to the haunted house.

Christian parents can also make a difference in the way schools attended by their children celebrate Halloween. In the fall of 1987, The Eagle's Forum reported a story about parents in Colorado who protested the traditional celebration of Halloween in several public schools on grounds that it is a "high holy day in the satanic religion, and as such is an inappropriate holiday for schoolchildren." One mother said that she "would like to see the same measures applied to the Halloween parties as have been taken with the Christmas parties."

One thing that Halloween should not be for the Christian is a time of fear. It should be a time to rejoice in the fact that "the son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8, NASB). Spend at least part of this night worshiping God by singing hymns. Above all, spend time in prayer and intercession for the children.

Too many of our children have been vulnerable to a spirit of fear and to the occult because we have for so long believed Halloween to be an innocent season of fun. But Halloween is not at all innocent. After the repeal of the Witchcraft Act in England in 1951, the witches and satanists experienced a revival which is currently in full swing.

You might not know too much about witches or satanists or Jason or Freddie Krueger, the killer in the horror film Nightmare on Elm Street. But I guarantee you that most of your kids do!

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