‘‘Knock knock.’’ ‘‘Who’s there?’’ ‘‘Trick or treat.’’ ‘‘What?’’ ‘‘Give us something we want or we’ll play a trick on you.’’ Why is it that that little greeting doesn’t seem as innocent as it once did? It wasn’t that long ago that no one cared that Halloween is one of the eight Sabbats of the WICCA church and it didn’t seem to matter that our little children dressed up like them and mimicked what they take very seriously. Now, all of a sudden, it does! And it’s about time!
This strange holiday comes from the religious and pagan traditions of two countries that merged into a national event in a new country. We might say it started in Rome before the time of Christ. In 27 B.C., Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, aid to Caesar Augustus, built a temple in Rome to the gods called the Pantheon (‘‘all the gods’’). When Constantine ordered the Romans to become Christians in A.D. 313, the pagan systems of the old empire slowly took on Christian names and forms. The Pantheon remained a symbol of that dark past until A.D. 610 when its name was changed to the Santa Maria Rotunda (from which we get the shape of modern rotundas such as our capital buildings and White House) and November 1st chosen as a day when ‘‘all saints’’ would be remembered rather than ‘‘all the gods.’’ This converted pagan holiday was now called ‘‘All Hallows’ (saints) Day.’’
All Saints’ Day was practiced by the English church as well, where, in the tenth century, it found a strange mix. The ancient Celtic empire (England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales) had long been led in pagan worship by the Druids, the priests of Bel. Their two holiest days were May 1st, the celebration of Beltane (‘‘fires of Bel’’), and November 1st, the celebration of Samhain, the Celtic New Year. Samhain was also the end of harvest with its ingathering of grains. The Druids, however, celebrated much more than grain. They also celebrated the dying of the summer sun with festivals to placate the Lord of Death. At this time they believed the spirits of the dead were released on the night before November 1st (October 31st) to roam about the world. The Druids built huge fires on the hilltops (Stonehenge was one such site) to warm the spirits and even made human and animal sacrifices in these fires (the derivation of ‘‘bonfire’’ is ‘‘bone-fire’’ due to the bones of people left behind).
Since the English church was trying to celebrate ‘‘All Hallows’ Day’’ at this time, October 31st was simply called ‘‘Hallows’ Eve’’ or ‘‘Halloween,’’ but it was pagan from the beginning. The Druids released spirits and demons on this night to terrorize Christians who were at home preparing for ‘‘Hallows’ Day.’’ Witches (women who had sold themselves to the devil) were believed to have flown about on broomsticks and danced with imps around the fires as the devil played on bagpipes made from dead men’s bones. Christians were known to place crossed branches of ash and juniper at the stable doors to keep the spirits from stealing animals for sacrifice.
In America, Halloween was only scarcely known until 1845-46 when the massive Irish immigration took place. Bringing a milder form of the Druid rite with them, these immigrants eventually established a national event. The Celtic influence in this country only occasionally saw outbreaks of witchcraft (for which they got a taste of their own fiery medicine). For over a hundred years children innocently (seemingly) dressed up as spirit creatures and went to the houses of their Christian neighbors with a simple request: ‘‘trick or treat.’’ All seemed like fun and games. We were a Christian country and put no stock in superstitions. As one reference book put it, ‘‘Thus the basic Celtic quality of the festival as an evening of annual escape from normal realities and expectations has remained into the twentieth century.’’
Dealing with the pagan customs of Halloween is not a new exercise for believers in America. Volumes have been written on the pagan sources of many holidays. We know that the mother-son worship at Babel of Semerimus and Tammuz can be traced to Phoenicia (Ashteroth and Baal), Egypt (Isis and Horus), Greece (Aphrodite and Eros) and to Rome (Venus and Cupid). We know that the old English name ‘‘Easter’’ is from the feast of Ishtar, the ‘‘Queen of Heaven’’ (see Jer 44:17-19) and that Herod, no doubt, was thinking of that rather than Passover in Acts 12:4.
The Easter Bunny was associated with Easter because the Romans believed Venus fell from heaven and landed in the Euphrates river, was pushed out onto the bank by fish and was hatched out of an egg by bunnies. Christmas trees were first used to worship Tammuz when he was brought back to life on December 25. Birthday cakes were then baked to worship him on his ‘‘birthday’’ (see Jer 44:19) which was the celebration of the winter solstice or the resurrection of the sun. Fireworks were originally part of the Druid celebration of the Summer solstice or the dying of the sun. On and on the pagan accounts go.
So what is a Christian to do? I don’t advocate that we do away with birthday cakes or Christmas trees unless they begin to encroach upon true faith and belief. Old religious nonsense often becomes harmless national custom. If, however, old religious nonsense begins to be resurrected as religion and not custom, the people of God will have to separate. It may be that we are watching the revival of occultism associated with Halloween being resurrected in our country now. Besides, when did we ever not believe that witches and demons are real? On October 31, 1993, there may be as many people worshipping the Lord of Death through witchcraft and sorcery as there will be worshipping the Lord of Glory in Sunday morning services. I don’t think that we need to amuse the enemy by playing at his altar.