Friday, October 17, 2014

Festival fun or pagan practice: Four myths about Halloween

I honestly dread this time of year.  Don't get me wrong, I love the Fall.  There is nothing like the changing of Summer into this cooler, crisp feeling that just makes you want to sit outside and enjoy a nice cup of coffee as you watch the yellow, red, and orange leaves float to the ground.  But beginning around the end of September the villagers come out of their hiding with pitchforks and torches to hunt down any fellow believer who "sinfully" dares to dress their children up in costumes, ask for candy, and/or carve pumpkins for October 31st.  Yes, I am talking about the dreaded day of Halloween (insert dramatic music here).

Now, before I start diving into the deeper portion of this blog I need to make two clear statements first:

1) I am in no way stating that all Christians MUST participate in Halloween.  There is no biblical mandate to do so.  This would be just as legalistic as those who say Christians cannot participate.
2) I understand the biblical teaching of the weaker brother.  This is not meant to alter your convictions but to ensure that your convictions are based on facts and not folklore.

You might want to reread those two points before continuing on...I'll just wait right here.

Still here?  Great!  Let's dive right into the subject at hand.

I want to address the top four myths about Halloween.  Many of these beliefs of this day hinge on the date itself which is where I will begin.

October 31st
"October 31st is the Devil's Holiday", "Even the Devil needs a holiday", and a slew of other pithy remarks regarding the date of Halloween attract many well-intentioned but ill-informed believers to jump into this seat on the bandwagon.  Most Halloween aspects are believed to find their supposed origin in Celtic practices of the Druidic religion.  The story of the date goes something like this:

"These Druids believed that on the night before November 1 (October 31st) Samhain called together wicked souls or spirits which had been condemned to live in the bodies of animals during the year which had just transpired. Since they were afraid of these spirits, they chose October 31 as a day to sacrifice to their gods, hoping they would protect them. They really believed that on this day they were surrounded by strange spirits, ghosts, witches, fairies, and elves, who came out to hurt them. In addition to this, they also believed that cats were holy animals, as they considered them to represent people who lived formerly, and as punishment for evil deeds were reincarnated as a cat. All this explains why witches, ghosts, and cats are a part of Halloween today."-Where Did Halloween Come From?

There is a fundamental problem in this statement as it assumes that the Druids operate off the same calendar as we do.  The Druids, like many other cultures in the world, operated off the lunar calendar.  Their months and number of days in their year (354.37) were based on the phases of the moon.  We, and typically much of the western world today, operate on the solar calendar (also called the Gregorian calendar) which is based on the rotation of the earth around the sun (365.25 days).  The difference in the number of days prevent the two calendars from consistently overlapping regarding dates.  A good overview of this can be found at this link:

If the Druids did select October 31st on their lunar calendar as the date for their pagan worship, while it would remain consistent on their timeline, it does not correspond to the calendar we use today.  For example, this year's Gregorian calendar date of October 31st is actually October 8th on the lunar calendar.  This completely eliminates the idea that our October 31st is somehow tied to their pagan festival date.  It then becomes difficult to condemn that date since it is several weeks behind the actual date they would have used.  This means that when October 31st roles around, it is just another day with no pagan meaning.

With the elimination of the date myth, as you will see, the other points fall like dominos.  The issue of costumes is our first example of this.  Many connect the wearing of costumes by children on Halloween to pagan acts of the past.

"They originated with these terrible Druid death rites also.  As people and animals were screeching in agony while being burned to death the observers would dress in costumes made of animal skins and heads.  They would dance, chant, and jump through the flames in hope (of) warding off the evil spirits.  Again the early origin of costumes is repulsive.  On the evening of October 31st, the Druids, who were the occultic priests and teachers of the Celts, ordered the people to put out their hearth fires.  The Druids built a huge new year's bonfire of oak branches, which they considered sacred.  They burned animals, crops, and human beings as sacrifices to their sin god Muck Olla and Samhain, their god of death.  During this diabolical ceremony PEOPLE WORE COSTUMES made of animal heads and skins. They then practiced divination, loped for omens in the struggle of the victims sacrificed in the fires, jumped over the flames or dashed through them, danced and sang.  All of this was done to frighten the evil spirits away."-Halloween Exposed

Of course such a description brings a revolting response to the Christian reader.  Who would want to be associated with such atrocities and displays of death?  But a brief overview will find that there is great variety in the assumption of exactly what happened during these festivals.  There was undoubtedly very ungodly practices but the specifics are still unclear even to practicing Druids today. Notice the connecting thread in the above quote.  It is contingent on the date and partly on the attire and purpose.  No believer would bring charge against a brother for dressing up as John Calvin or Martin Luther for a play or festival.  How many arrows are being fired at believers who work in film and must dress in a variety of costumes?

The point here is rather plain; dressing up is not the issue with the costumes, but it is instead the purpose and type of dress that is the problem.  The last time I checked, no kids had come to my front door attempting to set me, my dogs, or my trees in fire in the hope to attain some occultic knowledge.  They may deprive me of my precious candy, but I willingly give that over along with a few Gospel tracts.

Trick or Treat
It is believed that this modern-day phrased originated first half of the 20th century in America.  It had become well established by 1951 when it appeared in a Peanuts comic strip.  Numerous cultures throughout the world had practices of offering food to the dead or evil spirits intent on causing mischief.

When All Saints' Day was established in the 11 century, certain practices began to creep their way into some "christianized" cultures.  It is believed that the poor would visit houses of more prominent members in their area to beg for pastries known as soul cakes and would in return promise to pray for the souls of their dead relatives.  Unfortunately, the specifics and validity of this are unclear proving again how much of these traditions are based on folklore.

By the mid-20th century trick-or-treating was used by some to actually inflict a trick or prank on an individual.  Egging homes and tossing a ludicrous amount of toilet paper over a neighbor's tree became a bit of a nuisance in some areas of the country.  But this was not common of every Halloween.  Most children simply adopted the phrase as a greeting to accept candy from any kind adult willing to open their door and congratulate them on using their parent's bed sheet as a cape or toga.

Of all the elements of Halloween, trick-or-treating has very little ties to pagan practices.  Attempting to make such a connection requires a great deal of stretching and illogical concluding which is usually fueled more by their intensive presupposition rather than fact.

Pumpkin carving
Nothing says "family fun" like hollowing out a large orange gourd full of squishy veggie innards riddled with seeds then painstakingly carving a face into its side.  Some believe this to be a pagan tradition that has also found a root in the lives of ignorant believers today.  But like many of the other traditions of Halloween, you will find a variety of beliefs regarding its origins.  Its transition to American soil is actually easily traced back to the early Irish and Scottish immigrants.  But rather than pumpkins, which were more common here, in Ireland turnips or potatoes were used.  Imagine trying to carve one of these smaller veggies instead...yikes!

The Irish practice of carving these innocent vegetables originated in the story of "Stingy Jack":

"According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him.  True to his name, Stingy Jack didn't want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks.  Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form.  Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul.  The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit.  While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree's bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.

Soon after, Jack died.  As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven.  The Devil, upset the by the trick Jack played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell.  He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way.  Hack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth ever since.  The Irish began referring to this ghostly figure as "Jack of the Lantern", and then, simply "Jack O' Lantern"".  -History of the Jack O' Lantern 

Nearly every element of a typical folktale is included in this story.  It is one of many legends surrounding pumpkin carving though.  Some believe that it should be linked more to a Druidic practice of "capturing spirits" into carved out turnips or warding off evil spirits instead.  But the americanized version is far from any of these stories.  In fact, one may assert that because of both a lack of substantial evidence regarding its origins and the fact that neither the object used has changed, there really is no link between the two aside from the act of hollowing out the item and inserted a light source to proudly displays one's artistic talent (or lack thereof).

Are we consistent?
As believers we are often easily pulled into the intentionally enflamed rhetoric and teaching.  Some well-intentioned men of God have warned us of some of the practices mentioned above and others have gone so far as to insist that a Christian who participates in Halloween-like activities should have their salvation questioned.  But as I have hopefully shown, much of the links between Halloween and pagan practices are more myth than fact.  Further, if one were to assert that these practices should be cast out because of a link pagan cultures or occult activities we would need to be consistent and apply the same to other areas as well.

Here are a few examples of everyday items or practices that should also be thrown out, if we are to apply the same line of reasoning that some use regarding Halloween:

1) Wedding rings and their placement on the left hand-believed to have originated in either ancient China or ancient Egypt.  While the details are a bit blurred, both believe that the ring finger on the left hand has some mystical significance.  Should we somehow now convince our spouses to throw out their ring because it's origin is not found within the pages of Scripture?  Let me know how that one goes over.

2) Wind chimes-thought to have been brought to the Western world from early traders to China, these trinkets are not just relaxing sound producers that tell you when a gentle breeze is blowing.  They are instead adaptations of similar chimes used to ward off evil spirits and warn the inhabitants of a home when such spirits are present near the entrances.  So tear those demonic pieces of metal, bamboo, or twisted kitchen utensils and then bury them far enough from you home to ensure no one accidentally stumbles upon them and brings horrid misfortune (heavy sarcasm intended).

3) Days of the Week-every day's name...I mean EVERY one of them, originate from non-biblical origins.  Sunday is named for a pagan Roman holiday worshipping the sun.  Monday finds its origins in the Anglo-Saxon word "monandaeg" which means "day of the moon".  Tuesday is named after the Norse god of war, Tiu.  Wednesday is based on the chief Norse god Odin's alternate name "Woden".  Thursday is named after Thor, the Norse god of Thunder.  Friday, also from a Norse god named Frija who was believed to be the goddess of love.  Saturday brings us full circle back to the Romans as being named after the god Saturn.  Norse gods, Roman gods, and lunar linkage.  Which legalist is going to start preaching against using these names because of this evil connection?  (I can actually hear the crickets chirping!)

What are we to do?
I believe if you truly feel strong enough for or against something, you should stand by your convictions as long as they are based in truth and not in conjecture.  When we are presented with evidence that refutes whatever teaching informs those convictions it is never an easy thing to accept.  But we may still hold to those convictions for personal reasons as long as we ensure that we hold it as our conviction only and not one which others should adopt.

I have seen the quotes from Wiccans and Satanists claiming the events and day of Halloween for themselves.  But in reality they have simply highjacked the day, twisting its history, and using it as a scare tactic against Christians.  We have buried our heads in the sand rather than confronting them with facts.  We have allowed them to take an innocent day and overlay it with darkness.  I think it's time to stop letting the world decide what they own and start remembering that all things are under the sovereign governing of Christ.

Dress up your kids or enjoy an evening relaxing in PJ's.  Cut on your porch light and hand out candy and tracts or lock the door and watch "The Sound of Music".  Enjoy alternate activities provided at a local church or play a game of Scrabble with the family.  Neither choice is more holy than the other and neither choice will condemn one's soul to Hell.  But let's not pretend that these activities are anything more than they really are...a chance to get candy, hand out tracts, pretend to be your favorite character, and wonder just how late those kids will stay up after ingesting enough sugar to send a man back to the moon.

And by the way, HAPPY REFORMATION DAY!!!

In Christ,

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