By Tom Thomas
What if on ‘All Hallows Eve’ you were revisited by spirits of the ghoulish dead? Or in the witching hour of midnight, the murderous Jezebel entered your house? Or the fierce barbarian Genghis Khan, communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, Jack the Ripper, or hockey-masked Jason – even one of your difficult, dead relatives – paid you a visit? So people in the distant past believed happened on October 31st.
On October 31st, the Celts, the ancient Britons, observed the Samhain festival. The Samhain festival marked the return of the herds from summer pasture and bringing the field harvest home. The final night of October marked the last night of summer and the eve of the New Year ushering in darkness and dismal, winter days. The departing summer light cast a sinister shadow on the festival. The ancients believed departed spirits of the dead – occult ghosts, witches, and hobgoblins – haunted their earthly homes.
How could people protect themselves from these unwanted intruders? They lit bonfires and masqueraded as fiends to disguise themselves from these returning supernatural prowlers.
The Christian church tried to redeem this pagan interest in the departed dead by redirecting people to remember the Christian saints and martyrs past.
So, October 31st has become known by its Christian name, ‘All Hallows Eve’ or ‘All Saints Eve’. Still, ‘Halloween’ has become a tangled mix of all the influences above and other folklore.
How should Christian believers view it? For sure, we take the satanic netherworld with utter seriousness. The devil is an active agent on the prowl seeking to destroy. Jesus has come to deliver us from this underworld of Satan. The Son of God was revealed ‘to destroy the works of the devil’.
On the one hand, we stay away from the occult of scary ghosts, witches, demons, macabre horror and terror. On the other hand, many grew up not attaching long forgotten ancient preternatural meanings to Halloween. They have seen it as an autumn night children dress up in their favorite character’s dress and ask for treats. With the paganization of society in recent decades, emphasis on the occult and macabre seems to have returned. Let our informed consciences guide us.
Of course, the great Protestant event of October 31st , of which we are celebrating the five hundredth anniversary, was Martin Luther’s posting of his ninety five theses (more on that in another post). Also, with a wider understanding of the biblical term ‘saints’ than Roman Catholics, we Protestants can use the season to remember the witness of men and women gone on to glory who with victorious, saving faith and love have left us a lighted path.