"Man should not be upset about the blasphemies of the devil, but only about his personal sins, and to hope in God's boundless mercy, for where hope in God is absent, the devil's tail is present."
- Elder Paisios the Athonite
Below are some quotes from various Orthodox Christian websites concerning the "satanic panic" over Halloween, though they all pretty much say the same thing and offer the same distorted information:
From the website of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist:
"Orthodox Christians cannot participate in this event at any level."
"Halloween has its roots in paganism, and it continues as a form of idolatry to worship Satan, the angel of death."
"The Orthodox Christian must understand that taking part in these practices at any level is an idolatrous betrayal of our God and our Holy Faith. For if we imitate the dead by dressing up in or wandering about in the dark, or by begging with them, then we have willfully sought fellowship with the dead, whose Lord is not a Celtic Samhain, but is Satan the Evil One, who stands against God. Further, if we submit to the dialogue of "trick-or-treat," our offering goes not to innocent children, but rather to Samhain, the Lord of Death whom they have come to serve as imitators of the dead, wandering in the darkness."
"The Halloween festival was the proper night for sorcery, fortune telling, divination, games of chance, and Satan worship and witchcraft in the later Middle Ages."
From the website OrthodoxChristian.info:
"Be warned: Halloween is not what it appears to be! Its seemingly innocent manifestations represent a memory of an ancient celebration deeply rooted in paganism and demonology and continues to be a form of idolatry in which Satan, the angel of death is worshipped."
"From an Orthodox Christian viewpoint, participation in these practices at any level is idolatrous, and a genuine betrayal of our God and our Holy Faith. To do so by dressing up and going out would be to wilfully seek fellowship with the 'dead' whose Lord is also known as Satan, the Evil One, who stands against God. Or, to participate by submission to the dialogue of 'trick or treat' is to make offering, not to innocent little children, but to the lord of Death, whom they unknowingly serve as proxy for the 'dead'."
"Even if Halloween was good, clean, innocent fun, to what benefit - spiritual, intellectual or otherwise - is this for a Christian?"
From the website Orthodox Christian Information Center:
"If we participate in the ritual activity of imitating the dead and wandering in the dark asking for treats or offering them to children, we then have willfully sought fellowship with the dead, whose Lord is not Samhain, but rather Satan. It is to Satan then that these treats are offered, not to children."
"Halloween undermines the very basis of the Church which was founded on the blood of martyrs who had refused, by giving up their lives, to partake in any form of idolatry."
"Holy Mother Church must take a firm stand in counteracting any such (pagan) events. Christ taught us that God is the judge in all our actions and beliefs and that we are either FOR GOD or AGAINST GOD. There is no neutral or middle of the road approach."
From the website AllSaintsOfAmerica.org:
"I believe that the issue of Halloween is an example of a more fundamental struggle between Orthodoxy and the secular spirit of our age."
"This must be our Orthodoxy, and to believe it and to witness it is to truly become a 'fool for Christ.' Never has it been more foolish than it is today to be an Orthodox witness in the secular world of today. It is for this witness then that we don't participate in Halloween."
"Halloween, as it is practiced, rejoices in the irrelevance of spiritual evil."
From the website FatherAlexander.org:
"It is that time of the year when the secular society in which we live is preparing for the festival of Halloween. Many do not know its spiritual roots and history, and why it contradicts the teachings of the Church."
"The Holy Fathers of the first millennium (a time when the Church was one and strictly Orthodox) counteracted this Celtic pagan feast by introducing the Feast of All Saints. It is from this that the term Halloween developed...The people who remained pagan and therefore anti-Christian reacted to the Church's attempt to supplant their festival by celebrating this evening with increased fervor."
"We also need to avoid any sort of Halloween party or celebration as well as decorations in our homes. If our children attend schools that hold such parties, no matter what the day, they must not participate."
Ok, I think you get the picture how many Orthodox Christians unfortunately view Halloween. What is unfortunate is that they base their beliefs on a bunch of distorted information that have no basis in fact. If it does, I challenge anyone to present the historical evidence that Halloween is indeed an ancient pagan festival that was celebrated by sacrifices of humans to Satan (Samhain) and honored demons with treats. And these are only a few of the many distortions popularized in the "christian" tracts of fundamentalists and of multimillionaire publisher Jack Chick.
This smear campaign against Halloween, in which it has been scapegoated among Christians as the ultimate manifestation of secularism and satanism in contemporary culture, only goes back to farely recent modern times when certain Christian groups resorted to any fanciful tale to counter the emerging counter-culture of the 60's and 70's that was corrupting the youth. Christian leaders since then have clutched us in a guilt trip ever since about a holiday which prior to this extreme reaction was indeed harmless for the most part like any other holiday and had no connection with satanic rituals. It was a cultural festival which, though mischievous at times, really posed no threat to society until we were forced to believe that it did.
The fact is that I also once opposed Halloween for religious reasons, being convinced by fundamentalist literature that it was the "devil's holiday", a conspiracy of Neopagans and Satanists to corrupt our youth. Later when I researched the background of the holiday I came to different conclusions. I realized in the impurity and evil of my egotistical heart I was choosing a much easier enemy to fight rather than the much more difficult enemy within, the enemy of my ego which easily saw scandal elsewhere rather than in the impurity and scandal within my own heart and mind.
As a child born and raised in Boston, Halloween was one of my favorite holidays like the majority of American youth. It was a fun and innocent time to watch Halloween specials on TV like It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown and maybe play with my fright-meter with some mild horror films, to carve pumpkins and eat the toasted seeds, to order an extra batch of Scholastic books in school dealing with stories of the holiday, to dress up like a favorite cartoon or pop culture character, to have a Halloween party at school with candy, to color pictures of witches and vampires and ghosts which are a part of the folk-lore surrounding the holiday taming children's deep-seated fears of them, to go trick or treating around the neighborhood giving us the one chance in the year to actually meet our neighbors and receive a friendly gesture of candy, and when we got home we would eat our candy after they were carefully checked by parents. I was a child of the 1980's, so the initial signs of fear about the holiday which started in the 1960's were beginning to spread at the time also. Rumors were circulating that razor blades were being placed in apples and poison in candy by evil neighbors trying to harm us. Of course, none of these reports were actually traced and this was the first myth I was exposed to about Halloween that had no basis in reality. When people realized that such crimes were never reported, they still checked "just in case", since now the media gave crazy people an idea of how to get media coverage by harming a child on Halloween. In fact, this is exactly what the rumors did in a few not too serious cases. The innocence and fun was slowly but surely being lost.
As I entered my teenage years I continued to enjoy Halloween in mostly the same ways, but slowly stopped trick or treating. I can remember a few years being a little mischievous on Halloween with my friends, but it was mainly within our own circle in which we would have egg and whip cream fights all in fun. I still very much loved the holiday and the atmosphere it brought to the autumn season, especially in the midst of a New England autumn with the reality of death surrounding us in nature. Being a child of many fears about the supernatural, this was a time in which those fears were dealt with in an entertaining and humorous way and it helped me think more deeply on supernatural issues as well.
Like most Greek youth in America of my time, my involvement in the Church was limited to Sundays and ecclesiastical holidays where I had served as an altar boy since the age of seven and of course attended Greek school twice a week for six years. Because I loved holidays such as Halloween (as well as Christmas and Easter), from a young age I wanted to learn the story behind them to celebrate them on a deeper level. This thirst for knowledge lead me at a young age to contemplate deeper matters than most of my peers. In fact, the first time I opened my Bible was after watching the horror movie The Seventh Sign in 1988 which starred Demi Moore. I was twelve years old and this was one of my first Rated-R movies, but when I got home I looked anxiously in the Bible for the Book of Revelation and have hardly put my Bible down since.
My first in-depth research about the origins of Halloween stemmed from a bad grade in my seventh grade Social Studies class. I think I got a "B" on a test and since I wanted to maintain my "A" I had asked my teacher for some extra credit. Since it was a few weeks before Halloween my teacher recommended that I write a two-page paper on the origins of Halloween. I was actually excited about this assignment and began to study the origins. After reading through all the books dealing with the subject in my school library as well as articles in the Encyclopedia Brittanica, I wrote my paper and received my "A". But this was also the first school assignment I ever had that I not only got excited for, but learned a great deal.
When I was about eighteen years old I was involved in the youth ministry of my diocese (now metropolis) and was asked to write a session teaching the youth about Halloween. By this time I was already exposed to the Protestant literature exposing the "dangers" of Halloween and was a bit conflicted on how to present all this contradictory information that in essence began to confuse me about the holiday. Even though I felt somewhat positive about the holiday, I felt obligated to react negatively lest the youth be infested by the "demonic allurements" of Halloween. Though I tried to be somewhat moderate in my approach, it was more on the negative side of moderate, and this caused the majority of youth to be skeptical of what I was teaching since they had not been exposed to my literature and saw no harm in the holiday. To them, all I was doing was depriving them of some innocent fun and candy and calling it "demonic". If I were in their position, I would be skeptical too, so I fully understood why they could not accept it.
The confusion I felt that day prompted me to do further research into the subject, because it seemed to me that all the negative reactions against Halloween were based on myths and propaganda. I felt like Halloween, like pop culture, was being used as a scapegoat among Christians to attribute the failure of our churches to the "demonic allurements" of society with a particular event or person, when in reality it was the shallowness and unreasonableness of the churches that in many ways were the cause of the real evils that Christians needed to fear and avoid. And when I did my research, I realized how much I had been lied to and regretted the lies I spread by focusing on problems that were not problems at all, and covering up instead the real problems.
Hyper-Religiosity and Halloween
When I hear Christians today condemning Halloween as a demonic holiday filled with pagan rituals and accusing all participators in the holiday of being in league with Satan, of whom no doubt they were also in their younger years, I'm immediately reminded of the hyper-religiosity and immaturity of the Jews of our Lord Jesus' time. Hyper-religiosity and immaturity are based on an improper fear that tends to rely on superstition and human tradition for dealing with issues affecting our everyday lives, and in return something good or even divine could be misinterpreted as being evil or demonic in origin. This is what Jesus spoke of when he accused the teachers of the Law of being blind guides leading the blind who close the doors to the Kingdom of Heaven on themselves and in turn not allowing anyone else to enter.
It seems as if it was in the nature of the Jews to follow the path of superstition and human tradition against the clear path of God's wisdom and commandments. Could this be why the children of Israel had a golden calf molded at the foot of Mount Sinai? Could this also be the reason why the people of Israel would continuously abandon God's ways and seek their own ways in resolving their issues throughout the Old Testament? Could these incidents also be the source for the extreme reactions of the Jews and teachers of the Law in Jesus' day who tended to add laws onto the Law and create superstitions to keep people in line lest God punish their wickedness?
A common extreme reaction of the hyper-religious teachers of the Law was to see the devil where he was not and to not see the devil where he was. This is why they accused Jesus Himself of being an agent of Beelzebub, the prince of demons. Such extreme hyper-religious reactions trickled down to the common uneducated folk as well, as we see among the disciples of Jesus in Matthew 14 when they saw Jesus walking towards them in their boat over the water, causing them to wonder if this was a ghost they were seeing, making them to, as the Gospel says, cry out in fear. Fear, immaturity, hyper-religiosity, extremism, and distortion of facts all go hand in hand, as we are often taught not only throughout Holy Scripture, but within the writings of the Church Fathers as well.
The medieval West, especially after the Great Schism, also became a victim of this hyper-religiosity that springs from willful arrogant ignorance. We see this especially during the time of the Crusades and the Inquisition. The foundations of the United States are also based on such hyper-religiosity carried over from Europe, hence such events as the Salem Witch Trials and the need to separate the Church from the State. In fact, it is hyper-religiosity which is at the root of the secularism of our days and not pop-culture or Halloween. Pop-culture and such things as Halloween indeed can be reflective of secularism, but they are not the root of the evils of society as Christian leaders often claim.
The Origins of Halloween
I will not get into all the details about the origins of Halloween, lest I be accused of spreading satanic lies and propaganda myself. I encourage everyone to undertake their own honest research into the subject and judge for themselves what the true origins of the holiday are and separate fact from fiction. Consider this merely as a guide to help you think a bit deeper on the subject.
For example, when one reads all the ignorant propaganda regarding Halloween, the thought that comes into my mind are the various accusations the Roman government made against the early Christians. This is what Pliny had in mind in circa 110 AD when he calls Christianity a "superstition taken to extravagant lengths." Similarly, the Roman historian Tacitus called it "a deadly superstition," and the historian Suetonius called Christians "a class of persons given to a new and mischievous superstition." In this context, the word "superstition" has a slightly different connotation than it has today: for the Romans, it designated something foreign and different - in a negative sense. A religious belief was valid only insofar as it could be shown to be old and in line with ancient customs; new teachings were regarded with distrust. It is for this reason that the charge of "atheism" was brought against Christians, and almost every time disaster struck the Empire the accused were the Christians for displeasing the gods with their atheism. On a more social, practical level, Christians were distrusted in part because of the secret and misunderstood nature of their worship. Words like "love feast" and talk of "eating Christ's flesh" sounded understandably suspicious to the pagans, and Christians were suspected of cannibalism, incest, orgies, and all sorts of immorality.
Yes, these same pagan Romans who contrived these lies against Christians also contrived lies against their opponents to the north - among whom were the ancient Celts. The Roman historians note how a propaganda campaign went out against the Celts to basically demonize their enemies so as to conquer them in a war that became a campaign against "evil". Such demonization is even common today, so it should not surprise us that the Romans would do this against the Celts. Unfortunately, the propaganda which describes the "horrific rituals" of the Druids detailed in Halloween propaganda is only described by the Romans during their campaigns, and are so outrageous that they can hardly be seen as factual. Hence, there’s a distinct lack of historical or archaeological evidence that the ancient Druids ever sacrificed anyone, for example. The pumpkin also is a New World plant that never grew in Europe until modern times, so it couldn’t have been used to make jack-o-lanterns by the Druids. There’s zero evidence that the ancient Druids or their congregants ever dressed in identity-hiding costumes or engaged in ritualized begging at harvest time. The connections between these Druid practices and modern Halloween are based on early Roman sources and modern fundamentalist propaganda.
What we do know is that the dead were honored by the Celts, not as the fearsome dead, but as the living spirits of loved ones and of guardians who hold the root-wisdom of the tribe. The Druid rites, whatever they were, therefore, were concerned with making contact with the spirits of the departed, who were seen as sources of guidance and inspiration rather than as sources of dread. And of course, there was probably divinination and other pagan practices, but these were common in the world before the spread of Christianity and in no way can account for the condemnation outright of Halloween in our times. Before and after the arrival of Christianity, early November was when people in Western and Northern Europe finished the last of their harvesting, butchered their excess stock (so the surviving animals would have enough food to make it through the winter), and held great feasts. They invited their ancestors to join them, they decorated family graves, and told ghost stories.
Regarding the horrific Samhain, according to the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, in an essay called The Myth of Samhain: Celtic God of the Dead, both Neopagans and Christians have been wrong on this topic: “There is some evidence that there really was an obscure, little known character named Samain or Sawan who played a very minor role in Celtic mythology. He was a mortal whose main claim to fame was that Balor of the Evil Eye stole his magical cow. He is rarely mentioned in Celtic mythology; his existence is little known, even among Celtic historians.” However, “…there is/was no Celtic God of the Dead. The Great God Samhain appears to have been invented in the 18th century, as a God of the Dead before the ancient Celtic people and their religion were studied by historians and archaeologists.” Major dictionaries of Celtic languages don’t mention any “Samhain” deity either: McBain’s Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language says that “samhuinn” (the Scots Gaelic spelling) means “Hallow-tide” (or ‘sacred time’), and that it probably came from roots meaning “summer’s end;” with a possible derivation from the annual assembly at Tara every November 1st. MacFarlane’s School Gaelic Dictionary defines it simply as “Hallowtide.” In other words, what we find out is that Samhain was merely the Celtic New Year, just like September 1 was the Orthodox/Roman New Year.
The truth about trick or treating is a far cry from the horrific images “conjured” by fundamentalists. Rather than an ancient satanic plot to kill or corrupt children, the American tradition of trick or treating is mainly a modern custom invented by town councils, schoolboards and parents in the 1930's to keep their kids out of trouble. The great poisoned treats scare trotted out every year and exploited by Mr. Chick is, however, just another urban legend as noted above. Almost every actual example of booby-trapped Halloween treats has turned out to be a murder plot by a relative, not a malicious act by strangers.
According to Tad Tuleja’s essay, “Trick or Treat: Pre-Texts and Contexts,” in Jack Santino’s anthology, Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life, modern trick or treating (primarily children going door-to-door, begging for candy) began fairly recently, as a blend of several ancient and modern influences. At various times and places in the Middle Ages, customs developed of beggers, then children, asking for “soul cakes” on the Christian feast of All Souls Day on November 2nd. This was also known as "souling". Also in medieval times such begging took place door to door during the Christmas period, as is still done in contemporary Orthodox countries like Greece. Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593), when Speed accuses his master of "puling [whimpering or whining] like a beggar at Hallowmas." In 1605, Guy Fawkes’ abortive effort to blow up the British Parliament on November 5th, led to the creation of “Guy Fawkes Day,” celebrated by the burning of effigies of Fawkes in bonfires and children dressing in rags to beg for money for fireworks. As the decades rolled by, this became thoroughly entwined with Halloween celebrations and customs. Also in mid-nineteenth century New York, children called “ragamuffins” would dress in costumes and beg for pennies from adults on Thanksgiving Day. Vandalism began to spread also in nineteenth century America during the Thanksgiving season among young boys pulling pranks. With increased urbanization and poverty in the 1930’s, adults began casting about for ways to control the previously harmless but now increasingly expensive and dangerous vandalism of the “boys.” Towns and cities began organizing “safe” Halloween events and householders began giving out bribes to the neighborhood kids as a way to distract them away from their previous anarchy. The ragamuffins disappeared or switched their date to Halloween. However, there is no evidence that souling was ever practiced in North America, where trick or treating may have developed independent of any Irish or British antecedent. Ruth Edna Kelley, in her 1919 history of the holiday, The Book of Hallowe'en, makes no mention of ritual begging in the chapter "Hallowe'en in America." Kelley lived in Lynn, Massachusetts, a town with about 4,500 Irish immigrants, 1,900 English immigrants, and 700 Scottish immigrants in 1920. The thousands of Halloween postcards produced between the turn of the twentieth century and the 1920's commonly show children, but do not depict trick or treating. Trick or treating does not seem to have become a widespread practice until the 1930's, with the first U.S. appearances of the term in 1934. The term “trick or treat,” finally appeared in print around 1939!
When explaining these things to people, I'm often asked: “How can these evil things never happen if so many people preach that it does? Where would Christians get these ideas if they weren’t fact?” The short answer, of course, is that preachers are people and (1) all people make mistakes, (2) some people are ignorant, and (3) others just tell lies out of fear or something else. Of course, I'm not advocating on behalf of paganism when I say this, but just good ol' plain honesty. For all I know the Druids may have sacrificed children or did other horrific things, but this is not supported by any evidence and even if it did there is still no actual relationship between that and anything we do on Halloween, and for this reason the propaganda against Halloween and human reason is unsound and improper. If someone decides Halloween is inappropriate for them, there is no need to “bear false witness” (that is to say, tell lies) about Halloween, Neopagans, Satanists or indeed any other religious topic, in order to make a spiritual decision for him or herself, or their children — the only people for whom they may have the right to make that decision.
The Christianization of a Pagan Holiday Myth
There is also the myth that Christians condemned the pagan festivities of October 31 by replacing it with All Hallows Eve, the day before the Feast of All Saints in the West. It is often recorded that in 601 AD Pope Gregory I issued a now famous edict to his missionaries concerning the native beliefs and customs of the peoples he hoped to convert. Rather than try to obliterate native peoples' customs and beliefs, the pope instructed his missionaries to use them: if a group of people worshipped a tree, rather than cut it down, he advised them to consecrate it to Christ and allow its continued veneration. Though this is true, this edict is likely not the reason why November 1 became the Feast of All Saints in the West.
Both the Feast of All Saints and the Feast of All Souls evolved in the life of the Church independently of paganism and Halloween. Let us first address the Feast of All Saints. The exact origins of this celebration are uncertain, although, after the legalization of Christianity in A.D. 313, a common commemoration of the Saints, especially the martyrs, appeared in various areas throughout the Church. For instance in the East, the city of Edessa celebrated this feast on May 13; the Syrians, on the Friday after Easter; and the city of Antioch, on the first Sunday after Pentecost. Both St. Ephraim (d. 373) and St. John Chrysostom (d. 407) attest to this feast day in their preaching. In the West, a commemoration for all the Saints also was celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost. The primary reason for establishing a common feast day was because of the desire to honor the great number of martyrs, especially during the persecution of Emperor Diocletion (284-305), the worst and most extensive of the persecutions. Quite simply, there were not enough days of the year for a feast day for each martyr and many of them died in groups. A common feast day for all Saints, therefore, seemed most appropriate.
In 609, the Emperor Phocas gave the Pantheon in Rome to Pope Boniface IV, who rededicated it on May 13 under the title St. Maria ad Martyres (or St. Mary and All Martyrs). Whether the Pope purposefully chose May 13 because of the date of the popular celebration already established in the East or whether this was just a happy coincidence is open to debate.
The designation of November 1 as the Feast of All Saints occurred over time. Pope Gregory III (731-741) dedicated an oratory in the original St. Peter's Basilica in honor of all the Saints on November 1, and this date then became the official date for the celebration of the Feast of All Saints in Rome. St. Bede (d. 735) recorded the celebration of All Saints Day on November 1 in England, and such a celebration also existed in Salzburg, Austria. Ado of Vienne (d. 875) recounted how Pope Gregory IV asked King Louis the Pious (778-840) to proclaim November 1 as All Saints Day throughout the Frankish Empire. Sacramentaries of the ninth and tenth centuries also placed the feast of All Saints on the liturgical calendar on November 1.
According to an early Church historian, John Beleth (d. 1165), Pope Gregory IV (827-844) officially declared November 1 the Feast of All Saints, transferring it from May 13. However, Sicard of Cremona (d. 1215) recorded that Pope Gregory VII (1073-85) finally suppressed May 13 and mandated November 1 as the date to celebrate the Feast of All Saints. In all, we find the Papal Church establishing a liturgical feast day in honor of the Saints independent of any pagan influence. Particular ethnic groups developed their own lore, which was merged with the celebration. For this reason, little ones (and some big ones) still dress in a variety of costumes and pretend for the evening to be ghosts, witches, vampires, monsters, ninjas, pirates and so on, without any thought of paganism. Nevertheless, All Saints Day clearly arose from a genuine Christian devotion independent of paganism.
I wonder today if my interest in Halloween and the macabre stems from my New England roots. After all, New England gave us the master's of American gothic and horror literature like Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorn, H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King. Our history in New England is deeply rooted in the folk-lore of Europe, as is evidenced in the Salem and Boston witch trials and the tales of "true" vampire legends in Rhode Island and Maine. Our tales of the paranormal are unlike anywhere else in the United States, and everywhere you go you are surrounded by these legends. Though these are all things that interest me and have made me proud to be a New Englander, I think my love for Halloween stems a bit deeper. Demons, evil, death, fear, vice, pain and suffering do exist and are a part of human existence. As Christians we have the weapons and the answers to overcome these and they go hand in hand with the hope which our faith brings us. Apart from this reality, I don't think I would enjoy Halloween as much. It is the connection between faith and fear that is even behind all the great classic monster stories we hear about on Halloween, like Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Headless Horseman, and so on, and in these romanticized gothic tales vice is always spoken against and demoted while virtue and selflessness is promoted.
As an Orthodox Christian, I do not want to come out as a proponent of Halloween since it is not an Orthodox feast I feel the need to defend. The reason I am trying to bring some awareness of the truth about Halloween is because as an Orthodox Christian I believe it is my duty to speak the truth and expose error in a spirit of love and concern, especially when other Orthodox are spreading these lies out of ignorance. Halloween is a part of our society and especially of our children's lives, and an answer from an Orthodox Christian perspective is needed. It does not help our Christian witness in the world to distort information to make our message sound better. In fact, it does just the opposite and I believe those capable of discovering the truth will be judged for disseminating lies which are unfounded. We have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power and truth to be above propagating errors. It is the proclamation of the truth which brings freedom and respect, and a pure heart which makes all things pure.