BETWEEN SAMHAIN AND MARTIN LUTHER
October is a beautiful time of year. Yet Christians, and especially those with children, often struggle to deal with this season. While most understand that stock Halloween celebrations are rooted in the occult, many don’t know the broader history behind this peculiar autumn festival. Still, October has not been wholly given over to the dark side. There are some historical bright spots for the Church in October, and it’s good to turn our attention to the many ministry opportunities available to us even while avoiding those “games” associated with Halloween that can be entries for the occult.
In ancient Britain and Ireland, the Celtic festival of Samhain (“Sah-win”) was observed on October 31, the end of summer. November 1 was the new year for both Celtic and Anglo-Saxon calendars and was one of the most important and yet sinister calendar festivals of the Celtic Year. Settling in northern France and the British Isles, the Celtic people engaged in occultic arts and worshiped nature, giving it supernatural, animistic qualities. (Much like some federal institutions are attempting to enforce today.)
The ancient Druids were the learned priestly class of the Celtic religion. Many of their beliefs and practices were similar to those of Hinduism, such as reincarnation and the transmigration of the soul, which teaches that people may be reborn as animals. The Druids believed that on October 31, the night before their New Year and the last day of the old year, Samhain, the Lord of Death, gathered the souls of the evil dead who had been condemned to enter the bodies of animals.
The Druids also believed that the punishment of the evil dead would be lightened by sacrifices, prayers and gifts to the Lord of Death. (This begins to reveal the strange link between this holiday and the non-Biblical concept of purgatory.)
The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on this day, and the autumnal festival acquired a sinister significance, with ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, black cats, fairies, and demons of all kinds said to be roaming about. It was the time to placate the supernatural powers controlling the processes of nature.
On the other hand, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther drove a stake into the heart of many of the prevailing non-Biblical concepts by nailing his famous 95 theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. With that, he started the movement known today as the Reformation – the single most important event in modern history. Appropriately, he did this on Halloween.
Modern Halloween Traditions:
Halloween is, for many, a “crossover” involvement in which innocent games can lead to serious entanglement with real witches, neo-pagans, New Agers, and other occultists. A common pastime is the use of a Ouija board to attempt to contact ghosts or spirits that are believed to be roaming about. This can lead to serious consequences including demon possession. (The case studies underlying William Blatty’s The Exorcist indicate that the trouble all began with a child playing with a Ouija board.) Demons have a vested interest in Halloween because it supports the occult, and it also offers novel and unexpected opportunities to control and influence people.
Forms of the occult can include mediums, channelers, clairvoyants, psychics, spiritists, diviners, mystics, gurus, shamans, psychical researchers, Yogis, psychic and holistic healers, astral travel, astrology, mysticism, Ouija boards, Tarot cards, contact with the dead, UFOs, and thousands of other practices which almost defy cataloging – even Harry Potter books and movies can lead innocent children into the occult. Occultism includes Satanism, astrology, Kabbalah, Gnosticism, theosophy, witchcraft and many forms of serious magic. It includes activities seeking the acquisition of “hidden” things – which are expressly forbidden by God in the Bible.
The Biblical View:
Halloween practices can open the door to the occult and can introduce forces into people’s lives that they are not equipped to combat. There is genuine power in the occult, but it is demonic power (Mt 24:24; Acts 13:6-11; 16:16-19; 19:18-20; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 6:7-11, 22).
Any serious study of Biblical demonology will reveal Satan as the power behind false religion, witchcraft, idolatry and the occult (Deut 32:16,17; Ps 106:35-40; Acts 16:16-19; 1 Cor 10:19-21; 2 Thess 2:9, 10; 1 Tim 4:1ff). The Word of God makes it clear that these are all to be shunned as dangerous. There were many superstitions and false concepts in ancient Israel about which the Bible is silent. However, occultism, in any form, was punishable by death! Why? The spiritual power and reality behind idols involves demons (1 Cor 10:20; Ps 106:37). The Bible commands us to shun occult practices. Mediums and spiritists are expressly prohibited (Lev 19:31; Deut 18:10, 11, 14 2 Chr 33:6). Nowhere are such practices acceptable.
Intellect alone is insufficient. “If it were possible, it would deceive the very elect.” This is another example of the necessity to truly understand the Armor of God as outlined in Ephesians 6.
Yet, this is no time for the Church to turn its back on people or leave them exposed to spiritual danger. This time of year offers tremendous opportunity for ministry. Churches can open their doors to children young and old – not only to have harvest parties or trunk-or-treat outreaches – but especially to let people know what is truly behind the occult. Many people believe these “games” are just harmless fun, and are unaware of the very real dangers they can face by dabbling in the realm of the demonic.
Of course, the point is not to terrify people. The ultimate goal is to point them to the source of true protection, of true salvation, of true hope. Jesus is the victor. He’s already won the battle, and he is stronger than anything Satan can throw at us. Even more important, he has triumphed over death for us. He told his disciples long ago, and still tells us today, “…[R]ejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).