It is at this time of the year that the secular society in which we live is preparing for the festival of Halloween. Throughout the whole month of October, school children are engaged in various projects connected with the attributes of this festival: they draw witches, black cats, ghosts, make jack-o’lanterns, etc. For the entire month all the stores are overflowing with similar paraphernalia. Gradually a great excitement grows among the children, an expectation of joy, which culminates on the last day of the month in school parties, costumes, evening sorties for treats. All this masquerade is presented to society as a fun-filled event, as a merry and innocent children’s holiday.
But let us examine whether this holiday is really for children and whether it is really innocent. Let us look at why the Church forcefully tells us that is absolutely impossible for Orthodox Christians to participate in this event at an level. The issue involved is simple - faithfulness to God and to our holy Orthodox faith. Halloween has its roots in paganism and continues to be a form of idolatry in which Satan, the angel of death, is worshipped. As we know, our holy Church is founded upon the blood of martyrs, who refused to offer sacrifices or worship idols, even under the penalty of cruel torture and death. For this reason the Church calls us to follow their good example, to reject worship of the forces of evil in any way whatsoever, and to always remain faithful to God and the Church.
In order to understand why we cannot participate in the pagan festival of Halloween, we must understand its spiritual danger. For this we must turn to the history of this anti-Christian holiday. The feast of Halloween began in pre-Christian times among the Celtic peoples of Great Britain, Ireland and northern France. These pagan peoples believed that physical life was born from death. Therefore, they celebrated the beginning of the new year in the fall (on the eve of October 31st and into the day of November 1st), when, as they believed, the season of cold, darkness, decay and death began. A certain deity, whom they called Samhaim, was believed by the Celts to be the Lord of Death, and it was he whom they honored at their New Year’s festival.
There were many diabolical beliefs and practices associated with this feast, which have persevered even to our times. On the eve of the New Year’s festival, the Druids, who were priests of the Celtic cult, instructed the people to extinguish all hearth fires and lights. That evening a huge bonfire was ignited, upon which sacrifices of crops, animals and even human beings were burned in order to appease and cajole Samhain. It was also believed that Samhain, pleased by such offerings, allowed the souls of the dead to return to their homes for a festive visit on that day. Out of this grew the practice of wandering in the dark, dressed up in costumes imitating ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, demons and other evil spirits. In this manner the living entered into fellowship and communion with the dead by means of the magic ritual act of imitation, through the donning of costumes and the wandering in the dark, just like the souls of the dead were believed to wander.
The dialogue of “trick or treat” is also an integral part of this system of beliefs and ritual practices. The Celts believed that the souls of the dead, having entered into the world of darkness, decay and death, i.e. into total submission to Samhain, were afflicted by the torture of great hunger. This belief gave rise to the practice of begging, which imitated what the souls of the dead were believed to be doing during their festive visit. It was further believed that if the souls of the dead or their imitators were not appeased with “treats,” i.e. offerings, then the wrath and anger of Samhain, whose servants the souls and their imitators had become, would be unleashed through a system of “tricks,” or curses.
From an Orthodox point of view, any participation in this ceremony is idolatrous and a betrayal of God and faith. For if we participate in this ritual imitation of the dead by dressing up in costumes, wandering in the dark or begging with them, then we willfully seek fellowship with their lord, who was not Samhain as the Celts believed, but Satan himself, the adversary of God. If we participate in the “trick or treat” dialogue, then we make our offering not to innocent children, but rather to Samhain, the Lord of Death, whom the children unwittingly serve by imitating the dead who wander in the dark.
There are other practices associated with Halloween which we must stay away from. As was said before, on the eve of the Celtic New Year the people were instructed to extinguish all fires and to gather around the sacrificial bonfire to pay homage to Samhain. Because this was considered to be a sacred fire, it was to be used to rekindle hearth fires and lights. Out of this arose the practice of the jack-o’lantern (in the USA - a pumpkin, in older days other vegetables were used), which was carved in imitation of a dead face and used to convey the new light and fire to the home, where the lantern was left burning throughout the night. By placing such pumpkins in or near our homes, we become participants in the pagan festival honoring Samhain. Orthodox Christians must in no way participate in these ancient Celtic rituals.
In olden times divination was also associated with this festival. After the sacred fire died out, the Druids used the remains of the sacrifices to foretell the events of the coming year. From that time Halloween forever became a night of sorcery, divination, ritual games and in later medieval times, Satan worship and black magic. In our days the so-called “church of Satan” openly proclaimed this day to be its major holiday, bearing witness to the fact that the essence of this pagan feast is metaphysical, satanic, destructive and blind evil.
The early Celtic Church, which was strictly Orthodox, attempted to counteract this pagan festival by establishing the Feast of All Saints on the same day. Faithful Christians attended a vigil service in the evening, which gave rise to the term Halloween (“All Hallow E’en” in Old English, i.e. the eve of All Saints’ Day). Those who remained pagan and, therefore, anti-Christian, and whose paganism had become deeply intertwined with the occult, Satanism and magic, reacted to the Church’s attempt to supplant their festival by increased fervor that evening. In the Middle Ages, Halloween became the leading occult holiday, and that night and the following day all sorts of witchcraft, sorcery and black magic were practiced. Many of these practices involved desecration and mockery of Christian beliefs. For example, costumes of skeletons were used to mock the Church’s worship of holy relics; holy items were stolen for sacrilegious and perverse use.
In modern Western society, the Church’s attempts to supplant this pagan festival with the feast of All Saints have obviously failed. On the contrary - in the United States, as we see, this holiday, brought over by the pilgrims and now enthusiastically supported by Protestant church groups, has become part and parcel of American society. Every year all the schools, all civic organizations, all entertainment programs on TV, the radio and in the press participate in an obligatory and mass celebration of Halloween, whose practices are rooted in paganism, idolatry and Satan worship. How then did something so obviously contradictory to the holy Orthodox faith gain acceptance among Christians?
The answer to this is - spiritual apathy and indifference, which easily lead to a turning away from God. In modern society one is continually urged to disregard the spiritual roots and origins of secular practices under the guise of these practices being cute, entertaining and harmless. Behind such an attitude lies the beginning of a denial of the existence of spirits and, consequently, Satan himself.
But evil spirits do exist. Demons do exist. Christ came into the world to “destroy him that had the dominion of death, that is, the Devil.” We, as Christians, must realize that Satan is our real and fiercest enemy and, as the Scriptures tell us, our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual hosts of wickedness.
(Excerpted from an article by Bishop Cyril of Seattle).
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ! Let us abstain ourselves and protect our children from (even unwitting) participation in the terrible sin of idolatry and Satan worship. Teach your children. Tell them about the pagan and satanic roots of Halloween. Let them stay home and not go to school on that day, so as not to take part in preparations for this holiday. In the evening, when the streets are full of frenzied masqueraders, come to church together with your children. It is undoubtedly an act of Providence that on that day the church commemorates the eve of the feast of that beloved Russian saint, St. John of Kronstadt. The Lord gave us this church feast and this divine intercessor as a powerful weapon against Satan’s wiles. On the terrible eve of Halloween, come to church in order to protect yourselves and your children from the forces of evil, and in order to acquire true joy and the grace of God in celebrating our great saint.