It is that time of the year when the secular society in which we live is preparing for the festival of Halloween. Though non-Orthodox Christians, our schools, our local community organizations and all forms of entertainment in television, radio and the press will share in and capitalize upon the festival of Halloween, it is impossible for Orthodox Christians to participate in this event at any level. The issue involved is simple faithfulness to God and the Holy Orthodox Christian 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, the very foundation of our Holy Church is built upon the blood of the martrys who refused under the painful penalties of cruel torture and death to worship, venerate, or pay obeisance in any way to the idols who are Satan’s angels. Because of the faithfulness through obedience and self-sacrifice of the Holy Martyrs, God poured out upon His Holy Church abundant Grace and its numbers were increased daily, precisely at a time when one would have expected the threat of persecution to extinguish the flame of faith. But, contrary to the world’s understanding, humble faithfulness and obedience to God are the very life lines of our life in Christ through Whom we are given true spiritual peace, love and joy, and participation in the miraculous workings of His Holy Spirit. There- fore the Holy Church calls us to faithfulness by our turning away from falsehood toward Truth and eternal life.
With regard to our non-participation in the pagan festival of Halloween, we will be strengthened by an understanding of the spiritual roots and history of this anti-Christian feast. 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 life was born from death. Therefore, they celebrated the beginning of the “new year” in the fall (on the eve of October 31 and into the day of November 1) when, as they believed, the season of cold, darkness, decay and death began. A certain deity whom they called Samhain 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, from an Orthodox Christian point of view, many diabolical beliefs and practices associated with this feast which, it will be clear, have endured to this time. On the eve of the New Year’s festival, the Druids who were the priests of the Celtic cult, instructed their people to extinguish all hearth fires and lights. On the evening of the festival a huge bonfire built from oak branches, which they believed to be sacred, was ignited. Upon this fire sacrifices of crops, animals and even human beings were burned as an offering in order to appease and cajole Samhain, the Lord of Death. It was also believed that Samhain, being pleased by their faithful offerings, allowed the souls of the dead to return to their homes for a festal visit on this day. It is from this belief that the practice of wandering about in the dark dressed up in costumes imitating ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, fairies and demons grew up. For the living entered into fellowship and communion with the dead by what was, and still is, a ritual act of imitation, through costume and the activity of wandering around in the dark of night, even as 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 practices. It was believed that the souls of the dead who had entered into the world of darkness, decay and death, and therefore into total communion with and submission to Samhain the Lord of Death, bore the affliction of great hunger on their festal visit. Out of this grew the practice of begging which was a further ritual enactment and imitation of what the Celts believed to be the activities of the souls of the dead on their festal visit. Associated with this is the still further implication that if the souls of the dead and their imitators were not appeased with “treats”, i.e. offerings, then the wrath and anger of Samhain, whose angels and servants the souls and their imitators had become, would be unleashed through a system of “tricks,” or, as an Orthodox Christian would understand it, curses.
Obviously then, from an Orthodox Christian point of view, participation in these practices at any level is impossible and idolatrous, a genuine betrayal of our God and our Holy Faith. For if we participate in the ritual activity of imitating the dead by dressing up in their attire or by wandering about in the dark, or by begging with them, then we have willfully sought fellowship with the dead, whose Lord is not Samhain as the Celts believed but Satan, the Evil One who stands against God. Further, if we submit to the dialogue of “trick or treat,” we make our offering not to innocent little children, but rather to Samhain, the Lord of Death whom they have come to serve as imitators of the dead, wandering in the dark of night.
Evil spirits do exist. The devil exists. Christ came into the world “so that, through death, He might destroy him that had the dominion of death, that is, the Devil” (Hebrews 2:14). It is imperative for us to realize as Christians that our greatest foes are not our political enemies, but the Evil One who inspires nations and individuals to sin against mankind, and who prevents them from coming to a knowledge of the truth. Unless we realize that Satan is our real enemy, we can never hope for spiritual progress within our lives. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the world rulers of the darkness of this age, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
Lives of Sts. Kyprian and Justina