December 4, 2020

Michael Spencer’s Favorite Halloween Article


Note from CM: This was Michael Spencer’s favorite article on Halloween. Thanks to James B. Jordan for giving us permission to reprint it as we continue our tradition of featuring an annual piece about this holiday.

* * *

Concerning Halloween
by James B. Jordan

It has become routine in October for some Christian schools to send out letters warning parents about the evils of Halloween, and it has become equally routine for me to be asked questions about this matter.

“Halloween” is simply a contraction for All Hallows’ Eve. The word “hallow” means “saint,” in that “hallow” is just an alternative form of the word “holy” (“hallowed be Thy name”). All Saints’ Day is November 1. It is the celebration of the victory of the saints in union with Christ. The observance of various celebrations of All Saints arose in the late 300s, and these were united and fixed on November 1 in the late 700s. The origin of All Saints Day and of All Saints Eve in Mediterranean Christianity had nothing to do with Celtic Druidism or the Church’s fight against Druidism (assuming there ever even was any such thing as Druidism, which is actually a myth concocted in the 19th century by neo-pagans.)

In the First Covenant, the war between God’s people and God’s enemies was fought on the human level against Egyptians, Assyrians, etc. With the coming of the New Covenant, however, we are told that our primary battle is against principalities and powers, against fallen angels who bind the hearts and minds of men in ignorance and fear. We are assured that through faith, prayer, and obedience, the saints will be victorious in our battle against these demonic forces. The Spirit assures us: “The God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly” (Romans 16:20).

The Festival of All Saints reminds us that though Jesus has finished His work, we have not finished ours. He has struck the decisive blow, but we have the privilege of working in the mopping up operation. Thus, century by century the Christian faith has rolled back the demonic realm of ignorance, fear, and superstition. Though things look bad in the Western world today, this work continues to make progress in Asia and Africa and Latin America.

The Biblical day begins in the preceding evening, and thus in the Church calendar, the eve of a day is the actual beginning of the festive day. Christmas Eve is most familiar to us, but there is also the Vigil of Holy Saturday that precedes Easter Morn. Similarly, All Saints’ Eve precedes All Saints’ Day.

The concept, as dramatized in Christian custom, is quite simple: On October 31, the demonic realm tries one last time to achieve victory, but is banished by the joy of the Kingdom.

What is the means by which the demonic realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. Satan’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us.

(The tradition of mocking Satan and defeating him through joy and laughter plays a large role in Ray Bradbury’s classic novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes, which is a Halloween novel.)

02819_0010031919The gargoyles that were placed on the churches of old had the same meaning. They symbolized the Church ridiculing the enemy. They stick out their tongues and make faces at those who would assault the Church. Gargoyles are not demonic; they are believers ridiculing the defeated demonic army.

Thus, the defeat of evil and of demonic powers is associated with Halloween. For this reason, Martin Luther posted his 95 challenges to the wicked practices of the Church to the bulletin board on the door of the Wittenberg chapel on Halloween. He picked his day with care, and ever since Halloween has also been Reformation Day.

Similarly, on All Hallows’ Eve (Hallow-Even — Hallow-E’en — Halloween), the custom arose of mocking the demonic realm by dressing children in costumes. Because the power of Satan has been broken once and for all, our children can mock him by dressing up like ghosts, goblins, and witches. The fact that we can dress our children this way shows our supreme confidence in the utter defeat of Satan by Jesus Christ — we have NO FEAR!

I don’t have the resources to check the historical origins of all Halloween customs, and doubtless they have varied from time to time and from Christian land to Christian land. “Trick or treat” doubtless originated simply enough: something fun for kids to do. Like anything else, this custom can be perverted, and there have been times when “tricking” involved really mean actions by teenagers and was banned from some localities.

We can hardly object, however, to children collecting candy from friends and neighbors. This might not mean much to us today, because we are so prosperous that we have candy whenever we want, but in earlier generations people were not so well o_, and obtaining some candy or other treats was something special. There is no reason to pour cold water on an innocent custom like this.

Similarly, the jack-o’-lantern’s origins are unknown. Hollowing out a gourd or some other vegetable, carving a face, and putting a lamp inside of it is something that no doubt has occurred quite independently to tens of thousands of ordinary people in hundreds of cultures worldwide over the centuries. Since people lit their homes with candles, decorating the candles and the candle-holders was a routine part of life designed to make the home pretty or interesting. Potatoes, turnips, beets, and any number of other items were used.

Wynn Parks writes of an incident he observed: “An English friend had managed to remove the skin of a tangerine in two intact halves. After carving eyes and nose in one hemisphere and a mouth in the other, he poured cooking oil over the pith sticking up in the lower half and lit the readymade wick. With its upper half on, the tangerine skin formed a miniature jack-o’-lantern. But my friend seemed puzzled that I should call it by that name. `What would I call it? Why a “tangerine head,” I suppose.’ (Parks, “The Head of the Dead,” The World & I, November 1994, p. 270.)

In the New World, people soon learned that pumpkins were admirably suited for this purpose. The jack-o’-lantern is nothing but a decoration; and the leftover pumpkin can be scraped again, roasted, and turned into pies and muffins.

jack-o-lanternIn some cultures, what we call a jack-o’-lantern represented the face of a dead person, whose soul continued to have a presence in the fruit or vegetable used. But this has no particular relevance to Halloween customs. Did your mother tell you, while she carved the pumpkin, that this represented the head of a dead person and with his soul trapped inside? Of course not. Symbols and decorations, like words, mean different things in different cultures, in different languages, and in different periods of history. The only relevant question is what does it mean now, and nowadays it is only a decoration.

And even if some earlier generations did associate the jack-o’-lantern with a soul in a head, so what? They did not take it seriously. It was just part of the joking mockery of heathendom by Christian people.

This is a good place to note that many articles in books, magazines, and encyclopedias are written by secular humanists or even the pop-pagans of the so-called “New Age” movement. (An example is the article by Wynn Parks cited above.) These people actively suppress the Christian associations of historic customs, and try to magnify the pagan associations. They do this to try and make paganism acceptable and to downplay Christianity. Thus, Halloween, Christmas, Easter, etc., are said to have pagan origins. Not true.

Oddly, some fundamentalists have been influenced by these slanted views of history. These fundamentalists do not accept the humanist and pagan rewriting of Western history, American history, and science, but sometimes they do accept the humanist and pagan rewriting of the origins of Halloween and Christmas, the Christmas tree, etc. We can hope that in time these brethren will reexamine these matters as well. We ought not to let the pagans do our thinking for us.

Nowadays, children often dress up as superheroes, and the original Christian meaning of Halloween has been absorbed into popular culture. Also, with the present fad of “designer paganism” in the so-called New Age movement, some Christians are uneasy with dressing their children as spooks. So be it. But we should not forget that originally Halloween was a Christian custom, and there is no solid reason why Christians cannot enjoy it as such even today.

“He who sits in the heavens laughs; Yahweh ridicules them” says Psalm 2. Let us join in His holy laughter, and mock the enemies of Christ on October 31.

Reprinted by permission from:
OPEN BOOK, Views & Reviews, No. 28
Copyright (c) 1996 Biblical Horizons
August, 1996


  1. This is so enlightening! Thanks for re-posting. Makes me realize how limited my understanding of Halloween has been. Always wondered what ghoulish figures like gargoyles were doing on Catholic Churches. It’s unfortunate that Halloween has been cut off from its roots in our culture. Thanks!

  2. Richard Hershberger says

    “The origin of All Saints Day and of All Saints Eve in Mediterranean Christianity had nothing to do with Celtic Druidism or the Church’s fight against Druidism (assuming there ever even was any such thing as Druidism, which is actually a myth concocted in the 19th century by neo-pagans.)”

    Eh? Of course there was such a thing as Druidism. The Church’s fight against Druidism, however, is more problematic. The pre-Christian Romans had done the heavy lifting of suppressing Druidism. By the time the Christian Church got involved there was just some mopping up around the periphery. Indeed, the Romans had done such a thorough job that it is hard to know just what the Druids believed or practiced. This presented the opportunity for people to simply make stuff up, hence the Romantic neo-Druidism. But it is silly to conclude that because Romantic neo-Druidism is obvious nonsense, therefore there was no such thing as real Druidism.

    “This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub.”

    Eh? It does? Where?

    • Well, it doesn’t directly… I believe he’s probably reference Ezekiel 28, though.

      “‘You were the seal of perfection,
      full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
      13 You were in Eden,
      the garden of God;
      every precious stone adorned you:
      carnelian, chrysolite and emerald,
      topaz, onyx and jasper,
      lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl.[b]
      Your settings and mountings[c] were made of gold;
      on the day you were created they were prepared.
      14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
      for so I ordained you.
      You were on the holy mount of God;
      you walked among the fiery stones.
      15 You were blameless in your ways
      from the day you were created
      till wickedness was found in you.
      16 Through your widespread trade
      you were filled with violence,
      and you sinned.
      So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God,
      and I expelled you, guardian cherub,
      from among the fiery stones.
      17 Your heart became proud
      on account of your beauty,
      and you corrupted your wisdom
      because of your splendor.
      So I threw you to the earth;
      I made a spectacle of you before kings.
      18 By your many sins and dishonest trade
      you have desecrated your sanctuaries.
      So I made a fire come out from you,
      and it consumed you,
      and I reduced you to ashes on the ground
      in the sight of all who were watching.
      19 All the nations who knew you
      are appalled at you;
      you have come to a horrible end
      and will be no more.’”

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > therefore there was no such thing as real Druidism.

      There is essentially nothing at all known about who they were; they did not survive out of the Iron age. There are no confirmed druidic artifacts [every artifact is “possibly” related to the druids]. There is plenty of reason to doubt the veracity of accounts of druids and druidic practices; ancient historians mixed history and folk-lore with wild abandon, and very much enjoyed labeling foreigners as cannibals, practitioners of human sacrifice,etc.. That they [the Druids] existed is about all anyone can say.

      Relating Druidism to Harry Potter [et al] is simply hysterical; which I believe was the real thrust of the comment in the post.

      • “Druidic” rituals and beliefs *were* re-imagined and re-invented in the 19th and 20th centuries, and there’s plenty of scholarly work on the topic. Ronald Hutton’s books are a great place to start. (Now if I could just get my hands on a copy of his book about the origins of beliefs in “Merrie England” – i.e., the stereotype – I’d be a very happy woman indeed!)

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Victorian historians had this little custom called “Speculative Reconstruction”. When little or nothing was known about a facet of history (and Victorians were really into Classic/Medieval History), it was permissible to speculate and fill in the gap with what was effectively “Retconned” history, so long as it fit the (few) known facts. Drives contemporary historians crazy, as you never know whether a Victorian source is real or “speculative reconstruction” Retconning.

          For example, Scots Tartans were “Speculative Reconstruction” of Medieval Scotland; though tartan patterns had existed from way back, the assignment of specific tartan patterns to specific clans was Victorian retconning.

          For another example, Wicca and today’s Celtic/British-based neo-Paganism (including neo-Druidism). Did I mention Victorians were very into Romantic reconstructions of the past? In this case, Romanticized reconstructions of pre-Christian religions retconned by from a very Christian-influenced culture. (Like loading all of St Mary’s baggage and attributes on the reconctructed Goddess…)

          • HUG – you would like Ronald Hutton’s books!

            Per tartans, that “speculative reconstruction” (complete with chemical dyes which were of recent origin) had a lot to do with both Scottish nationalism *and* profit (per selling kilts and other garb).

      • I thought Princess Vespa was a Druid from the planet Druidia! And now you tell me they don’t even exist? 😛

        On a serious note, I thought Columba was known for evangelizing the Druids. Is this information from Christian tradition considered valid historical evidence?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > “This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns
      > and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is
      > the fallen Arch-Cherub.”
      > Eh? It does? Where?

      This statement is usually based on commonly, but not universally, accepted interpretations of Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14.

    • In Luke 10:18 Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”

      • Yes, but applying that retroactively to both Ezekiel 28 ch. 28 and Isaiah ch. 13 requires more than a bit of a stretch…

      • Both Ezekiel 27 and 28 are about Tyre. Both chapters are highly specific as to all kinds of things, including trade goods, Tyre’s trading empire, how the king of Tyre became wealthy from trade, etc..)

        As for Isaiah 13, it’s about Babylon, and again, it’s pretty specific.

        Sometimes I think we all (including me) need to look at context before making claims about things. (Not confined to Bible-quoting by any means!)

        • Isaiah 14 continues the whole “Babylon” thing, and then in vs. 28, a new section – about the Philistines – begins.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Don’t forget in Jewish tradition of the time, “Babylon” was also an idiom for “enemy”. Especially a more powerful enemy who has the upper hand.

  3. I’m not going to say Boo about this post.

    Happy Reformation Day.

    And Happy Halloween. We’ve got it now. Might as well enjoy it.

    • 23 April 1516 saw the introduction of the German Beer Purity Law.
      95 Theses came a year later – at the end of Oktoberfest, no less.

  4. An internet acquaintance, upon learning I was orthodox, had several burning questions to ask me. The third, much to my surprise, was: “Do you celebrate Halloween?”

    I wasn’t really sure how to answer that. I most certainly celebrate the vespers of the Sunday of All Saints (as well as the Sunday of All Saints of North America the following week), but on the EO calendar that is in June. So yes, but not in October?

    I follow the cultural custom of having candy ready for kids if I happen to be home to give it to them, and “aww” at my nephews and nieces in costume when my sister sends me the pictures. Does that mean yes?

    Halloween controversy is silly.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      “Halloween controversy is silly.”

      Of course it is. It is even more a manufactured controversy than the War On Christmas (TM). Up until a couple of decades ago, Evangelicals routinely and happily participated in Halloween (and Planned Parenthood, but that is a different discussion). Then the whole controversy was shamelessly and cynically invented from nothing in a combination of hucksterism and ginning up the Culture Wars. It gives people a cheap way of believing themselves an oppressed minority. It could have been anything: Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, whatever.

      • Richard – yep!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Don’t forget several High Profile Spiritual Warfare Types active in Christianese culture at the time, usually claiming Speshul Sekrit Knowledge (“Occult Gnosis” in Greek) of The Vast Satanic Conspiracy.

        Mike Warnke, defected Satanic High Priest privy to The Satanists’ REAL Master Plan — until Cornerstone exposed him as a fraud.
        John Todd, who out-Warnked Mike Warnke (“YOU STOLE MY SHTICK!”) — until Cornerstone exposed him as a fraud and possible lunatic.
        Constance Cumby, Johanna Michaelson (Hal Lindsay’s sister-in-law for the End Time Prophecy Tie-In), Bob Larson, all backing up each others’ stories using the Larry-Moe-Curly Method (Larry vouches for Moe, Moe vouches for Curly, Curly vouches for Larry, Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk). All raking in the big bucks as Occult Ritual Abuse experts for cops.

        And both Dungeons & Dragons and Halloween were among the casualties.