August 12, 2020

Reclaiming the Reclamation

Once again, we are fast approaching that time of the year that both earnest Christians and earnest neo-Pagans agree is a pagan festival.  I mean, of course, Easter.

Oops – too early (or late, depending how you count).  No, it’s Christmas, obviously.  At least, you might well think so from the deluge of pre-Christmas advertising on the radio and in the supermarkets, but that’s the wrong date – I’m too late to complain about that, since the pre-Christmas advertising started around July and the shops have a confusing mixture of Hallowe’en and Christmas goodies sitting on the shelves, with the ghouls and the robins uncomfortably side-by-side.

Aha!  Now we’re getting there!  The feast day that seems to give people the creeps (and not in a good way), the scariest night of the year – Reformation Day!  Yes, once again, we dread the approach of that season when Lutherans dress up as Martin Luther (either pre- or post-Augustinian monk version) and go from door to door, marrying ex-nuns, throwing inkpots at the Devil (or anyone they perceive to be the same), insulting the Pope and playing “beer or table!” (the game where they demand beer which they guzzle down while exclaiming “Sin boldly!” or else, should the householders refuse to give over their beer, they read copious extracts from his “Table Talk” in the original German of the 1566 volume.  Nothing gets you to pony up the booze faster than the threat of having to listen to pages of German theology in German).

Well, perhaps not.  Perhaps I mean that much-misunderstood day which we refer to as Hallowe’en, the Eve of All Hallows Day, the day before the Feast of All Saints.  The day which has given concern to many sincere people of all denominations about the pagan origins, roots and holdovers of the festival and caused them to worry that permitting one’s children to participate in this merely encourages, if not outright delivers them over to, fascination with the occult.  Witches, ghosts, devils, ghouls, zombies, vampires and the shenanigans adults get up to at boozy, licentious parties where they use the excuse of dressing up in order to garb themselves as floozies and tarts and horny little devils.  Never mind teaching young children that greed and over-indulgence in sugar and chocolate is good, and the pranks older children get up to which are not at all funny but are rather acts of minor (and sometimes major) vandalism – how or why on earth would any decent person go along with one more symptom of cultural excess and decay?

I have posted before about the saints, so I’m not going to examine All Hallows’ Eve in that light.  Yes, Hallowe’en is about death.  Yes, Hallowe’en has pagan origins. However, it depends on what pagans you mean.  Here I am going to turn the neo-pagan arguments back on them (and thank God for Google; I haven’t read any of these books myself, but looking for a handy reference to quote turned up some gems); let’s take the usual arguments as given in a leaflet issued by the British Pagan Federation for Hallowe’en 1994, as extracted in Ronald Hutton’s “Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain”:

Christianity not only suppressed old Celtic celebrations, but also replaced them with Christian festivals.  If we look closely, it is not difficult to see that All Souls’ Day (November 2nd) is a continuation in a Christian form of the older Pagan practices of Samhain.  This is a time when on the continent Catholic families will visit the family tomb, say prayers for the dead, light candles and even picnic at the graveside.  Just as their Pagan ancestors did, they are communing with the dead.

Depending on who those continental Catholics are, and when they do it, they are continuing to commune with the dead, but not quite as their Pagan ancestors did, and not in the same way, and most emphatically not on the same date.  You may be attempting to reclaim the tradition, but here you have it backward.  Those continental Catholics are visiting family graves on 2nd November thanks to a 9th century pope, Gregory IV.  He moved the traditional Feast of All Saints from May 13th to November 1st and since the Feast of All Souls comes after All Saints…well, there you have it.  Exactly why Gregory did this does not seem to be known; there are claims that it was due to Irish or German influence, but Gregory was a Roman whose main involvements (outside of church affairs) were trying to deal with the quarrels of the Carolingians and then the invasions of the Saracens after that.  It was Gregory who got the Holy Roman Emperor Louis (one of those quarrelling Carolingians) to proclaim the observance of the feast of All Saints throughout the empire, and so we neatly come back to why the continental Catholics visit graveyards on the 2nd November.

The old date of May 13th did have pagan death festival connotations (and how many times do you get to say “pagan death festival” when talking about a Christian topic?)  Every culture on this planet has harvest festivals to mark the bringing in of the main crops and the end of the growing season, festivals to honour the ancestors, festivals to propitiate spirits and tales, superstitions and customs regarding ghosts and the dead.  Try Malaysian and Indonesian ghost stories for truly terrifying revenants who become the restless (and malevolent) dead for all kinds of reasons.

Attempts have been made to link Hallowe’en and harvest festivals, but they don’t map so neatly onto each other.  The Romans had a festival for Pomona, the goddess of orchards, but this was in mid-August so it is both too early for the end of October/start of November season and Pomona was not so much a goddess of the harvest as she was of the care and growth of fruit trees, so she can’t be fitted in as associated with death or ending.  The Romans did have several feasts of the dead; the Parentalia in mid-February which honoured the ancestral dead and where offerings were made at family tombs, culminating in the Feralia to appease and propitiate any angry dead.  There was also the Lemuria in May when the spirits of the dead, which were supposed to return to their old homes, were exorcised and again any malevolent spirits or the forgotten dead were appeased and expelled.  This gives us the date of 13th May when, in the 7th century, Pope St. Boniface IV established the feast of All Saints and is supposed to have consecrated on 13th May the church of the Virgin Mary and all the Martyrs (formerly the Pantheon, or temple dedicated to all the gods of Rome), and in continuous use since its rebuilding in the 1st century so that yes, this is a real, actual former pagan temple used as a Catholic church.  You can see a video of the custom where, on Pentecost, the firemen of Rome drop rose petals through the open oculus.

Okay, so we seem to have a link between a pagan festival of the dead and All Saints’ Day at least in Rome – but that is not simply one religion displacing another and taking over its works lock, stock and barrel.  For a start, there is a tradition that the 4th century St. Ephrem the Syriac wrote of a general feast celebrating all saints and that probably influenced Boniface as much or more than any connections with the Lemuria.  The Lemuria is also more along the lines of the Chinese Feast of Hungry Ghosts, which occurs in the 7th month of the Chinese calendar (around August/September by the Western calendar).

If we want the pagan sources of Hallowe’en, we’re stuck with blaming the Irish (and the Scots and Welsh).  Here is where the irony comes in – Hallowe’en was not a particularly big deal until the Irish and Scots immigrants to the United States brought their customs and traditions with them.  It wasn’t a big deal in England itself, where up until recently their big celebration night in November was Bonfire Night on 5th November, celebrating the failure of a Catholic plot to blow up Parliament with the King in attendance.  With the re-exportation of American popular culture to Europe, areas where Hallowe’en had never before been celebrated adopted the American version of it, to the point where the Americanised version has pretty much replaced the native Irish version (for one thing, pumpkins are a heck of a lot easier to carve than turnips, any day).

So neo-pagans and Wiccans, I’m sorry, but instead of a grand pan-European native traditional festival co-opted as its own by the evil invading Church, what we have is a feastday of the universal Church that reached maximum exposure and popularity after the 12th century, was strongly associated with the Holy Souls in Purgatory, was repressed by the Reformation precisely because of its association with the cultus of the saints and which survived and indeed, thrived, only where Catholic culture was either dominant or introduced: e.g. the Mexican ‘Day of the Dead’ may indeed incorporate pre-Christian elements but, once again, the native celebration was associated with a goddess of death in August, not November and the souls of the departed, so it owes much more to the efforts of the Spanish missionaries.  The prime example, as I have said, is the effect of Irish immigrants on American popular culture and the global acculturation due to American dominance in popular entertainment like movies and television.

And here is where the reclaiming of the reclaiming comes in: to reclaim Hallowe’en (and the forgotten but no less important two days after 31st October) as a Christian festival from the moderns (whether pagan or Christian) who are rushing to hand it over as a purely pagan and occult feast.  Hallowe’en is a time of death and the powers of the underworld and the human beings faced with those realities.  The point I wish to make with regard to the pre-Christian views of death and the underworld, and the festivals associated with them, is that they revolve around not worship but fear.  The dead must be remembered and treated appropriately, for their fate in the underworld depends upon the help they receive from the living, and if they are neglected or forgotten, they will take vengeance.  The dead resent the living, and those whose lives are cut short by violence or accident or sudden death in manifold forms need to be appeased and propitiated.  The underworld of Babylonian and Sumerian mythology is “a house of dust”; the dead eat clay, are clad in feathers, and suffer under the reign of demonic figures.  The Jewish Sheol is inhabited by shades without strength or personality, and both the righteous and the unrighteous go down there in death.  The twittering ghosts of the Greeks are little better; they can speak only when they drink the blood of sacrificed animals, which brings back their memory and personality (see Leviticus 17:14:  “For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life.  Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood.  Whoever eats it shall be cut off” and vampires – not the sparkly Twilight ones or the past century’s re-imagining of them, but the original folklore of the undead devouring the blood and life of their kindred to survive in a literally hellish mockery of life).

When Odysseus travels to the underworld to speak to the ghost of the prophet Tiresias, he sees there Achilles, and greets him as “blessed in life, blessed in death” but Achilles replies that he would rather be a slave to the worst of masters than be king of all the dead.  Even in the Jewish ritual purity laws about contamination from touching or being in the presence of a dead body, we can see an echo of this fear of the dead, which makes Tobit’s charity in burying the dead even more laudable.  So in the pre-Christian era, death was inevitable, it was a source of spiritual pollution, the dead were to be feared and bribed not to do harm to the living, and although something like a ghost or shade continued after physical death, it was a wretched, paltry existence.

Willingly communing with the dead was the province of witches and sorcerers, because no sane normal person wanted to attract the attention of the spirits, as can be seen from the ritual of the Lemuria as described in this extract from Ovid’s “Fasti” (poems explaining the origin of Roman holidays in the calendar and the customs associated with them):

When midnight has come and lends silence to sleep,

And dogs and all you varied fowls are hushed,

The worshipper who bears the olden rite in mind and fears the gods

Arises; no knots constrict his feet;

And he makes a sign with his thumb in the middle of his closed fingers

Lest in his silence an unsubstantial shade should meet him.

And after washing his hands clean in spring water, he turns,

And first he receives black beans and throws them away with face averted;

But while he throws them, he says:

“These I cast; with these beans I redeem me and mine.”

This he says nine times, without looking back:

The shade is thought to gather the beans, and to follow unseen behind.

Again he touches water, and clashes Temesan bronze,

And asks the shade to go out of his house.

When he has said nine times, “Ghost of my fathers, go forth!”

He looks back, and thinks that he has duly performed the sacred rites.

Irish (and all the other Celtic nations) folk traditions were not so very dissimilar.  In the pre-Christian past, the festival of Samhain was one of the four ‘quarter days’ of the year.  To be contrary, these were not celebrated on the astronomical year dates of the equinoxes or solstices (when most festivals are celebrated globally; think of Passover and Easter at the Spring Equinox) or the meteorological seasons of March/Spring, June/Summer, September/Autumn and December/Winter but dates in-between these times: Imbolc in February, Bealtaine in May, Lúnasa in August and Samhain in November.

Samhain was the “hinge of the year” when the old year ended and the new one began; it was a numinous and luminal time, when this world and the Otherworld mingled and interpenetrated one another.  Just as all kinds of spirits could wander freely into our world on that night, so mortals could wander into the realm of the fairies.  The division between the realms of the living and the dead was blurred, so that the dead could revisit their homes or other places close to them, and the living could mingle with the dead (as in this 19th century translation of the folktale of Teig O’Kane and the Corpse.)

Moreover, naturally, because it was a time in-between times, when the mortal and the magical realms overlapped, it was a time for all kinds of divinatory games and charms and scrying the future.  These kinds of superstitions lingered a long time, down to relatively recent times; since the spirits would be wandering around after dark, people were supposed to stay close to home and not go out – so the children (and adults) who went around gathering nuts and apples (or nowadays, in the Americanised version, sweets and chocolate) did so early in the evening, they sang songs or danced or provided some kind of entertainment before receiving the gifts from the houses they visited.  To confuse the spirits (this was in the days before commercially-available costumes and masks were in every shop window and before everyone wore jeans and unisex clothing as a matter of course), they would go in disguise; blackening their faces with burnt cork if they couldn’t make or afford a mask and (for girls) dressing up as boys with their hair tucked under caps and wearing trousers and (for boys) dressing up as girls – maybe not in skirts, but wearing women’s aprons and veils and the like.  Yes, cross-dressing and casting spells all in the one night!

There was also the custom (now almost completely died away, or at least, I haven’t heard of anyone doing it in donkey’s  years) which I knew from my childhood where the dead were supposed to return to visit the house, so you left bread and water out for them and made sure the fire was warm and the front door unlocked (obviously, this was back in the days When You Could Leave Your Front Door Unlocked without every burglar and ne’er-do-well in the country marching in).  You can see the resemblance with the pagan festivals of the dead right there.  The Cork poet Patrick Galvin wrote a poem about it:

The Aunt

On All Soul’s Night

My father said the aunt was due.

We set a table near the fire

A glass of wine, a loaf of bread.

Was that the way to greet the dead?

My father said it was.


At three o’clock the aunt arrived

I heard her knocking at the door

And I went down to let her in.

Her eyes were wide and black as sloes

And she had clay upon her clothes

And she was thin.


Her breath was cold.

And as we sat beside the fire

I asked her if she’d like some wine.

She said she never touched the stuff

And honest bread was quite enough

When you were dead.


I watched her eating for an hour

And saw the grave beneath the skin

The moonlight through the bone.

Now and then she coughed and cried

And said she wished she hadn’t died

The nights were chill.


At four o’clock she rose to go

But as she reached the kitchen door

She turned and kissed me on the lips

And then she smiled –

When you are not your father’s child

We two shall wed.

So what has Christianity to do with this worldview?  Quite simply, Christ has conquered death.  The reason that Mexicans make sugar skeletons and even we benighted Irish thought of the revenant dead as visitants from Purgatory to be welcomed, not feared and driven out is the reason given in 2 Timothy 1:10: “(A)nd which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.”  The world is not the battleground of two equal and opposite forces, Good and Evil; evil is the weaker, the inferior, the already defeated.  It is an emptiness, a lack, a thing that is no-thing of itself.  God is not the opponent of the Devil, He is the Lord and Creator who, in the Second Person of the Trinity, has died and risen from the dead.  And so we who are baptised die with Christ to be raised like Christ; Romans 6: 3-4: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

For Christians, the dead are in the hands of God.  They do not gibber and squeak as poor, mindless relicts that have to lap up animal blood even to recall who they used to be in life, nor do they turn into monstrous horrors that subsist only to take vengeance on the living who enjoy all that they have lost and are cut off from.  They are our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in Christ.  But even more than that, we believe in the resurrection of the body.  We do not believe in a dualist universe of ‘matter bad, spirit good’ where the soul, once freed from the shackles of the flesh, can then gladly ascend to an immaterial heaven.  There will come the end of the world – and the creation of a New Heaven and a New Earth, where the dead shall once again take on their old bodies, but in a glorified form.  If ghosts and zombies represent two of the primal fears about death and the dead – the disembodied spirit and the animated corpse – then the Resurrection shows us the right relation between the two: to be united eternally in a state that is fit for them both.  To quote from Tolkien’s “Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth” (where fëa refers to the soul and hröa to the body) and the characters are discussing this very point about a soul created eternal being in a material and limited body.  One of them proposes that the best case scenario regarding death is therefore that the soul should eventually leave the body of its own accord, without being forced out by either violent or natural death, and the other disagrees :

“For that would be contempt of the body, and is a thought of the Darkness unnatural in any of the Incarnate whose life uncorrupted is a union of mutual love.  But the body is not an inn to keep a traveller warm for a night, ere he goes on his way, and then to receive another.  It is a house made for one dweller only, indeed not only house but raiment also; and it is not clear to me that we should in this case speak only of the raiment being fitted to the wearer rather than of the wearer being fitted to the raiment.

I hold then that it is not to be thought that the severance of these two could be according to the true nature of Men.  For were it “natural” for the body to be abandoned and die, but “natural” for the fëa to live on, then there would indeed be a disharmony in Man, and his parts would not be united by love.  His body would be a hindrance at best, or a chain.  An imposition indeed, not a gift.

…I hold that in this we are as ye are, truly Incarnates, and that we do not live in our right being and its fullness save in a union of love and peace between the House and the Dweller.  Wherefore death, which divides them, is a disaster to both.”

…“Then this must surely follow: the fëa when it departs must take with it the hröa.  And what can this mean unless it be that the fëa shall have the power to uplift the hröa, as its eternal spouse and companion, into an endurance everlasting beyond Eä, and beyond Time?”

All of which is to say that, of all things, a Season Two episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (called “Halloween”, unsurprisingly) had the right approach: this is the one night of the year that vampires and demons don’t go out but leave it to kids to dress up in silly ‘scary’ costumes.  So don’t worry about letting your children (or yourselves) dress up as witches and ghosts and vampires and what-not.  If you really are that worried about it, let them dress up as their favourite saints (or the saints or Bible characters they are named after).  This will handily fulfill the requirements of both piety and gore, as most saints died reliably horrible deaths, when they weren’t causing them (Lucy?  Eyeballs on a plate!  The Apostle Matthew?  Death by axe!  Judith or Deborah from the Old Testament?  Severed head with sword or severed head with tentpeg driven through the temple!)  Don’t fret about the occult and witchcraft and sinister pagan overtones.  Take the example of two very disparate sources, as quoted on the title-page of C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters”:

“The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.” – Luther

“The devill . . the prowde spirite . . cannot endure to be mocked.” – Thomas More

Because what are these children’s games and scary movies and fake cobwebs and plastic skeletons saying?  They are saying that the great powers, like the Thessalian witches who boasted they could draw down the moon, are nowadays only fit to be fodder for little girls who want to eat candy.  The spirits and demons which made people shiver in fear and stay safely indoors beside their fire are decorations for houses and shops.  The rituals of propitiation which safeguarded humans for millennia are no longer needed, because these powers are defeated and broken.

So take back Hallowe’en as a Christian celebration, because it is not the season of the witch, it is the season of All Saints and All Souls, when we remember our dead, we contemplate our latter end, and we do not fear it or them.  Read scary stories and watch scary movies and hide your face behind the cushion – then laugh at yourself for doing so.

My recommendations for some holiday reading and watching?  Ray Bradbury’s “The Halloween Tree” — a children’s book, but worth reading by adults as well – and “Something Wicked This Way Comes”. “The Screwtape Letters”, obviously.  The movie of “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”  “Fright Night” (the original, not the remake, and yes, the characters supposed to be high-school students are too old for their roles, but Roddy McDowall is superb and spot-on in his part).  It also has the advantage of showing the pitfalls of the two equal and opposite errors with regard to the supernatural:  (i) too little belief, which leads to dangerously under-estimating the threat and leaves you spiritually as well as physically vulnerable and (ii) too much belief, which leads to fascination and unhealthy obsession with it and also leaves you spiritually and physically vulnerable.

The 1932 Boris Karloff version of “The Mummy” which, yes, is as cheesy and melodramatic as you would expect, but check out Boris who is amazing as the Mummy and marvel at what simple make-up could achieve before the days of CGI.  For over-the-top but fitting a Poe adaptation, Roger Corman’s “The Masque of the Red Death” (or indeed, any of his Poe adaptations, though some were very loosely adapted indeed).  For over-the-top horror-comedy (much more comedy than horror, featuring a cast of seasoned old troupers like Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone who have no qualms or illusions about what they’re doing), “The Comedy of Terrors” and “The Raven.”  For sheer scare-the-socks-off-you (well, it did me), the original (again, not the remake) “The Haunting of Hill House”.

Or you could always dress up as Martin Luther and go around from house to house throwing inkpots at the Devil and demanding beer.


  1. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    The point I wish to make with regard to the pre-Christian views of death and the underworld, and the festivals associated with them, is that they revolve around not worship but fear.

    Like Christians hiding away in their “trunk-or-treats” and “Christian Harvest/Fall Festivals” in fear of all those Satanists roaming the streets and sacrificing babies on Halloween? (Just this morning the subject blew up on a Yahoogroup I’m on, with one poster talking about Satanists in Colorado Springs breeding babies for sacrifice on Halloween. It might be credible if it didn’t match a known urban legend word-for-word.)

    • Nothing wrong with Trunk or Treats & Harvest Festivals. I like good old-fashioned Halloweens, but I don’t see any benefit to crapping on people who want to do it differently.

      Now- Satanic baby sacrifice urban legends- rant away about those! Of course, someone is bound to show up here & claim knowledge they are absolutely true.

      Full disclosure- I was recruited to help out at my church’s Trunk or Treat tonight. Considering that it’s Assembly of God, I’m glad we’re doing anything.

    • According to Wikipedia, the Church of England idea of the Harvest Festival originated, like so much else we tend to think of as “immemorial custom”, in the 19th century:

      “The modern British tradition of celebrating Harvest Festival in churches began in 1843, when the Reverend Robert Hawker invited parishioners to a special thanksgiving service at his church at Morwenstow in Cornwall. Victorian hymns such as “We plough the fields and scatter”, “Come ye thankful people, come” and “All things bright and beautiful” but also Dutch and German harvest hymns in translation helped popularise his idea of harvest festival and spread the annual custom of decorating churches with home-grown produce for the Harvest Festival service. Another early adopter of the custom as an organised part of the Church of England calendar was Rev. Piers Claughton at Elton, Huntingdonshire in or about 1854.”

      Certainly, in Ireland, the notion of special church services in September/October celebrating the end of the harvest was a Protestant rather than Catholic thing. Again, thank you Wikipedia:

      “Harvest festival is traditionally held on the Sunday near or of the Harvest Moon. This is the full Moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox (about Sept. 23). In two years out of three, the Harvest Moon comes in September, but in some years it occurs in October.”

      Myself, I think that two strands went to the notion of replacing Hallowe’en (or rather, filling up the gap in the church calendar where All Saints’ Day had been) for the CoE and other denominations that followed them;bringing the traditional country customs of celebrating the harvest into the church in order to make it relevant to the lives of the people (in the renewed evangelisation of the Victorian era) and looking to Biblical precedents such as Sukkot.

      So, with increased urbanisation and the severing of the traditional rhythms of the agricultural year, the trend to shifting Harvest Festivals later in the year to replace Hallowe’en is perfectly understandable, and I wouldn’t be too put out about it. But I do object to what seems to be the uncritical acceptance of the idea that Hallowe’en is a purely pagan/occult affair, either from the ‘spiritual but not religious’ side of matters which wants to ‘re-discover’ old traditions or the ‘accretions of corrupt Romishness’ school of thought.

      The Eve of All Saints’ Day – and the two days following it, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day – has not been “pure” for anything between eight and one thousand years, as I hope I have shown in the post above. When popes have declared it a feast of the universal church, and it has been celebrated as such for centuries both in Europe and where missionaries have brought the faith, then dismissing it as ‘witchcraft and devil worship’ does not cut the mustard.

      Have Fall Festivals and ‘trunk-or-treat’, but don’t throw Hallowe’en out with the bathwater, either! Remember the dead who have fallen asleep in the Lord, particularly if you are part of a church that recites the Creed and the clause about “We look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”.

      • As a mom, I’ve been pondering the masssssive growth of church sponsored “trunk-or-treats” and “harvest festivals” in our area and the parent chatter around them. I’m not sure I like them for two reasons.

        They again allow for a Christian enclave mentality. I live in a neighborhood. Yes, there is section nine housing one block away. Yes, we don’t know EVERYONE who lives in our neighborhood. Yes, many of our neighbors aren’t Christians. However, I live here. God placed our family here. This is an easy way for me to get to know my neighbors and for them to get to know us. This one is a no brainer for introverts.

        Plus it hits another of my big buttons. Not all people are bad people. We are encouraging the mentality that unless you are in the church, you are not safe. That neighborhoods aren’t safe. (I’ll bite that some neighborhoods aren’t, but the vast majority are.) How are we to be the hands and feet of Christ if our neighborhoods are scary for us.

        • David Cornwell says

          “encouraging the mentality that unless you are in the church, you are not safe. That neighborhoods aren’t safe.”

          It’s an easy mentality to fall into, but sometimes we must look into the face of fear and do the right thing. We all want to protect our families, and should. However we can’t always withdraw into our little enclaves of safety and shut out the world. For several years I lived in a mixed neighborhood, near downtown. At night we could hear gunfire on a regular basis. Police stopped a suspicious car almost in front of our house one night, and we watched the whole show out the front window. Yet we had some wonderful neighbors, who were Hispanic, black, gay, straight, and an ex-con across the street.. We also got to know their dogs!

          I firmly believe that sometimes we must just simply stare down whatever monsters are scaring us.

          • EV and David: Could not have said it any better than you two have. I hope all of our readers will carefully read what you have written here again and again. Thanks.

          • Yeah, you gotta know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. There is something to be said about banishing unrealistic fear, and what you said is spot on. But having served on neighborhood watch, I know why it is especially important to learn and practice safety when there are little tykes around. Apart from ensuring they say “thank you”, I ALWAYS t-o-t with the kids, even when they want to be independent and can run faster than me, to get more candy. It’s a matter of safe practice and common sense. And an introvert like me gets to circulate in the neighborhood. When I lived in Bosnia, one never went out on New Year’s Eve. Forget the drunk drivers, it was the celebratory fire. What goes up must come down. When you see 50 cal. tracers going off in the neighborhood, you want to keep your head as down as much as possible. But I loved my neighbors; these all were great people, you just didn’t want to spoil everybody’s fun by making yourself the backstop for their bullets. Be there, but be safe.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        According to Wikipedia, the Church of England idea of the Harvest Festival originated, like so much else we tend to think of as “immemorial custom”, in the 19th century:

        Ah, yes, Victorians. With their quaint custom of “speculative history”, especially regarding their obsession with the Medieval period. Among Victorian historians, it was acceptable to “speculate” when the actual history was unknown or to fill in gaps in the records. Such “speculation”/fabrication was treated as real history, and the Victorian obsession with cataloging and classification wove elaborate detail into these “speculations”/fabrications (as well as providing a paper trail of “speculative” documentation).

        Drives today’s historians crazy, as with Victorian sources you never know whether the historical item or custom is true or a Victorian “speculation”/fabricaton.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        When popes have declared it a feast of the universal church, and it has been celebrated as such for centuries both in Europe and where missionaries have brought the faith, then dismissing it as ‘witchcraft and devil worship’ does not cut the mustard.

        Especially when the current “Witchcraft and Devil Worship” Conspiracy Theory can be traced back to known frauds like Mike Warnke and John Todd and their Juicy Testimonies and Speshul Sekrit Knowledge of Satan and the Illuminati. (“Secret Knowledge” = “Occult Gnosis” in Greek. Especially when that Secret Knowledge is only for a Special Illuminated few, not the Sheeple.)

        In the Eighties, there was a Culture War Cottage Industry in finding Satan’s Woopee Cushions under our collective butts for fun and profit. Big Book $sale$, Lot$ of $oul$ $aved (and tithing), Witchfinders-General hiring themselves out as “Cult Experts” to cops and prosecutors, “Recovered Memory” Spectral Evidence and all. Fear sells. Conspiracy sells.

  2. This Lutheran LOVES Reformation Day!

    We don’t dress up as Martin Luther (or anything actually, now that we are mature adults).

    But we love to remember the great thing that Luther did in standing up to THE power of the day and having the guts to say ‘we have wandered away from the gospel’.

    And to parrot Paul and announce to the world that we are not saved, all or part, by what we do, or don’t do.

    To religionists, that IS scary. Because they love the religion game and climbing that ladder and showing that they really are worthy, somewhat anyway. To have to give all that up and rely on Jesus and his cross alone, is very scary.

    That Luther actually told people that giving cash would not gain them anything in God’s eyes, or get their relatives out of Purgatory any sooner (if there was a Purgatory, which there is not – why then the cross?). He actually had the guts to tell the Pope that if he did indeed have the power to grant years off of Purgatory for people, then why in heaven’s name would he not do so for everyone, out of pure Christian charity?

    What is really scary is that a “good Christian Pope”, had a death sentence placed on Luther’s head for daring to challenge the Roman Church and daring to give people the assurance of their salvation, totally apart from anything that they do, say, feel, or think. He had the guts to hand over Christ and His gospel, absolutely freely.

    That Christians would object to anyone doing that, because it might reduce their income, is truly terrifying.


    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Are you going to segue into Mystery Babylon Revealed/Nimrod/Semiramis/Tammuz?

      • Pardon my ignorance, but I don’t know what those things are, even though I am familiar with some of those names.

        I’ll have to google them.


    • +1 I too celebrate Reformation Day. It becomes more meaningful each year as people get more and more politically correct. Luther was Luther and he took his stand. He had been set free and wanted the same for others. “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

  3. Martha, you are an excellent writer, and I thank you for taking the time to turn out such a well-reasoned and well-expressed essay.

    • Totally agree.

      Since I have learned so much already today (a daily goal of mine is learning something new) I wish that I could call the day done and go back to bed!!!

    • David Cornwell says

      Always good Martha, thanks.

  4. I was kind of hoping for the annual I-Monk Halloween rant. I’ve driven by a couple of Hell Houses in the DC area. And I was disgusted and dismayed that I saw my former fundagelical church – McLean Bible mentioned in the Christian Post for their version of the Hell House.

  5. Ronald Avra says

    Thanks for the post, Martha.

  6. I like the Lewis quote regarding the devil hating to be mocked. But it reminds me of the verse in Jude where the archangel leaves rebuking of the devil in the hands of God. I think we are not to engage the devil at all – either with mockery nor ink spots.

    I do think we need to keep death before us, not out of dread nor affection (death as a door to heaven). I think spite is a better approach. Jesus conquered death, our dreaded adversary, that uninvited intruder. Death is our common fate, which evangelicals seem to approach with denial and sugar coating. My favorite approach to death is in the scene from “Pirates of the Carribean” where Jack Sparrow takes on the cracken with drawn sword as the ship sinks beneath him. There’s no better way to spite death and the devil than to live boldly and courageously in God’s grace.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Death is our common fate, which evangelicals seem to approach with denial and sugar coating.

      Death? You mean Homegoing(TM)? With all the Shiny Happy Clappy Joy Joy “Homegoing Celebrations (TM)” instead of funerals? (“HAPPY! CLAPPY! JOY! JOY! HAPPY! CLAPPY! JOY! JOY!..”)

    • Like I said, I want to recapture the idea of “Yeah, Hallowe’en is about death. But since the Resurrection, death is a different thing now. It is no longer under the power of Hell, and although we still suffer the penalty of death as the wages of sin, now we have hope and trust where before there was only the thin dregs of some kind of continuance, where the dead were likely to be malign and dangerous to the living.”

      To quote the Catechism: “Death is transformed by Christ. Jesus, the Son of God, also himself suffered the death that is part of the human condition. Yet, despite his anguish as he faced death, he accepted it in an act of complete and free submission to his Father’s will. The obedience of Jesus has transformed the curse of death into a blessing.”

      I know Catholics bang on about Purgatory, and I’m not going to debate that doctrine here, but I also think it’s important to confront the fact of bodily death and to assert that this is not our natural end. “Can these dry bones live? Lord, thou knowest!” That even if we are certain that Uncle Jim is now happily in Heaven, that is not the end of the matter. We are not souls alone, or even souls and spirits; we are spirits who have souls in a body. The glorified body of the General Resurrection, reunited with the soul, is the counterpart to the zombies and skeletons and ghouls and vampires and ghosts and demons and witches and all the rest of the phantasmagoria of Hallowe’en.

      So we can enjoy the scares because we have faith, hope and charity.

      • David Cornwell says

        Being spirit alone sounds so weird and unnatural that it’s strange to even think of. And I have no idea what being souls alone would mean. Where did all this strange sounding stuff come from? What would a spirit floating around out there somewhere even do?

        It’s strange that so many people can buy into this, yet when you talk of resurrection, they think you are a little strange in the head. Even Christians.

        • David Cornwell says

          I must like the word “strange” from the looks of it!

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Being spirit alone sounds so weird and unnatural that it’s strange to even think of. And I have no idea what being souls alone would mean. Where did all this strange sounding stuff come from?

          I suspect Fluffy Cloud Heaven supplanted Resurrection of the Body/New Heavens and New Earth sometime in the Victorian era, knowing the Victorians’ obsession with Romanticism and Sentimentality. And it’s been the Pop Culture afterlife ever since, judging from all those movies that use the trope.

          Problem is, Fluffy Cloud Heaven makes Death permanent. With Fluffy Cloud Heaven, Death Wins. Death trumps God. And since there is no more reason for a New Heavens and New Earth, It’s All Gonna Burn.

          What would a spirit floating around out there somewhere even do?

          1) Float around on a cloud strumming a harp?
          2) Stare at God mindlessly/endlessly repeating “PRAISE THE LORD PRAISE THE LORD PRAISE THE LORD”?

      • Another Mary says

        Ah, now you are singing my song! Preach it Martha! 🙂

    • I’m obviously not one for supernatural graces, and I’m highly dubious about the existence of an afterlife, yet I do agree that facing death by living life well is a good thing.

      • I’m a big fan of Albert Camus and find a lot of inspiration in his absurdism – boldly confronting life and its meaninglessness rather than sulking and brooding like some existentialists. But the missing piece in Camus’ philosophy is that of forgiveness. Moralists might charge that without a god, there are are no rules; but for me, if there is no god, there is no forgiveness. As I have quoted from Alan Jones several times before, “We live in an age in which everything is permitted and nothing is forgiven.”

        • What do Albert Camus and Blessed John Paul II have in common?

          They both played as goalkeepers for their school teams (Camus is said to have played for the Algerian national side in the 30s but apparently that’s false); Camus played while attending university and was even the goalie for the junior team of a sports club, Racing Universitaire d’Alger, from 1928–30. Unfortunately, he contracted tuberculosis when he was 17 or 18 and that ended any sporting career he might have had. There’s a famous quote attributed to him, when he was asked in the 1950s by an alumni sports magazine about his time playing for RUA:

          “After many years during which I saw many things, what I know most surely about morality and the duty of man I owe to sport and learned it in the RUA.”

          This is rendered on the Philosophy Football’s replica shirt as “All that I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football”.

          Pope John Paul II played in his high school team and also (probably) at university, but not near as professional a level as Camus 🙂

        • I don’t know about forgiveness. Certainly, even the staunchest nihilist must be capable of forgiveness in his family and friendships, otherwise he won’t have any. Forgiveness on a public scale is harder, and really it seems to depend on how much penitence is shown and what the original fault was. Mr. Sandusky and the Catholic Bishops of yesteryear will probably never experience much forgiveness because their faults were so heinous and there has been little penitence shown. On the other hand, Nixon was, to an extent, able to leave his hermitage in CA and talk politics in his later years. Not that anyone had forgotten Watergate and the firing of the AG, but there was a sense that time had moved on and perhaps he had paid some of the debt owed.

          Jimmy Carter has been forgiven a poor presidency. Most people, except die hard partisans or folks that don’t like his egalitarian approach to his religion, can appreciate the charity work he does and his elections observers that serve all around the world.

          So I don’t see, as the west has changed from Christendom to non-Christendom, a lessening of forgiveness.

  7. Yesterday, I heard a quote from Ziggy Marley on the radio describing how Bob Marley and the Wailers overcame stage fright by practicing in grave yards. That may be a fitting example of how to redeem Halloween.

  8. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    As a Brony since last year, I’m skipping out on all the War on Halloween for the Brony equivalent of “Nightmare Night”.

    (and what happened immediately afterwards that night) Full episode the above clips were taken from

    And from the incredible amount of creative output from the fans:
    Original Nightmare Night music
    Music video mash-up (Lauren Faust meets Tim Burton)
    Online anthology of Pony Horror Stories (in order — Werewolf, Vampire, Kaiju, Ghostbusters, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Lovecraftia).
    And another mash-up of Lauren Faust & Tim Burton, this one a novelette instead of a music video.
    Oh, and if you’re so Truly Reformed you’re Predestined to be only into Reformation Day, there’s a Pony for that, too!


  9. Might I also suggest The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman for our reading list? “One to leave and one to stay, / And all to dance the Macabray.”

    And for movies, of course, it gets no better than Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein — speaking of laughing at the devil!

  10. That Other Jean says

    A post that made me laugh so loudly that the cat stopped and stared at me, and a scholarly consideration of the origins and meaning of Halloween, all before breakfast! Thank you so much, Martha! And thank the Irish ( some of my ancestors included) for bringing their customs to America, to let us laugh at the Devil give our neighbors’ children candy.

  11. To add an amazing horror video game to that list, Amnesia is amazing. It has the best horror environmentals of any game I’ve ever played, decent puzzles, and a great sanity system. How long can you hide in the dark?

  12. The big question, of course, is this – Chaplain Mike, now that you’re a Lutheran, what will you be doing for Reformation Day?


    • I had a beer in honor of Martin Luther, and worked on Friday’s blog post after work and a meeting at church. We stayed away from home this year and didn’t serve the trick or treaters. We usually have over 1000 who come to our home, but we simply had too much to do and too many other places to be this year to prepare for them.

  13. Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

    So, tell me more about this demanding beer custom…. 😉

    • Yes, is a good Dutch lager worth a Lutheran service*

      * plagiarized from a quote usually attributed to Henry IV and I don’t recall the Lutherans using the word mass in the context of a religious service

  14. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    and vampires – not the sparkly Twilight ones or the past century’s re-imagining of them, but the original folklore of the undead devouring the blood and life of their kindred to survive in a literally hellish mockery of life

    As I understand it, the original Balkans vampires were more like present-day movie zombies — completely feral, alignment Hungry. The only difference was movie zombies go after flesh & braaaains while original vampires went after blood and/or life force itself.

    You find the more traditional view of the Undead in the three Lord of the Rings movies — the Nazgul at Weathertop in Part 1, the Mewlips of the Dead Marshes in Part 2, and the Dead of Dunharrow in Part 3. Walkers after Death or malevolent ghosts, NOT Hawt Sparkly Hunks.

  15. I have been associated with Lutherans for 15 years now and we have never had a beer on church property or at our potlucks, even though we could. Sure we are free in Christ to do so, but becoming a stumbling block to Christians who aren’t there yet (freedom), would never be a good thing.

    • Well now, Steve, you should follow Luther’s example:

      “The Word did it all. Had I wished I might have started a conflagration at Worms. But while I sat still and drank beer with Philip and Amsdorf, God dealt the papacy a mighty blow.”


  16. Thank you, Martha.

    A Confession of Hallowe’en

    In days before-
    tribute offered-
    To Death and her consorts.

    Cold and welter nights, like this,
    Enacted homage:
    Cowering, loathing and dread of
    Her patronage.

    But hateful pretensions
    This night
    Cause us to laugh and play
    Because we trust

    Life has overcome
    Christ has undone
    ‘The way its not supposed to be.’

    Departed ones, without dread;
    They are safe.
    Terrors of the dark, no scourge;
    Tonight mere flourish and farce for children at play.

    A trophy raised; a prize of war:
    Christ has died
    Christ is risen
    Christ will come again!

    • Wow, Phil, I love that. Did you write it? I tried googling a couple lines and got nothing.

      • Thank you, Daniel. After reading Martha’s post, I wanted to compose a Hallowe’en prayer for the family. Ended up with this instead.

        I thought I’d post it here as an ‘Amen’ to what our sister wrote.

        • Okay, I’m impressed. Wonderful gift God has blessed you with. Do you have any more poetry online? I would love to read some of it.