A History of Halloween Revisited
Treat your family and friends to artistic, nurturing events as you enjoy innovative and traditional entertainment. With acts of service, quality time, affirmations and positive energy warming and lighting the nights of autumn; we can communicate a universal love language. Because the celebration of the harvest has a checkered past with extremes that range from the joyful, exultant celebrations of ancient Israel to the murderous rituals of the early pagans, it’s helpful to understand the origins of our modern traditions as our celebrations have roots that reach centuries back into the early societies of our ancestors.
A Harvest and Halloween History
Because many American and European traditions are based on ancient Judeo-Christian customs, you might enjoy knowing more about the roots of some of our autumn celebrations. Sukkot was a joyous holiday celebrating the harvest, it started around 1300 to 1400 B.C., when the Israelites left Egypt to return to their promised land, Canaan. This was long before the Catholic Hallomas or pagan Samhain. In modern days, this holiday is celebrated between mid September and late October. Autumn also marked the beginning of Israel’s New Year with Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Atonement. This national day of fasting culminated in the sacrifice of animals and a symbolic cleansing of the High Priest and Israel, teaching about the sacrifice of the Son of God for the cleansing of His people and reconciliation through Him, to God The Father.
God sent prophets to instruct and guide his children. He covenanted with the Patriarch Abraham that through his family all the world would be blessed. God gives the rain, seasons, bountiful crops, music, laughter and happiness. He commanded Abraham’s descendants in Moses’ time to celebrate and have great joy. The Feast of the Tabernacles was instituted over three thousand years ago to give God’s children a festive fall holiday wherein they could enjoy the bounty of the harvest. “Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruits of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the Lord seven days. “And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees … and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.” Adam, Abraham, Moses and others.
Abraham’s family (Israel) was called to administer the priesthood – the power of God to bless the earth. Prophets counseled societies of God-fearing (respecting) men and women and gave commandments to live by: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, love thy neighbor as thyself, do not commit adultery or murder or worship idols. Do not steal or bear false witness. They were to care for the poor and live in peace and harmony. Faith, repentance and baptism were the initiation into Christ’s church. As Israel kept the commandments, they prospered. When they didn’t they fell into bondage and suffered.
During Israel’s forty years in the wilderness, The God Jehovah, commanded His prophet Moses to set up a tabernacle, a portable temple, in which the Spirit of God could dwell as Israel worshipped God and received revelations. This tabernacle was to be the House of the Lord until they were settled in the Promised Land and could build a permanent temple. The Feast of the Tabernacles was a remembrance of God’s protection of the children of Israel during their forty years in the wilderness after escaping centuries of bondage in Egypt. It also was a celebration of the freedom to worship their God. Sukkot also commemorated the harvest or in-gathering of the fruits of the year. This feast, considered the most joyful of all holidays, was celebrated for eight days.
The positive energy flowed; Israelites were under commandment to be grateful, happy, hospitable and set aside their worries. They set up, decorated and lived in booths or tents as a reminder of their time in the wilderness. They hung bough from trees adorned with fruits of the harvest that were a reminder of the kindly protection given by their God. The spirits of ancestors and patriarchs were invited to be present. Israel gave thanks, enjoyed worship, feasts, sporting events and other merry-making activities. From that time until the present, Israel looks forward to a day when “the King, the Lord of hosts” will reign on the earth and all men will live in peace and brotherhood. It was at this momentous time that Moses addressed Israel, Solomon dedicated the temple at Jerusalem and Jesus Christ declared, “I am the Light of the World.”
In modern times, decorations of squash, dried corn and autumn bounty adorn Sukkot celebrations. As celebrants share and enjoy the final days of autumn in the beautiful outdoors, they are grateful for the bounteous blessings they enjoy.
People of faith who’ve studied the scriptures learned that in the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. He created every living creature, including man. “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good… (Genesis 1:31.) How did evil come into the picture? Where do dark forces figure into our modern holiday of Halloween?
The Bible teaches that there was a war in heaven. One of His sons wanted God’s honor and glory. Lucifer, “The Shining One,” or “Son of the Morning” gathered followers who challenged The Father and were cast out (Isaiah 14:12). Jehovah, ” The Unchangeable One,” God’s eldest Son offered to teach and provide an atonement for God’s children to allow them to be brought back to His presence after their time of testing on earth.
Jehovah provided the opportunity to live forever with God in a state of happiness. He created the world to give God’s children the opportunity to gain a physical body, be taught, tried and tested for obedience, integrity, virtue and other Godly traits. The rebellious exiled spirits were allowed to inhabit the earth to provide the necessary opposition to good, giving mankind an alternative and test. These disembodied spirits were given power to tempt, but man was given the ability to choose and to triumph. If all good things came from God, all bad things came from Lucifer or another title, Satan, “He who lies in wait.” And thus, there is opposition in all things.
Physicists have identified opposing power or forces throughout the universe. Blessings, healing and peace come from God; the kindness of neighbors, the love of family. Anyone who had dealt with the crushing oppressions of child abuse, addictions, violence or betrayal has experienced the power of evil.
As soon as Heaven gives a reason for happiness, the adversary creates a perversion in opposition and that is where the story of Halloween begins. The word “Hallowe’en” comes from “All Hallows Eve,” the night before “All Saints Day,” “All Hallows,” or “Hallomas,” a Catholic holiday on November 1st. All Saints Day honors all Christian saints. Originally celebrated in the spring, the holiday was moved to autumn by Pope Gregory in 830 A.D. in an effort to replace the pagan celebration of Samhain. On All Hallows’ Day, November 1st, Catholics prayed for the souls in heaven. On November 2, All Souls’ Day, they prayed for the souls in limbo. It was believed that more prayers would speed a soul’s journey to heaven. Poor people went door-to-door offering to pray for the dead in exchange for treats; soul cakes, in a practice called “going souling”, a forerunner of modern trick-or-treating.
After God established order with peace and prosperity, Lucifer taught and tempted with his perverted doctrine. He started societies of pagans who broke God’s Ten Commandments and practiced rituals that were in direct opposition to eternal laws.
Jesus taught love and brotherhood; pagans learned war and destruction. Israel had Sukkot, pagans in the British Isles celebrated the harvest and new year on November 1 with the festival of Samhain. Their recorded history begins around 500 B.C. The Romans eventually occupied most of the British Isles, but they didn’t go into Ireland where local customs were left undisturbed and pagan civilization thrived. Pagan priests known as Druids were said to have ties to the “otherworld” and were second only to the king in prestige and power.
God instructed Israel to worship Him and follow His authority. He gave the priesthood and prophets to heal, bless and enable His children to do good in His behalf. Pagans worshipped nature, they believed they possessed powers of sorcery and divination. Legends tell of an entity in Ireland known as Lugh, “The Shining One, ” (the Lucifer of Isaiah 14:12) He possessed many desirable attributes; he was handsome, brilliant and athletic, a warrior, musician and sorcerer. Cities throughout Europe were named for Lugh; Leon, Spain, Leignitz, Poland and Lyon (Lugdunum), France. Caesar compared him to Mercury, the Roman God of war. He helped his associates prepare for battles in which innumerable hosts of enemies were slain. Legends say he gave power to change the weather, brew drinks of forgetfulness and create invisibility cloaks. They performed cruel torture, head-hunting and other inhumane practices. Whatever God gave as a commandment, Lugh taught the opposite. He taught idol and nature-worshipping practices, fertility rituals and human sacrifice, carnality, beastiality and seduction. The history of Ireland states Lugh became a co-ruler with kings until the Celts came to Ireland and drove him underground into the “otherworld.” His pseudo “priests” were called Druids. During their pagan celebrations on the eve of Samhain, October 31st, the spirits of the dead were said to have returned from the otherworld to roam the earth. These dangerous entities were thought to be repelled by the heat and light of fire. Druids and people dressed in masks lit fires to ward off the unwelcome visitors; an interesting contrast to Israel’s welcoming of their ancestors.
Records from Ireland also tell of bonfires (bonefires) where Druids made blood sacrifices to appease nature. Animals and humans, many political enemies, were encapsulated in great woven effigies and burned alive. Witches and Druids were spiritual and political consultants, the powers of evil reigned. Ritual sacrifice victims have been unearthed in peat bogs. The bodies of men have been found bound, choked, throats slashed with remnants of grain and mistletoe pollen in their stomachs. Women were found bound and “pinned” alive in the bogs to drown. It was taught that blood sacrifice was necessary to replenish the earth. There were also groves for ritual sacrifice and mating rituals. Couples would cohabit for a year, with or without marriage following. A cave in France contained the bones of women and horses, ritually dismembered with human skulls made into goblets. Many of the pagans were serial killers and cannibals.
When the Romans conquered the British Isles, they ended the pagan practices. The cruel Roman soldiers were disgusted by the bloody pagan rituals. And things did not end well for the pagans. Lugdunum in France was abandoned after multiple natural disasters. (Lyon, France’s name comes from the old Lugdunum which means “Hill of Light,” or “Hill of Lugh.”) Other places were also sites of disproportionate disasters.
The Romans brought in their own celebration of Pomona, their Goddess of Harvest, which featured fortune telling, apples and nuts. The activity we know as bobbing for apples may have had its origin in the Roman festivals. Centuries later, our medieval European ancestors held celebrations in the fall similar to the festivities of Christmas and other major holidays. In great halls, bonfires, games and feasts were the highlights of the events. The story of St. George and the dragon was reenacted, banquets were enjoyed and stories shared. Centerpieces featuring faces carved into hollowed turnips or squash were lit with candles and placed on tables. An indoor bonfire was recreated in the form of a candelabra ablaze with candlelight, reminiscent of the Feast of the Tabernacles. Because it was thought that the spirits were most powerful in the autumn, fortune telling was emphasized as people played games using nuts and apple peels to try to predict the future, a practice borrowed from the Romans. Selected partygoers would “go souling, ” begging for shortbread cookies and fruit from specified hosts in extortion for not playing tricks on them. Bobbing for apples, with each apple assigned the name of a potential sweetheart, was then enjoyed. The party ended with a candlelight procession three times around the hall. At the end, the candles stayed lit to cheer the party-goers and scare away evil spirits.
Halloween was not widely observed in England or the other predominantly Protestant areas of western Europe, nor was it celebrated much in Colonial America. Apparently there were some commemorations in the south and in the Catholic colony of Maryland.
The English fall celebration was “Guy Fawkes Night” on November 5. Fawkes, a Catholic, weary of years of persecution of his and other non-Anglicans, lived in England in 1605. He and twelve other men created a plot to end government religious interference by blowing up the Houses of Parliament and King James as the leaders sat in session. The plot was discovered and Fawkes was executed. On the anniversary of his death, citizens of England had parades, bonfires and fireworks to commemorate his capture. The day was celebrated in the English colonies and some of the practices became part of Halloween in America. Soaping windows, removing gates from hinges and other minor acts of vandalism mimicked the actions of young English pranksters. Some of the inhabitants of the British Isles believed fairies, elves, leprechauns and witches came out at night on October 31st to create mischief. Folks dressed in scary masks and costumes to frighten away the unwelcome guests.
The people of rural Ireland brought their folk traditions and Halloween activities to America when they immigrated after the potato famine of the 1840’s. Either the Scots or the Irish introduced the first jack-o-lanterns; hollowed turnips with carved faces illuminated with candles. Carved pumpkins became the American jack-o-lanterns of legend. “Jack-of-the-lantern” was a trickster. When he died he could not enter heaven, but the devil didn’t want him either. He was doomed to walk the earth with a burning ember from hell placed in a turnip lantern to light his way.
In France, Halloween has not been celebrated until recently. In the autumn, the people celebrate “La Toussaint”, All Saints’ Day by honoring ancestors and heroes. They visit cemeteries, attend religious services and have get-togethers to enjoy harvest fruits and treats. In Mexico and Latin American countries celebrations center around “Dia De Los Muertos,” or “The Day of the Dead,” November 2nd. Family members take sugar skulls and treats to cemeteries to be placed on graves with lighted candles to welcome ancestors back to earth.
Religious people believe God created the earth and everything in it, and that in the beginning all was good. Later some creatures became associated with the forces of darkness. Perhaps because they were predators and hunted at night; black cats, bats and owls were considered omens of bad luck and were to be avoided. Spiders, toads and poisonous animals that have become traditional Halloween icons were also associated with witchcraft or evil. They were used as warnings to children to maintain cleanliness and behave.
Autumn festivals heralded a time of thanksgiving for the blessings of the harvest. After Christ and most of the apostles died, the protection of the priesthood was gone from the earth. A priest, Dominic, approached the Pope to request permission to start a monastic order. The pope showed him the treasures the church had amassed and told him that Peter could no longer say “silver and gold have I none.” To which Dominic replied, “Neither can He say, Rise and walk.” People sought help and enlightenment by adopting man-made philosophies, charms and superstitions. They created activities and amulets they hoped would protect them from the forces of darkness and the mystery of the grave. Christ restored the priesthood with His church in 1830 through a young prophet named Joseph Smith in the state of New York. He delegated the authority for baptism for the living and dead, as the Apostle Paul stated “Else what shall they do which are baptizedfor the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for thedead?”
A gentleman of my acquaintance told me that his dying wife’s final request was that she be baptized. As he considered how he might fulfill her desire, he remembered that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) performed proxy baptisms in behalf of the dead in their temples. The man asked the church to perform the baptism in behalf of his deceased wife.
In folklore it’s said that spirits or ghosts can’t move on without the help of the living. Could baptism be what is needed for the dead to progress or “move on?” Family history consultants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can help you find your own kindred dead and submit their names for proxy baptism in Mormon temples if they wish.
After my younger brother died, I knew in my heart that we would not be separated forever. I have on special occasions felt the presence of beloved deceased family members and believe we have deep and poignant feelings about the eternal nature and welfare of our families and our souls. I invite you to come to Jesus Christ and learn about His church in this era, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is gathering Israel before he returns.
Sara Shendelman and Dr. Avram Davis: “Traditions: The Complete Book of Prayers, Rituals and Blessings For Every Jewish Home” ; Hyperion, N.Y., N.Y. 1998
Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe; Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc., New York, 1999
Time Life Books: What Life Was Like Among Druids and High Kings; Time Life Books, Alexandria, VA 1998
Green, Miranda J., The World of the Druids, Thames and Hudson Ltd., London, 1997
Musset, Louis, The Germanic Invasions, The Making of Europe 400 – 600 A.D., Presses Universitaires de France 1965
Cosman, Madeleine Pellner: Medieval Holidays and Festivals; Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, NY 1981
Christianity; The First Thousand Years, A & E
Bible; New Testament; 1 Corinthians 15:9