For as bats’ eyes are to daylight so is our intellectual eye to those truths which are, in their own nature, the most obvious of all. – Aristotle, Metaphysics.
Halloween needs a proper defense. Unfortunately, I haven’t the time nor the faculties for the exercise and yet; having perceived the numerous malefactors standing against this cherished holiday, I’ve decided to provide what I can and hope that my writings help in a small way.
Most agree that the origins of Halloween traditions are vague and in many cases, beyond the historian’s ability to recover. The carving of Jack’o’lanterns, for instance, is an act lost in the fog of time, leaving us with only theories and generalizations about its origins.* The same could be said about Trick or Treating.
One thing is certain, at least among the culture and people with whom I’m most familiar, Halloween is a day that is closely associated with evil. This causes unfortunate reactions from all factions in the community, ranging from outrage among the pious Christians to elation among the pagans (who dance naked around bonfires at any opportunity!)
I’ve found the most overt opposition arising from Christians. It is especially frustrating to deal with those peculiar Protestants who hold to the Regulative Principle of Worship and only celebrate the holidays and events which the Bible explicitly mentions. (These brethren do not even celebrate Christmas and come December, I expect to confront them again.) The bulk of my article will deal with these.
On the other hand, Halloween, as I’ll seek to defend it, is different from the modern and subtle perversion made of it by the pagans and sex-crazed, humanistic youths. So, I’ll briefly address this ideal as well.
My memories stand in contrast to both extremes. It is not my interest to defend sinful notions (as the pagans do) nor is it my intent to silence the organic outgrowth of the small-town, agrarian celebration by harping on a dry, doctrinal point (as our Regulative brethren would).
No, Halloween brings to my mind all the brilliant colors and smells of an autumn afternoon: the taste of pumpkin pie, the rough and bumpy hide of a gourd, the sweet flavor of hay in every breath and the exciting horizon of color one experiences in the sweeping landscape! It’s an autumn evening filled with adrenaline and the height of adventure, where all that is good and holy among the people face the evil, alien dark of nature and arise (along with the sun on All Saints morning) victorious! Reigning forever with Christ over evil!
Though my young mind couldn’t articulate it, I had grasped the true meaning of Halloween. The meaning of it was never explained by anyone. We didn’t have to explain it! It floated around in the air like the ghost effigies hanging in everyone’s yards!
Halloween is the day that we celebrate the progressive sanctification of our entire community! The progression of God’s kingdom and authority throughout the physical world at the expense of the ghosts and goblins lurking in the myriad of dark recesses yet unexposed!
James Jordan clarifies:
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. – (See original article here.)
Of course, when laid out in this way, the holiday loses some of its flavor. The ridicule of evil and the pretension of righteous heroism were ingrained by the force of hundreds of years of European Christendom coursing through our young veins! The boys eagerly approached the dark with make-believe weapons in tact, while the young girls eagerly followed behind the boys, seeking the same thrill and hoping to place a nail or two in evil’s coffin!
I remember once, on a dark Halloween evening, staring into a particularly dark and scary section of woods and wanting to scream at it! “I’m coming for you!”
In the spirit of victory over evil, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on All Hallows Eve. Some Christians (among the Reformed community) have lost the original idea of Halloween and in an attempt to salvage the festivities from pagan sensibilities, instituted a substitute holiday called “Reformation Day.” During Reformation Day it’s common for the children to dress like their favorite Reformer. While I have no problem with this sort of celebration, I feel it should be done on some other day besides All Hallows Eve. Perhaps it could be celebrated on the day Calvin published “The Institutes?”
Luther’s act loses it’s significance if we forget what All Hallows Eve really means.
We can attribute this same theme to the popularity of the horror genre, though in its current manifestation, we see a perversion. Our modern culture has accepted paganism as its official religion, especially that brand of paganism referred to as scientism, materialism or naturalism. In these stories, the heroes are eager to confront the dark and chaotic nature with the shining light of science!
The meta-story in most monster movies is a testimony to the acceptance of the new faith:
The monster attacks, though no one knows or realizes it is an attack. Soon, the main character catches on and begins trying to warn others. The others never believe and so the hero turns to his god, science (which is really humanism in disguise.) He begins systematically researching and thinking through his situation, looking for any explanation or vulnerability.** He finds something that may help him understand the situation and fight. The townsfolk finally get on board just in time for the hero to save them.
This theme is clearly seen in one of my favorite Halloween movies “Hocus Pocus.”
Three Jewess witches are accidentally raised from limbo on Halloween by a few all-American kids. The kids try to alert the obstinate town-folk and fail, but eventually triumph over the witches, their victory coinciding with the rising of the sun. (This movie, in my opinion, comes the closest to representing a truly Christian Halloween spirit. Plus, you get to see Sarah Jew Parker and Bette Middler die!)
By the fundamental changing of faith in society, Halloween has taken on darker and perverted meanings. Instead of railing against the dark, it has become a day to celebrate evil of all sorts.
In a world of scientism, evil and the supernatural become akin to fairy tales; quaint hangovers from a primitive people that can be celebrated today in fun but not taken seriously! At least, that’s what society believes on the outside.
If we rip back the covers of pop-culture we see a youth that tires of the humanistic trend towards sovereignty over nature. This, I believe is partly responsible for the recent success of the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises.
Halloween acts as a convenient way for a culture suppressed by scientism to act out its hidden desire for a wild and untamed nature. The urge for dominion among non-Christian men turns into a desire to press themselves against nature by shows of strength, skill, (or usually: Halloween pranks.) They give in to their most primal and basic of urges. The same is true of the women, among whom it’s all the rage at the moment to dress as slutty as possible, giving freedom to their sexual lusts.
The naturalist destroys nature without realizing that nature was made for humanity! As C.S. Lewis artfully puts it:
I spoke just now about the Latinity of Latin. It is more evident to us than it can have been to the Romans. The Englishness of English is audible only to those who know some other language as well. In the same way and for the same reason, only Supernaturalists really see Nature. You must go a little away from her, and then turn round, and look back. Then at last the true landscape will become visible. You must have tasted, however briefly, the pure water from beyond the world before you can be distinctly conscious of the hot, salty tang of Nature’s current. To treat her as God, or as Everything, is to lose the whole pith and pleasure of her. Come out, look back, and then you wee see…this astonishing cataract of bears, babies, and bannas: this immoderate deluge of atoms, orchids, oranges, cancers canaries, fleas, gases, tornadoes and toads. How could you ever have thought this was the ultimate reality? How could you ever have thought that it was merely a state-set for the moral drama of men and women? She is herself. Offer her neither worship nor contempt. Meet her and know her. If we are immortal, and if she is doomed (as the scientists tell us) to run down and die, we shall miss this half-shy and half-flamboyant creature, this ogress, this hoyden, this incorrigible fairy, this dumb witch. But the theologians tell us that she, like ourselves is to be redeemed. The ‘vanity’ to which she was subjected was her disease, not her essence. She will be cured in character, not tamed (Heaven forbid) nor sterilised. We shall still be able to recognize our old enemy, friend, playfellow and foster-mother, so perfected as to be not less, but more, herself. And that will be a merry meeting. – Miracles, pp 104, 105.
I’ll celebrate Halloween this Sunday (or perhaps, Saturday) and All Saints Day on Monday…but it will not be the dry celebration of a pious Christian who has systematized himself out of his own humanity, nor will it be the perverted and sexualized celebration of the pagans.
I’ll go out into a pumpkin patch and yell to the darkness: “I’m coming for you!”
* It may be objected that we know for certain about this or that culture’s use of a jack’o’lantern and the beliefs they had concerning it, but the question remains as to how influential that particular culture’s practices affected the practice as its known in America today. The ties between the two are tenuous at best and the historical relationship remains clouded in time.
** This happens so often in movies that I’m thinking of naming the particular scene in question: “The Net Scene.” The hero in the movie is fond of turning to the internet or local library as a way to help rally the god of science to his or her side. See, “The Ring” the new “Nightmare on Elm Street” remake, or any such movie. There’s always a scene where the hero or heroine shows up at the library (or some other equivalent place) looking to systematize his or her defense. The Christian, on the other hand, would turn to the Bible, or the local minister for guidance. Instead of “The Net Scene” we’d have the “prayer scene” where the hero turns back to God almighty for guidance before facing the monster.