Source: Review of Religion
Author: Navida Sayed
Halloween is a festival celebrated around the world on 31stOctober. It is a day which has become commercialised, most people being unaware of its true origins. Instead, most associate Halloween with only pumpkins, scary costumes, bonfires and trick or treating. Societies go to great lengths to ensure that no one misses out on this festivity. Even a pregnant mother can obtain an outfit of a witch or a devil to wear. Supermarket aisles are the centre of attraction with their vast variety of Halloween themed goods, and the bookshelves are loaded with Halloween themed books. Advice and special tips are given out at this time of year, on how to include and be sensitive to the vulnerable senior citizens in society during Halloween.
In short, Halloween is considered by many around the world as a harmless day of fun. But how did Halloween actually begin? Behind all the innocent celebrations is the reality and history of a darker side of festivities linked to sorcery, spiritism and occultist rituals.
The History and Origins of Halloween
The history and origins of Halloween are predominantly linked to pagan beliefs. ‘The word ‘pagan’ was originally used by the Urban Romans to refer to people who preferred the faith of their local ruling body, it was later applied to people who worshipped local deities, or people who practiced polytheism.’1 Pagans are people who practice non-Abrahamic religions. Paganism or Neo paganism (modern paganism) promotes reverence for the earth and/or deities of pre-Christian religions. Halloween or Samhain is a very important Holy festival in their calendar. Throughout history, the Church (the “church” is not only a building, but a body of religious people), attempted to invite pagans to Christianity by including religious ceremonies or holy dates coinciding with pagan festivals, so that the pagans could keep some of their traditions and come into the folds of Christianity. One of these festivals was Halloween.
Celtic Origins and Druids
Halloween, or Samhain, is one of the eight festivals in the Celts wheel of the year. The Celts are one of the groups who branched off from the Norse/Germanic people (originating in Scandinavia, Norse/Germanic people were several groups of people whose beliefs varied, but had some similarities).
The origin of Halloween is from the Celtic festival of death marking the beginning of their New Year, called ‘Samhain’, pronounced sow-en or saw-win, celebrated on 31st October or 1st November.
‘From the earliest records, Samhain is seen not simply as a day for the dead but when the dead might reach out to the living.’2
This came to be known as the feast of the dead, because the Celts believe that on this night the veil or border between the worlds of the living and dead is the thinnest, enabling souls of the dead to re-enter the world. This was a time when the Celts anticipated communing with the dead spirits, in the hope that their dead ancestors would guide them about the forthcoming new year.
On this day ‘…the spirits of the dead left their graves and roamed the earth or visited their former homes and families.’3
During Samhain, Druid priests believed that the evil spirits were responsible for bringing about the advent of cold weather and shorter hours of daylight, (a druid could be a priest, teacher, judge or philosopher). The Celtic Druids lit bonfires to mark Samhain and to combat the powers of darkness, and offered sacrifices as a request and plea to the gods’ to return sun and warmth after the cold and dark winter. Many historians believe that ancient Druids performed human or animal sacrifices and ‘there is evidence of human ritual sacrifices being offered to the gods in exchange for the troubled life of the people… these were sacred and magical acts made in great times of need.’4 However, ‘modern Druids do not offer human or animal sacrifices and they have not revived this practice.’5 Druids past and present, celebrated or celebrate the festival of Samhain, and their prime focus is to honour the dead on this Druidic New Year Day.
The ancient Druids believe that the soul is immortal, that after a person dies their soul reincarnates and lives again in another living entity—either in a plant or the body of a human or animal. The Druid priests and priestesses acted as mediums through which the spirits could be summoned and heard. Samhain is a time for divination and magic. The Druids foretell the future on this powerful night.
Trick or treat and costumes – “Trick or treating” dates back over two thousand years.30 This custom can be traced back to the Celtic rituals :
‘…for the sake of their safety and well-being, people put out sweets and other good things to eat to placate evil spirits and keep them from doing harm. Some people, hoping to fool the demons, disguised themselves as evil spirits and roamed the countryside, committing malicious pranks, until dawn sent the ghosts and devils back to their unholy realm.’31
This custom continued to grow over the centuries and it was very widely believed, that if people failed to please the evil spirits by tricking them with nice foods and treats, then the evil spirits would intrude into their houses. This led to a custom of making and giving of “soul-cakes” on All Saints and All days, mainly in English counties and Scotland. Youngsters would go door to door begging for cakes in return for praying for the dead relatives of the household. Over time, this custom also included giving the beggars apples or money.32 Over the years this custom became a day of fun especially for pranksters. For example:
‘In Tyrol All Souls is a licensed day of begging, which has become a serious abuse. A noisy rabble of ragged and disorderly folk with bags and baskets to receive gifts, wanders from village to village, claiming as a right the presents of provisions that were originally a freewill offering for the departed, and angrily abusing those who refuse to give’.33
Halloween parties, telling of Ghost Stories and Horror movies – It is widely becoming ever more popular to party throughout the night, dressed in scary costumes, decorate the house with haunted decorations, make Halloween foods and watch horror movies all night. However, this can be extremely dangerous and harmful for children, who cannot differentiate between reality and fantasy. They can become engaged in harmful acts and can become traumatised by watching horror moves all night.34 Sometimes this is the first time that children become exposed to the occult, “The word “occult” means “hidden.” Included in a catalogue of occult practices are the following: Divination, astrology, spiritualism…demonology, diving with rod or pendulum and numerous other related practices.35
Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad(aba), Fifth Successor to the Promised Messiah(as) and Head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim community provides us most crucial guidance relevant to our time through his Friday Sermons. During a Friday Sermon about Halloween, he said that the reality of Halloween entails the belief in the existence of witches, evil spirts and satanic worship. Whilst people celebrate Halloween on the pretext of having ‘fun’, it is entirely wrong and dangerous to ‘believe in’ things that are supernatural for ‘fun’. Ahmadi children in particular should therefore avoid this. Even until recently some villagers would offer something to children believing that it would save them from sprits. This also emboldens children to commit wrong acts for the sake of fun. For example, rude manners towards elders is becoming common. Movies also give wrong messages and in particular when children are encouraged to watch them by adults—the result is the society will only deteriorate. Hudhur said:
“For us, the biggest matter is the bringing of dead spirits, as if, equal to God and thus committing shirk.”
Hudhur further said, that rituals at Halloween are not limited to wearing scary costumes and going door-to-door; rather, some older children deliberately frighten people in their homes, cause trouble and disturb the surrounding population. Hence, Ahmadi Muslims should avoid this and should instead focus on strengthening their connection with God, in Whose hands rests all real power. Thus, it is evident that Halloween is indeed “harmful” rather than “harmless” as people are drawn into indulging in hidden shirk. We should pray that Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih V(aba)’s prayer that “May God protect everyone from this”, is accepted on behalf of all of us.