Thursday, October 25, 2007

Halloween: Lighthearted fun, or pagan sorcery?

I have lately been reading through the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, bringing me across that ever-bizarre story of Saul and the spirit medium at Endor (1 Sam. 28). The Lord has by now rejected Saul as king and no longer answers his prayers and efforts to seek his God’s guidance. In an attempt to discover the outcome of an upcoming engagement with the Philistine army, Saul seeks out a witch to contact the spirit of the deceased prophet Samuel. By her means of divination, Samuel’s spirit is seen rising, who delivers a message of imminent doom for Saul and his lineage.

This eerie story is no joke. It’s part of the scriptural witness to the events of Israel’s actual history. And this scares me, because it gives us that portal into the reality of a world of spirits and forces far beyond what we normally see. The New Testament is riddled with the activity and defeat of angels of darkness, the “rulers,” “authorities,” “powers of this dark world,” and “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (cf. Eph. 6:12).

As a child, I loved Halloween. Not only was it a treat (pun intended) to dress up as Spider-man or a shark (with about twelve layers of sweaters underneath to battle the windy, 40-degree Michigan weather, of course) and collect a year’s worth of candy, but I enjoyed the mild spookiness of it all. When I was about six years old, my dear mom read to me an issue of Cricket magazine about folklore of the British Isles, including witches, banshees, druids, Jack-of-the-Lantern, and the like. I was fascinated. So the thought of going out for a night to walk in the darkness, with the wind howling and silhouettes of leaf-bare trees lurked around us—we did our trick-or-treating in a pretty open rural neighborhood—enthralled me. Even years after I stopped donning the concealing garb and running around with a pumpkin-like candy bucket from McDonalds, I still had a thing for tales with dark eeriness, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown and Ethan Brand.

Those same NT epistles that reveal the darkness of “this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4) reveal that we are “sons of light” and “sons of the day” (cf. Eph. 5:8-21; 1 Thess. 5:5-11; 1 John 1-2). We are freed in the risen Messiah into a newness of life and the hope of a world in which no moral evil shall dwell. This gospel, allegedly brought by St. Patrick, transformed the British Isles. What was once a land of druidic nature-worship and fellowship with the spirits of the natural realm, with its practices of bone-fires (marking whether one would live or die in the upcoming year), sun-worship, and sacrificial rites done in fear of the powers, became a place where evil retreated in the advance of the Kingdom of God. “The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8).

November 1 is All Saints’ (Hallows’) Day, a time the church has traditionally set aside to rejoice in the lives of Christians who have died and entered the eternal light of heaven. Yet “All Hallows’ Evening” is anything but a night to honor the deceased faithful in Christ, the “communion of the saints” we confess in the Apostles’ Creed. It’s a night to dabble in the occult, to wet our toes in darkness.

But what does this mean for our present, Hallmark-ized version of Halloween? Surely Protestants can have an alternative celebration of Reformation Day. (October 31, 1517, is when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses to the cathedral door in Wittenberg, Germany.) But what do I make of this holiday I have normally enjoyed so much? It seems to me that the Scriptures are mixed in these regards, often leaving it as some sort of “gray area.” First Corinthians 8-9 appear to make it okay to eat food sacrificed to idols, so long as you have the strength of conscience to know that no such idols or other gods actually exist. Yet a strong warning is given in chapter 10 to those who sought to dabble with paganism out of their superior “knowledge.” Some Israelites knew they served the true and living God, yet they mixed it up with the other deities, thinking they wouldn’t get burned. The result? God cast their dead bodies across the wasteland to be eaten by jackals.

I’ve seen first-hand the occult wickedness of Wicca practices and Walpurgisnacht celebrations in Germany. It’s creepy. And my mother and I swear we’ve felt another, cold presence of some kind in our old house on more than one occasion. Satan is not one to be toyed with. Just like with the witch of Endor, dark beings that operate against God’s good rule are truly present.

So at least for this year, I can’t participate in Halloween without some reservations. I’m not sure what I’m going to do, especially in a neighborhood that gets totally decked out for this un-holiday. But one thing I can be sure of: I can praise Jesus, who drives out demons by the finger of God and has broken the powers of Satan and his minions (Luke 11:14-23; John 12:31; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14; Rev. 20:1-3).

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