Halloween 200

Sunday, August 27, 2000 | Tag Cloud

By Berit Kjos

For more information, see: Halloween, 1999
and Halloween Symbols

For outside sources, see:
All Hallow's Eve
Teenage Witches -- Girls just want to learn witchcraft
Halloween: The Fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows

Harry's mark & glasses

"We have the holiday back again. These pagan calendars are imprinted in our genes. They cannot be taken away."[1] Wiccan author Zsuzsanna Budapest

"Teenage girls are showing unprecedented interest in witchcraft, with about 100 every month wanting to join covens to learn about casting spells...."[2] Teenage Witches: Girls just want to learn witchcraft

"[At Samhain], one of the most important and sinister calendar festivals of the Celtic year... the world of the gods was believed to be made visible to mankind, and the gods played many tricks on their mortal worshipers; it was a time fraught with danger, charged with fear, and full of supernatural episodes. Sacrifices and propitiations of every kind were thought to be vital, for without them the Celts believed they could not prevail over the perils of the season or counteract the activities of the deities."[3] Encyclopedia Britannica
"OH PULLEZE. Halloween a Satanic celebration of the occult?"[4]

The frustrated editor at the San Francisco Chronicles couldn't understand why Christians might want to bypass Halloween. Nor can millions of other Americans who have made October 31 their favorite holiday. Some claim that the old Celtic celebration, Samhain (end of summer) is nothing more than a "dead religion," and they show little tolerance toward those who disagree.

Neo-pagans know better. To Wiccan leaders such as Starhawk, founder of the Covenant of the Goddess, the spirits behind the ancient Celtic feast are as alive and active as ever. She has found the spirit world more responsive to human summons on Halloween than on any other night of the year.

Most pagan communities adapt Halloween to their own liking. Across the country, Wiccan priests and priestesses -- teachers, engineers and other well-meaning and often well educated professionals who would never appear in a black pointed hat -- are creating rituals that give new meaning to the seasonal Celtic celebrations such as the summer and winter solstices, Halloween and Beltane, the sensual springtime fertility feast.

With a little help from "friends" such as Harry Potter and Sabrina the teenage witch, they have transformed the public image of witchcraft. Today's occult fantasies promise power, popularity, wisdom and wealth, and teenagers are flocking to join the parade. (See Teenage Witches: Girls just want to learn witchcraft and Harry Potter Lures Kids to Witchcraft)

Starhawk, a leader in a more down-to-earth movement to revive and redefine paganism, has taught her Wiccan rituals to "Christian" as well as secular and pagan groups on college and university campuses across the country. In The Spiral Dance, a practical manual on contemporary witchcraft and goddess spirituality, she describes one such Halloween celebration:

"Before leaving home for the ritual, each covener sets out a plate with cakes and drink and a lighted candle as an offering to their own beloved dead....

"The circle gathers, does a breathing meditation, and the Priestess says, 'This is the night when the veil is thin that divides the worlds. It is the New Year in the time of the year's death, when the harvest is gathered and the fields lie fallow. For tonight the King of the Waning Year has sailed over the sunless sea that is the worm womb of the Mother.... The gates of life and death are opening; the Sun Child is conceived; the dead walk... We meet in time, out of time, everywhere and nowhere, here and there, to greet the Lord of Death who is Lord of Life, and the Triple Goddess who is the circle of rebirth.'

"Purify, cast the circle (see A Twist of Faith, Chapter 2) and invoke the Goddess and God....

"Coveners lie down, looking at the gazing crystal. They begin a multivoiced trance induction while the Priest continues....

"All scry together.... This is the best night for scrying [crystal gazing] in the year....

"The Priestess says, 'Here is the circle of rebirth... through me all may be born again. Everything passes, changes. Seed becomes fruit; fruit becomes seed. In birth, we die; on death, we feed. Know Me, and be free from all fear. For My womb is the cauldron of rebirth, in Me, the circle is ever turning.'

"All: 'Blessed be!'"[5]

Notice that Starhawk refers to "the Lord of the Dead" but doesn't name or define him. Others have named him: Samhain, the God of the Dead, who gave his name to the harvest celebration. But there is little documentation to prove his reported influence and fearsome power. At the same time, the historical record does show some of the sobering details of the end-of-the-year celebration:

"October 31 was the eve of the new year in both Celtic and anglo-Saxon times and one of the ancient fire festivals. It was connected with the return of herds from pasture, and its importance is indicated by the renewal of laws and land tenures, the rekindling of fire for the coming year, the practice of divinations and its association with the dead, whose souls were supposed to revisit their homes on this day.

"Since November ushers in the darkest and most barren half of the year, the autumnal festival acquired sinister significance, with ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, fairies and demons of all kinds roaming abroad.... The crops as well as the flocks and herds had to be projected from demonic influences that were rife at the turn of the year. It was the time to placate the supernatural powers controlling the processes of nature. Coupled with this were fire rites, divinations, funerary practices and masquerades....

"It was on Halloween that the general assembly, or open-air parliament (Freig), was held at Tara in Celtic Ireland, celebrated once in every three years with special solemnities lasting for two weeks.... The proceedings opened with sacrifices to the gods at Tlachtgha in County Meath, the victims being consumed by fire. All household fires had to be extinguished on that night and rekindled from the fire of Tlachtgha, a tax being extracted for each fire lighted in this manner."[6]

Which gods were appeased by these sacrifices? We know that the Celts -- like the Greeks, Romans, Mayans, Scandinavians and other earth-centered religions of the last two millennia -- sought favors from a wide range of nature gods and goddesses. This pantheon of supernatural beings usually included a ruthless god (or goddess) of the dead whose standard domain was the underworld. Considering the Celts' fear of nasty ghosts or spirits from the underworld during the Samhain celebration, one might suspect that the powerful Druids, the spiritual rulers and political advisors, did indeed encourage sacrifices to the God of the Dead.

An online version of the Encyclopedia Britannica includes a few more details:

"Huge bonfires were set on hilltops to frighten away evil spirits.... The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on this day, and the autumnal festival acquired sinister significance, with ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, black cats, fairies, and demons of all kinds said to be roaming about. It was the time to placate the supernatural powers controlling the processes of nature.

In addition, Halloween was thought to be the most favorable time for divinations concerning marriage, luck, health, and death. It was the only day on which the help of the devil was invoked for such purposes."[7]

The Day of the Dead

It's easy to see why many immigrants from around the world can identify with the images of Halloween. The images of death, skeletons, ghosts and magic often match their own traditions. Whether from Asia, Africa, Middle East or South and Central America, newcomers see the popular holiday in the light of their own faith and superstitions and find amazing correlations.

Take the Mexican Day of the Dead (El Dia de los Muertos). A description by Maria Diaz highlights its resemblance to Halloween:

The idea of reunions at family gravesites, complete with music, food and gaiety strike foreigners as strange, to say the least. They stare in wonder at shops filled with candy skulls and calaveras (skeletons) made of wood, paper mache, clay, wax and sugar....

Traditions associated with the Day of the Dead reflect the Mexican belief in the duality of life and death. While they mourn and miss their dead loved ones, they also believe that death is just an extension of life. It’s part of a natural progression, not an end. The dead continue to exist and return annually to visit their loved ones. ....

In a way, the Day of the Dead is a misnomer. The principal celebrations actually take place beginning October 31 and end on November 2. In addition, special categories of deceased are honored on preceding days. ...

At 3 p.m. on October 31, the angelitos (children who died after being baptized) arrive to visit their families and depart at the same hour on November 1, to permit the adults to visit. From that time, until 2:00 P.M. on November 2, families decorate the tombs in the cemeteries and spend time with family members buried there....[8]

The Dark Side of Samhain

The family-centered blend of old Mexican traditions and Catholic teachings sheds its resemblance to Halloween when you look at the grisly roots of the popular holiday. Ancient Wisdom and Secret Sects (Time-Life Books) refers to Roman records that describe how the Celts...

"constructed huge, human-shaped wicker cages, crammed them with victims, them set the twigs ablaze.

"Although convicted criminals were usually the ones offered to the gods... innocent victims were substituted if malefactors were in short supply. Some sources claim the Druids even sacrificed their fellow members if the need to do so arose.

The classical author Diodorus Siculus also reported scenes of human sacrifice. 'When they attempt divination upon important matters they practice a strange and incredible custom, for they kill a man by a knife-stab in the region above his midriff.' After the sacrificial victim fell dead...'they foretell the future by the convulsions of his limbs and the pouring of his blood."[9]

The 1984 discovery of a sacrificial victim in Cheshire, England, helps validate the reality of ritualistic human sacrifice. The well-preserved young man had apparently belonged to an elite social class in the second century BC. After two sharp blows to the head, he had been strangled. Then, like the countless sacrifices to Aztec and Mayan gods, his body had been drained of human blood needed for a sacrificial ritual.[10]

The roots grow darker yet. In his National Geographic report on "The Celts," Merle Severy, wrote,

"According to the Dinshenchas, a medieval collection of 'the lore of prominent places,' firstborn children were sacrificed before a great idol to ensure fertility of cattle and crops. Samhain eve was a night of dread and danger. At this juncture of the old year and the new, our world and the otherworld opened up to each other. The dead returned, ghosts and demons were abroad, and the future could be seen.. . .

Behind such Halloween games as bobbing for apples lie Celtic divination arts to discern who would marry, thrive, or die in the coming year. Behind the masks and mischief, the jack-o'lanterns and food offerings, lurk the fear of malevolent spirits and the rites to propitiate them." Page 601 gives additional insight: "Tacitus tells us of the bloodstained Druid altars of Anglesey in Wales. Caesar describes mass human sacrifice in Gaul: 'Some of the tribes make colossal wickerwork figures, the limbs of which are filled with living men; these images are then set alight and the victims perish in a sea of flame.'" [11]

The Symbols of Halloween

Halloween is breathing new life into those terrifying rituals and symbols of past civilizations. Many of its images are universal; they are familiar to people around the world. Yet, each cultural group sees the images from its own perspective. To one group, these symbols represent various forms of death: physical and spiritual, scary or affirming. To another, they point to the innocuous thrills and titillations that go with what they believe to be little more than a fun, fantasy world. To a third group, they represent genuine evil -- the lures of an occult world view manipulated by Satan, who now as always masquerades as "an angel of light." In other words, the meaning depends on a person's beliefs and world view.

The symbols below include images from Aztec religious art, from Magic the Gathering cards, from a Japanese Sailor Moon comic book, from a Dungeons & Dragons manual and from ads for Halloween treats and costumes. This mix shows the global popularity of these symbols and reminds us that, while Halloween clashes with God's guidelines, it fits the world and human nature very well.

That's why the mastermind behind this spiritual war keeps using the same tactics through the centuries. Satan's main strategy has always been to tempt people to love what God hates, prompt them to pursue his enticing path, and deceive them into thinking that his "new" way is as good, or even better, than the old ways God has shown us. Since his strategies don't change, God's warning in Proverbs 14:12 is as relevant now as it was in King Solomon's days: "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death." (Proverbs 14:12)

Most people follow the masses, and the masses follow the media -- especially when it promotes thrills and adventures that feed the lust for forbidden thrills. The occult has always focused on gory images of violence, death and destruction. We see it in today's media, music, and movies. As people become desensitized to occult violence and horror, the images in popular entertainment grow increasingly and indescribably evil. Yet, this is old news. Thousands of years ago, God warned us, "All those who hate Me love death." (Proverbs 8:36)

In a different context -- apart from the Halloween setting -- some of these symbols would be neutral. Many are simply parts of nature. After all, God made pumpkins and spiders, bats and black cats. These are good gifts from Him and given for our blessing. But they take on new meanings when humans twist their God-given purpose to fit contrary plans and wants.

BATS: They usually eat mosquitoes and cause little harm, but these small nocturnal mammals have a bad reputation because of their infamous cousin, the vampire bat. The only mammal that feeds on blood, this native of Central and South American uses sharp incisor teeth to cut the holes needed to suck blood from its victim. No wonder bats have been linked to death, vampires and occult rituals in the West. But in the East, they often represent good luck.

BROOMSTICK: Now more exciting than ever because of Harry Potter and his high-flying Firebolt, it has been linked to witchcraft and magic for centuries.

BLACK CAT: This picture from a Sailor Moon comic book serves as a reminder of the universal blending of symbols. Like Japan, Western superstitions link the black cat to the world of "white" spells and magic as well as to darker occultism. Notice the moon-shaped symbol of goddess spirituality on the forehead of Sailor Moon's popular talking cat.

BLOOD: The bloody knives, victims, and vampires featured in today's popular games, movies and Halloween parties show the timeless allure of gore and violence. The Celts, like other ancient cultures, believed that the gods that controlled the forces of nature craved blood sacrifices -- human or animal. This picture shows an Aztec priest lifting the heart he just cut from the chest of a living sacrifice. It could as well have been a Mayan priest or any other devotee of the cruel forces from the world of the occult.

EYE: If you waited past midnight at your local bookstore for the fourth Harry Potter book last July, you may have received a spooky eye that looked like this Halloween cookie. Perhaps it belonged to Mad Moody, the "black arts" teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Similar eyes were featured in ghost stories, horror movies, and the religious art of countless cultures long before Harry Potter appeared on the scene. (See Skull)

FIRE: Has symbolized warmth and protection as well as death and destructions to cultures around the world. During Samhain, the Druids used it for protection against bad spirits and for ritual sacrifices (both animal or human) to their gods. This Magic the Gathering card states: "Conjured from the bowels of hell, the fiery wall forms an impassable barrier, searing the soul of any creature attempting to pass...." Not a very nice thought!

GHOSTS: A universal symbol for departed spirits and occult visitations. These cookies, like the ghost-shaped sweets served at Mexico's Day of the Dead celebrations, tend to minimize the reality of spiritual warfare in post-Christian America. The decorative ghosts may be cute, but to the countless victims of demonic bondage and oppression, the spirit world is no joke.

GRAVESTONE: Christians may see it as a memorial to those who died, but others see it as an exciting symbol of death and as the a place where the world of the living meets the world of departed spirits. Since Halloween, like the Mexican Day of the Dead, celebrates visits from the spirit world, these gravestone cookies fit both feasts.

PUMPKIN: On the British isles, the scary face of the jack-o-lantern was used to frighten away evil spirits and cast a "spell of protection over the household." The Celts carved the frightening faces into gourds or turnips, not the American pumpkin.

SKULLS, BONES & SKELETONS: Symbols of death, disease and the shortness of earthly life. The skull & crossbone -- whether pictured on a bottle of poison or emblazoned on the black flag of a pirate ship -- raised fear of death. This detail from a Tibetan painting shows Yama, the Buddhist Lord of Death, with five skulls over his head. (The Hindu goddess Kali wore a necklace of skulls below her bloody teeth and tongue.) Notice the bulging eyes, and see the curving line which shows the upper edge of a Buddhist Wheel of Life.

SPIDER and WEB: To many earth-centered cultures the spider and its web symbolized the weaving of life and the cyclical ways of nature. But in the context of Halloween, it points to dark, scary places, haunted by ghosts and hidden from light and dust mops.

HARRY POTTER'S LIGHTENING BOLT SCAR: From Norway's Vikings to Japanese Shintoist, pagans around the world have worshiped the gods of thunder with awe and dread. The lightening bolt continues to represent mysterious and frightening forces. The lightening bolt scar on Harry's forehead marks him as a wizard of unusual power and sends him warnings when danger approaches. Along with a purchase of the fourth Harry Potter book, many fans received lightening bolt stickers for their own foreheads, marking them as informal members of Harry Potter's worldwide fan club.

WITCH: The meaning and implication of witch and witchcraft has changed with the centuries. To many, it still means an old crone with molds and straggly hair casting evil spells on children and silhouetted in front of a full moon on her broomstick. But a more realistic image shows feminist or environmental activists (men or women) who seek wisdom and self empowerment from a contemporary blend of the world's earth-centered religions -- Hinduism, Native American Spirituality, European witchcraft, etc.. Whether they join groups such as the Bay Area Pagan Assemblies in California or the Pagan Federation in England, they are proud to be called Pagan, Witch or Wiccan. They share a common interest in spells, magic ("white", not black) and full moon rituals -- all set in a framework of a new cosmology based on a personal or impersonal pantheistic goddess. (See A Twist of Faith, Chapter 2)

WIZARD: A master of occult knowledge and powers who uses timeless and universal rituals, magic formulas and spells to connect with the spirit world and manipulate its forces. His role and prestige corresponds to that of the shaman or witchdoctor in animist tribe, the priest or guru of New Agers, or the Druids who led the Celts in spiritual matters while advising in political matters. This detail of a picture from a Dungeons & Dragons manual shows today's blending of the cultures. Like a Native American medicine man, the wizard carries ceremonial feathers in a cluster below his waist, while his hand holds a rod that resembles a peace pipe embellished with feathers.

For more information on earth-centered spirituality, click on:

Preparing for Victory
The Armor of God
A Twist of Faith (read chapters 1, 2, 4 and 8)
Establishing a Global Spirituality


1. Annie Nakao, "Pagan Ways Live On," San Francisco Examiner, October 22, 1995.
3. Encyclopedia Britannica online:
4.Editorial page, San Francisco Chronicle, October 13, 1995.
5 Starhawk, The Spiral Dance (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979), page193-196.
6.Encyclopaedia Britannica, Volume 11 (Chicago: William Benton, 1968), page 15. Based on A Machain, Celtic Mythology and Relgion (1917); E. Hull, Folklore in the British Isles (1928).
8. http://www.mexconnect.com/mex/feature/daydeadindex.html
9.Ancient Wisdom and Secret Sects (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books), pages 17-19.
10. Ibid., page 10.
11. Merle Severy, "The Celts," National Geographic (May 1977), pages 625-626.

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1 thought on “Halloween 200”

  1. It's okay. As Halloween goes down in Protestant circles, the Mexican "Day of the Dead" comes in via the many new Catholic's from that country rushing into American Catholic Churches.

    If you love Satan, that is.

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