Halloween – Harmless or Harmful Fun?
Halloween is a festival celebrated around the world on 31st October. 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.
Witches’/Wiccans Holy Night
Witches or wiccans (wicca is the name for the modern witchcraft movement) honour many gods and goddesses. Wicca is amongst the fastest growing religions in the United States. In 1999 results based on a voluntary poll estimated that there were around 768,000 Wiccans and Pagans in the United states.6 Witches or Wiccans have their magical tools (wand, chalice, pentacle etc.), and they may dress mainly in the colours purple and black. ‘For witches black is the colour of deep creativity, the inner-self and the mysteries of the universe, however the witch clad in black is an old image.’7 Contrary to popular belief, they do not wander the world in pointed hats waving their magic wands, this is the stereotypical image which was created and is illustrated in children’s stories and films.8 The wiccans do not follow any sacred text, but they follow a rule not to harm others. The Wiccan Book of Rites and Rituals states ‘…whatever harm is done to others will come back threefold….’ 9
‘On Samhain, or Halloween, the wiccans/witches believe that the God is dead. Some say the goddess is in mourning and enters the crone stage. For most wiccans, she is in the mother stage for although she mourns, she is pregnant with the god’s child and due to give birth…’10
The ‘crone’, or old hag, is associated with the witches Samhain season of the dead. They believe that this is the time when the crone prepares the shrouds for the dead, and she is the midwife who receives the dead at the end of their life when they are reborn into the otherworld.11 Samhain, or All Hallows Eve, is one of the eight major Sabbats, of the witches/pagan calendar.
‘A Sabbat is a gathering of witches for the purposes of celebrating allegiance to the devil, casting spells, plotting evil and indulging in feasting, drinking, dancing….12.’
Samhain is considered to be the highest holy day and the busiest night of the year for witches, who are deeply engrossed in casting spells, fortune-telling and magick. They believe that:
‘This is the time to perform rituals dealing with communication with the dead, honouring the deceased, psychic abilities, divining…and to pay special homage to the dead. Because the real magick begins at midnight on October 31st, and continues for a full twenty-four hours to November 1st.13
On this night, witches perform many rituals including honouring and communicating with the dead. This process involves the use of candles, cauldrons, incense, spider-webs and many other ingredients depending on the ritual, followed by citing incantations. Some of these spells or rituals involve visiting graveyards. Witches or wiccans honour the dead and celebrate Samhain by forming circles, either on their own or with other witches and perform various rituals in a process of inviting and communing with the dead. Black cats, owls, toads and bats are an important link between Halloween and the occult, which are known as “the witch’s familiars.”
‘A familiar is a demon or imp, usually in the outward form of an animal that was assigned to a witch or sorcerer to carry out a magic on their command.’14
The witches’ Sabbats holidays are still celebrated today, by modern-day pagans.
Roman Influence on Halloween
The Romans believed in many deities, ‘their laws were based on logic, but also on omen, and divination was common.’15 Alongside the worship of deities, the Romans celebrated several festivals, and two of their festivals influenced the celebration of Halloween. ‘Around A.D. 50, the Romans had conquered most of the Celtic lands, the Romans brought their traditions with them.’16 One was the traditional festival – Feralia, (a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead) and the other festival was a day to honour Pomona (the Roman harvest goddess of fruit and trees).
‘The Romans pictured Pomona as a beautiful young maiden, her arms filled with fruit, and a crown of apples on her head. To thank Pomona for good harvests, the Romans laid out apples and nuts in her honour. They played various games, held races and celebrated throughout the day and night.’17
The Roman festival of the dead – Fernalia and Pomona, became mingled with Samhain, because they were celebrated at the same time. It is believed that: ‘many Halloween customs and games including apples, such as apple bobbing and apple peeling probably dates from this time’.18
Halloween and the Christian Church
In Christian tradition, Halloween is the abbreviated term for All Hallows of Eve, the day before All Saints Day, a day when Christians commemorate all the known and unknown deceased saints of the church.
On May 13, 609/10, Pope Boniface IV declared November 1st to be All Saints Day to honour Catholic saints and martyrs. November 1st became known as ‘All-Hallowmas’ and ‘All-Hallows’, thus making October 31st All-Hallows Eve, which in turn came to be known as Halloween. Around A.D. 1000, the Catholic Church expanded the holiday to November 2nd – All Souls Day – a day to honour all of the dead.19 ‘This was the Church’s attempt to associate their own Saints with the time of the pagan spirits’.20
It is believed that:
‘As Christianity spread throughout Europe, the church sought to eliminate the pagan practices of the Celts by giving the Samhain a new meaning. Most cultures set aside a day for remembering the dead, so the Roman Church designated November 1st as All Hallows Day to eulogise departed saints.’21
‘The first testimony to All Souls Day is found around the tenth century…..and probably represents an attempt on the part of the church to turn the minds of the faithful away from the pagan belief in and tendance of “ghosts”, to the contemplation of saints in the glory of paradise.’22
On this holy day of obligation for the Catholics and many other Christians, a custom of singing the ‘Litany of the Saints’ follows, where the names of the Saints are invoked. Following the invocation of the saints, the Litany concludes with a series of supplications to God to hear the prayers of the worshippers.
Unfortunately, even though the Church tried to Christianise (adapting and accommodating parts of pagan festivals into the Christian faith, by giving them new names and celebrating them on the same days or seasons,) this pagan holiday, they did not succeed, because they could not influence witches or pagans to turn away from and abandon their witchcraft, divinations and sorcery, instead it became a mockery for the Witches.
‘Halloween became known as the “night of the witch.” It was then, according to superstition, that the devil and all his followers – witches, warlocks, and demons – gathered. They would mock the coming of the Church’s festival of All Saints Day on November 1st by performing unholy acts.’23
Creating a day such as All Hallows to remember the departed saints or souls, in the name of Christianity, only alludes to the spiritual weakness of such believers. This day is not an instruction of the Bible either, nor is it a teaching of Jesus(as). It is ironic that any follower of Jesus(as) could ever contemplate creating such a day, which goes against the teachings of the Old Testament. Many devout followers of the Bible do not celebrate Halloween and its pagan customs, bearing in mind the teachings of the Bible:24
It is evident that Halloween is a day of the dead and the peak moment of Sorcery, divinations and occultist practices associated with harmful innovations. Many of these practices date back thousands of years and over time. Prophets warned people about the harms of such practices, Prophet Moses(as) warned:
When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee. Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God. For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do. [Deuteronomy 18:9-14]
This is a very clear message, and a scriptural injunction forbidding the people of Israel from having anything to do with the satanic practices of people around them. There is obviously some logic and wisdom in following this scriptural principle. What is most striking are the verses which immediately follow;
The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; [Deuteronomy 18:15]
According to the above verses, not only does the Old Testament warn people against the practice of harmful innovations, but it clearly goes on to inform people about the coming of a Law giving Prophet who was to appear after the time of Moses(as), to whom they should listen . The fulfilment of this prophecy relates to none other than the Promised Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw), through whom the wonderful religion of Islam and its beautiful teachings were revealed, in the form of the Holy Qur’an. Thus, the glad tiding was given to the people of Israel of the advent of a prophet from their brethren, who would be far superior in his guidance than any “diviners”, “witches” or “enchanters”, that had previously been mistakenly perceived as sources of Divine knowledge.
Many Abrahamic Prophets warned to keep away from practices relating to divinations, sorcery, and the occult, and many devout believers follow the teachings of their scriptures. But the scripture revealed through the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw) – the Holy Qur’an, takes this subject a step further by defining the wisdom and logic in not partaking in any such harmful innovations, by introducing and explaining the concept of shirk (associating partners with God).Regarding this the Holy Qur’an clearly states:
Surely, Allah will not forgive that any partner be associated with Him; but He will forgive whatever is short of that to whomsoever He pleases. And whoso associates partners with Allah has indeed devised a very great sin. (Ch.4:V.49)
According to the Five Volume Commentary of the Holy Qur’an by Hadhrat Mirza Bashir-Ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad(ra), Khalifatul Masih II:
‘The reference in this verse not only refers to idol worship but also to also to such idolatrous practices as are in vogue among common people, even among present-day Muslims, such as the adoration of Saints and offering prayers and oblations to them. All such abominable practices are shirk in the sight of God. But loving or trusting in a thing or being as one should love and trust in God may be forgiven, if done in ignorance and through lack of proper care. This is provided one is a sincere believer in God and his Prophet, and strives to do good works. The expression, Allah will not forgive, does not mean that an idolatrous person can never repent or that his or her repentance cannot be accepted even in the present life. The expression relates to the time after death i.e. one who dies in a state of ‘shirk’, will not be forgiven.’25
Explaining the sin of shirk, the Promised Messiah(as) writes:
‘Similarly, Allah has said in the Holy Qur’an that every sin is forgivable except shirk. Therefore, do not go near shirk and consider it to be a forbidden tree.’26
Warning against shirk, Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih V(aba) states:
‘Among the ills that take over imperceptibly is shirk. Even a hint of shirk is unacceptable to God. A Muslim who claims to be firm on the Unity of God, needs to understand the subtlety of the concept of Unity of God and the subtlety of shirk and be extremely careful in this fast developing world.’27
Anything associated specifically with Halloween would equally be tantamount to shirk, therefore it would be preferable to avoid association with any Halloween activity or festivity.
Halloween customs and traditions – Over the decades the commercialisation of Halloween has downplayed and shifted the Christian emphasis of All Saints Day, to Halloween costumes, decorations, partying and entertainment. This can also be a dangerous and harmful day especially for teenagers who are at the greatest risk of being lured into the occult. The pagan roots of Halloween associate it with evils spirit, satanic rituals and a day of the dead, therefore, one can hardly call it fun. There are many traditions and customs associated with Halloween celebrations.
Bonfires – Bonfires around the time of Halloween depict the huge bonfires built by the Druids at the time of Samhain.
‘These fires served double duty: they warded off demons and such which roamed around, but they also provided for a sacrifice to the sun god. In enormous wicker baskets, they caged both human and animal sacrifices and burned their victims alive. By observing the way they died, the priests predicted good or evil for the future.’28
Pumpkins – This is a tradition which can be traced back to the Middle Ages, ‘Celts often hollowed out a turnip and carved a grotesque face on it to fool demons. They carried such lanterns to light their way in the dark and to ward off evil spirits at the same time. While the turnip continues to be popular in Europe today, the pumpkin has replaced it in America. “Jack is a nick name for John which is a common slang word meaning “man”. “Jack O” Lantern then, means, “man with a lantern.”’29 It was thought that the jack-o-lanterns would scare away earthbound ghosts. Thus, people hollow out pumpkins and turnips, placing candles inside to scare evil spirits from their houses.
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
“Watching ‘Friday the 13th’ with your child is probably not a good idea. Children under the age of five may be too young to actually watch and understand violent movies; however, they are psychologically affected by the scenes they are exposed to,”36 says Dr. Daniel S. Schechter, the study’s principal investigator and director of the Infant-Family Service at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital and assistant professor of clinical psychiatry (in paediatrics) at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and the New York State Psychiatric Institute.
Haunted Attractions, Ghost hunts and Fright nights in theme parks –Haunted attractions are held in Castles, abandoned asylums, old prisons, ships, boats, or any place that would be suitable to host a haunted attraction. Some of these attractions also include ghost hunts. “Fright nights” in Theme parks around the world are the transcendent horror destinations on Halloween nights, having extended opening hours through the night for people to go on the rollercoaster’s and rides in the dark, surrounded by scary images, lights and spooky music playing in the background.
Many people may be unaware that, the traditions and customs associated with Halloween have pagan origins, which are tantamount to shirk. Believing that anyone other than Allah shares His powers constitutes shirk. As Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih I(ra) explains:
‘To associate anyone in the name, action, or worship of Allah constitutes shirk, and to carry out all good deeds solely for the pleasure of Allah is called worship. People believe that there is no Creator except Allah, and they also believe that life and death are in the hands of Allah Who has complete control and power over them. Even though they believe in this, they prostate in front of others, tell lies, and perform circuits before others. Instead of worshipping Allah, they worship others; instead of fasting for Allah, they fast for others; and instead of praying to Allah, they pray to others and give alms for them. To uproot these false notions, Almighty Allah raised the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw).’37
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.
1. Silverwind, S. (2006), Everything You Need to Know About Paganism, Devon: David & Charles, p.3
2. Mackillop, J. (2005), Myths & Legends of the Celts. London: Penguin, p.97
3. Ingraham, Dr. D A. (2000), Pagan Traditionsof the holidays. Oklahoma: Bible Belt Publishing, p.71
4. Worthington, C. (2005), Druids a beginners guide. London: Hodder and Stoughton.
5. Moran, S. (1999), The Secret World of Cults. Surrey: Bramley Books.
6. Silverwind, S. (2006). Everything you need to know about Paganism. Devon: David & Charles, pg20
7. Gallagher, A.-M. (2001). Inner Magic a guide to witchcraft. London: Octopus, pg. 67
8. Pickering, D. (1996). Dictionary of Witchcraft. London: Cassell, pg.244
9. Moon, S. (2004), The Wiccan Book of Rites and Rituals. New York: Citadel Press, p.xiii
10. Silverwind, S. (2006), Everything you need to know about Paganism. Devon: David & Charles, p.45
11. Gallagher, A.-M. (2001), Inner Magic a guide to witchcraft. London: Octopus, p.14
12. Pickering, D. (1996), Dictionary of Witchcraft. London: Cassell, p.406
13. Moon, S. (2004), The Wiccan Book of Rites and Rituals. New York: Citadel Press, p.171
14. Pickering, D. (1996). Dictionary of Witchcraft. London: Cassell, p.182
15. Silverwind, S. (2006). Everything you need to know about Paganism, Devon: David & Charles, p.6
16. Ingraham, Dr D A. (2000), Pagan Tarditions of the Holidays, USA: Bible Belt Publishing, p.72
17. Ingraham, Dr D A. (2000), Pagan Tarditions of the Holidays, USA: Bible Belt Publishing, p.73
18. Ingraham, Dr D A. (2000), Pagan Tarditions of the Holidays, USA: Bible Belt Publishing, p.73
19. Encyclopedia of the Early Church, 1992 , p.14
20. Nozedar, A. (2010), Signs and Symbols Sourcebook, London: Harper Collins, p.477.
21. Ingraham, Dr D A. (2000), Pagan Tarditions of the Holidays, USA: Bible Belt Publishing, p.74
22. Miles, C. A. (2010). Christmas In Ritual and tradition, Christian and Pagan. Emereo Pty Ltd p.120
23. Ingraham, Dr D A. (2000). Pagan Traditions of the Holidays. Oklahoma: Bible Belt Publishing, p.74
24. Leviticus 19:31, 2 Chronicles 33:6, Isaiah 8:19, 2Kings 23:24
25. The Holy Qur’an and English Translation with Commentary, Islam International Ltd (Note 523)
26. Damimah Tohfah-e-Golarhviyyah, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 17, pp.323–324, footnote
27. Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, (2006), Conditions of Bait & Responisbilities of an Ahmadi. Tilford: Islam International Publications Ltd.
28. Ingraham, Dr D A. (2000), Pagan Traditions of the Holidays, Oklahoma: Bible Belt Publishing, p.71
29. Ingraham, Dr D A. (2000), Pagan Traditions of the Holidays, Oklahoma: Bible Belt Publishing, p.80
30. Ingraham, Dr D A. (2000), Pagan Traditions of the Holidays, Oklahoma: Bible Belt Publishing, p.72
31. Limburg, P. R. (1991), The complete book of Halloween, Camelot.
32. Miles, C. A. (2010), Christmas In Ritual and tradition, Christian and Pagan, Emereo Pty Ltd.p.122
33. Miles, C. A. (2010), Christmas In Ritual and tradition, Christian and Pagan, Emereo Pty Ltd.p.123
35. Ingraham, Dr D A. (2000), Pagan Traditions of the Holidays. Oklahoma: Bible Belt Publishing, p.70
37. Khutabat-e-Nur, pp.7–8