Well, Dear Reader, October is upon us; and its arrival heralds cooler weather, the harvest of the crops, football and Hallowe’en. Yes, it’s time for ghosties and ghoulies and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night to hold sway over our imaginations. All Hallows’ Even is the Old English name for the holiday that marks the night before one of the holiest of feast days on the Christian calendar: All Saints’ Day. All Saints’ itself is a feast day with origins in the earliest days of the Church, but Hallowe’en finds its origins much closer to home for us Anglicans.
The Hallowe’en that we know comes to us mostly from the harvest / new year festivals of the Celts and the early Britons. These pagan festivals celebrated the harvest, sought the spirit’s protection of the people through the winter, and paid tribute to the dead at a time when the Celts believed that the barrier between this world and the next was at its thinnest. Costumes and Jack ‘O Lanterns carved from turnips were used by the revelers to scare away the evil spirits that threatened to cause mayhem for those who still lived. With the Christianization of Ireland and the British Isles, the festival became closely linked with the Western Church’s celebration of All Saints’ Day which fell on November 1; and it was not long before the Christian celebration of All Hallows’ Even found its way to the continent and spread throughout all of Europe.
Today, Hallowe’en (the ‘ replaces the “v” in the old Scottish use: Halloweven, meaning the night before All Hallows or All Saints’) has become almost completely secularized with little or no attention paid by the larger community to the holiday’s connection to the Feast of All Saints which follows it. Modern Americans, particularly, see Hallowe’en as a time of parties, trick or treating, scary movies, and celebration of the end of Summer; and as far as that goes, there is nothing wrong with that. I worry, however, that in losing sight of the reason for the holiday, we allow ourselves to become complacent with beliefs and forces that are in many ways incompatible with our Christian faith.
There shall not be found among you any one who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination, a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD; and because of these abominable practices the LORD your God is driving them out before you. Deuteronomy 18:10-12 (RSV)
By definition, supernatural means anything that is above or beyond nature. As Christians, we believe in the supernatural out of necessity because we believe in God who created all things that are, and that He exists outside of His creation and is not subject to the natural laws that bind and govern us and the world around us.
Likewise, there are other spiritual forces that, while being subject to God at all times, are not necessarily subject to all the laws of nature around us. Angels and demons fall into this category, I believe. As our culture becomes more and more secularized, there has been a tendency among many to try to rekindle their spiritual lives, and this is a good thing. Unfortunately, many are trying to do so in ways that are decidedly not Christian and with some spirits that are markedly not with God.
As a parent, I have watched with some alarm the growth in the entertainment world of characters and subjects that while once being seen as wicked or ridiculous are now presented as mainstream, normal and cool. Today we have programming on children’s cable networks that center on witches, warlocks and the use of witchcraft. Countless television shows, in fact, beginning with Dark Shadows in the 1960’s and continuing through shows like the current BBC offering Being Human romanticize formerly frightening characters like vampires, werewolves and ghosts. Between Harry Potter and the Twilight Series, young people of many ages are introduced to magic and vampirism that is not only seen as normal but romantic and somehow virtuous. May I remind you, Dear Reader, that Vlad the Impaler, the Romanian nobleman who is most commonly identified as the original Count Dracula, became a vampire, the undead and therefore one bereft of any hope of resurrection and redemption, because he sold his soul to the Devil. Romantic, huh?
Hallowe’en can and should be a fun time for adults and children. It should be a time when we can laugh at ourselves and at our own fears and phobias (mine being an irrational fear of werewolves). It should be an opportunity for families to spend time together and to prepare for the celebration of All Saints’ which is to follow. Therefore, Christ Memorial will celebrate Hallowe’en on Saturday night, October 30 at the Church beginning at 6:00 PM. There will be food and games and trick or treating for the kids. Plans are also in the works to show a good old “scary” movie. If you are so inclined, please feel free to come in costume; but please no witches and, for the sake of my poor heart, let’s keep the number of werewolves to a minimum.