Carved pumpkins. Ghoulish costumes. Trick-or-treating. Bonfires. Pranks and horror films. It’s one of the most peculiar festivals in the Western world—and at that, named among the yearly “Christian” festivals.
Yet neither Halloween nor its peculiar practices are mentioned anywhere in the New Testament. There is, however, a striking account in the Old Testament—the Hebrew Bible.
Where—and who—did this peculiar festival come from?
Opening Up the Otherworld
Halloween, celebrated on the evening of October 31, is usually traced back to the pagan Celtic Druids and their festival of Samhain, which took place on November 1 (yet started the evening before, October 31—the Druids calculated days from sunset to sunset). Samhain was known as the Feast of the Dead—the belief was that on this date the dead could return to the land of the living. Burial mounds in Celtic Ireland, Scotland, Wales and other regions were opened and bonfires were lit so that the dead could make their way home. Extra places were set at tables, and food laid out, for those who had died that year.
This festival thus marked what was believed to be a liminal time of the year, in which the boundaries between our world and the Otherworld thinned, allowing evil spirits to emerge and possess the bodies of the living. In order to prevent this from happening, the Celts dressed in grotesque costumes, leaving treats outside their homes to pay off these evil spirits.
Samhain was the most important of the Celtic holidays and is mentioned in the earliest Irish literature. During the medieval period, its celebration became fixed to October 31–November 1. However, in earlier periods, it was not a fixed date applied to the Roman calendar; the festival marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, halfway between the equinox and solstice, thus falling typically within early November.
Encyclopedia Britannica states this about Halloween: “It long antedates Christianity. The two chief characteristics of ancient Halloween were the lighting of bonfires and the belief that this is the one night in the year during which ghosts and witches are most likely to wander about. History shows that the main celebrations of Halloween were purely Druidical … and this is further proved by the fact that in parts of Ireland October 31 is still know as Oidhch Shamhna, ‘Vigil of Saman.’”
Encyclopedia Americana likewise states that Halloween is “clearly a relic of pagan times.” The famous 20th-century anthropologist Ralph Linton wrote that the “earliest Halloween celebrations were held by Druids in honor of Samhain, Lord of the Dead, whose festival fell on November 1” (Halloween Through Twenty Centuries).
By the ninth century c.e., Catholicism had spread into Celtic lands, and it is from this point forward—beginning first in these British Isles—that a Catholic festival appears on November 1, known variously as All Soul’s Day, Hallowmas, or All Hallow’s Day. In 834 c.e., the church in the region began celebrating All Hollow’s Eve on the evening before All Souls’ Day, thus corresponding to the beginning of Samhain—October 31. (It is from the Roman Catholic festival name that we get the modern name Halloween/Hallowe’en, “Hallow’s Evening”). By the 10th century, this festival was extended from just the British Isles to apply to the wider Catholic Church.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, November 1 is the day “to honor all the saints, known and unknown” who have since died. Linton describes the grafting of this Celtic festival of the dead into Catholicism as a practice “quite in line with church policy of incorporating harmless pagan folk ideas” (op cit)—adopting the practices of pagan cultures as a means of drawing in more converts.
Dorothy Wood of the Wichita Beacon wrote the following (actually condemning much of “Christianity” for plagiarizing pagan festivals): “This ancient night of revelry for the devil and his cohorts has degenerated. … It’s the Christians who are to blame. For centuries, they’ve been grabbing off all the old heathen festivals. The midwinter feast with its greens and feasting and drinking has become Christmas. The wild spring festival has become Easter, and the worshipers of Christ boldly use the old pagan symbols of fertility—chicks and rabbits and eggs. Now they’ve completely taken over Halloween” (emphasis added).
Halloween, again, is nowhere mentioned in the New Testament as a Christian festival. In fact, the Christian commemoration of a festival built around worship of the “Lord of the Dead” is ironic—because Jesus himself stated that “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:32; Mark 12:27; Luke 20:38). “The dead praise not the Lord …” (Psalm 115:17).
The important question follows: Which deity is being worshiped on Halloween? And, can we trace the earlier origins of this festival?
The ‘Sins of Jeroboam’
We now get into a fascinating part of history described in the Hebrew Bible.
First, we must briefly mention one of the important holy day festivals that is commanded in the Bible—Sukkot (in English, the “Feast of Tabernacles”). This festival, described in Leviticus 23, begins on the 15th day of the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar—generally falling around the end of September or start of October on the Gregorian calendar. (It’s also of note that this festival was kept in the New Testament by Jesus and the disciples—i.e. John 7; 12:12-20, Acts 18:21. Further, Zechariah 14:16-19 prophesy that “all the nations that go not up to keep the feast of tabernacles” in the future—including Gentile nations—will be cursed.) The Feast of Tabernacles/Sukkot is one of the lynchpin and ultimate festivals in the holy day calendar, described in numerous passages in the Hebrew Bible (and New Testament).
Enter King Jeroboam i.
In the late 10th century b.c.e., following the reign of King Solomon, a dramatic split took place in Israel’s united monarchy, due to the sins of Solomon. Ten tribes split away from the Jerusalem-based throne of David. Led by King Jeroboam, they established the northern kingdom of Israel (from this point forward, referred to as the Israelites). Two tribes (and another half tribe) remained to make up what became the southern kingdom of Judah (from this point forward known collectively as Jews; i.e. 2 Kings 16:5-6).
As related in 1 Kings 11, God gave Jeroboam a chance to establish himself as a righteous king over a prosperous kingdom. However, Jeroboam began to fear that Israelites traveling to the temple in Jerusalem to worship would begin to turn away from him and his rule—so he concocted a plan.
The last half of 1 Kings 12 describes a new religion established by Jeroboam, with more “convenient” worship centers in Dan (in the north) and Bethel (in the south), centered around cattle worship (verses 28-30). Jeroboam appointed as his priests not the Levites, but the “lowest of the people” (verse 31; King James Version). And the last two verses of the chapter describe the central feast day of his newly established religion.
“And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like unto the feast that is in Judah, and he offered upon the altar. So did he in Bethel, sacrificing unto the calves that he had made …. So he offered upon the altar which he had made in Bethel the fifteenth day of the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised of his own heart; and ordained a feast unto the children of Israel …” (verses 32-33; kjv).
Jeroboam, then, established a counterfeit feast day exactly one month after Sukkot. This feast therefore relates to the end of October/early November on the Gregorian calendar—exactly the same time frame as the original Celtic Samhain, before it was eventually fixed on the Roman calendar to the evening of October 31. Furthermore, the Israelites likewise calculated their days and festivals from sunset to sunset (Leviticus 23:32).
Coincidence? Both Samhain and Jeroboam’s feast occurred at the same time of the year. Both were the chiefest festivals of their respective religions. Both were reckoned from evening to evening. Both were central to a cattle cult (the Celts were a transhumance-based society, and Samhain marked the time when the cattle were brought down from summer pastures, at which time select cattle were sacrificed upon Samhain bonfires). Both included related burning and sacrifices. Samhain was also a harvest festival (marking the end of the harvest—note that the original Feast of Tabernacles was a fall harvest festival). And the overall festivals also lasted seven days—the wider Samhain festival consisting of three days prior to, and three days following, the central day of celebration (compare with Leviticus 23:34, 1 Kings 12:32).
And both Samhain and Jeroboam’s feast had magic and witchcraft as central to their religions. From this point forward, the religion and customs of the northern kingdom of Israel became known as the “sins of Jeroboam”—featuring witches and wizards using “divination and enchantments” (2 Kings 17:16-17). This was the result of Jeroboam’s installation of the “lowest of the people” as priests. The Hebrew word translated “lowest” is literally edges or extremities—these new religious leaders were the “extremities of the people.”
There is even a potential biblical connection here with the reemerging of the dead. As Jeroboam was worshiping at his altar in Bethel (apparently during this new festival), a prophet of God arrived, warning the king that for these sins a future leader named Josiah would come on the scene and open the graves of Jeroboam’s pagan priests, exhuming the bodies and burning them to ashes on the altar (1 Kings 13:2). This prophecy led to a general fear among Jeroboam’s priests (one of which hatched a crafty plan to try to preserve his remains in-state; verses 31-32). Three hundred years later, the prophecy was fulfilled, and a king named Josiah was coronated. He summarily exhumed and burned the bones of the dead priests (2 Kings 23:15-16). It is therefore interesting that great lengths are taken in the Halloween–Samhain festivals to appease the emerging dead from their graves, as well as witches and wizards.
But all of this is simply the tip of the iceberg in the deep connections between the early Israelite pagan priests, and the later-emerging class of Celtic Druids in Europe (an emergence actually following the deportation and disappearance of the “lost 10 tribes,” who were banished for their disobedience). Parallels in customs are rife, from festivals to clothing to symbols to ritual sites—even a language and migratory link and a specific connection to the tribe of Dan (within which was Jeroboam’s northern center of worship). For more information on this subject, read Brad Macdonald’s article “Were the Celtic Druids Pagan Israelite Priests?”
In a 1959 article titled “Halloween: Where Did It Come From?”, Dr. Herman Hoeh summarized this passage in 1 Kings 12 as follows:
At the time the tribes of Israel split into two nations, King Jeroboam adopted in place of the biblical Feast of Tabernacles (ordained by God to be kept forever in the seventh month) a pagan celebration to be observed in the middle of “the eighth month.” The year used to begin in the spring of the year and the eighth month extended from the middle of October to the middle of November. And the middle of the month corresponded to the very time of Halloween today! In fact, “October” means the eighth month in Latin. Since the days of Jeroboam, the 10 tribes of Israel—who later migrated into northwest Europe—have continued to celebrate this pagan harvest festival, which today is called “Hallowe’en”!
What’s the Big Deal?
Back to the original, theological question—and its natural extension: If Halloween is at its core a day of worshiping the god of the dead, and the God of the Bible is repeatedly called the God of the living (also note Psalm 6:6; 115:17)—who exactly is being worshiped on this festival? And does it matter?
The Bible is clear from beginning to end that Satan is the god of death and of darkness. Even the message behind the celebration of Halloween is the lie promulgated by the serpent right at the beginning, in the Garden of Eden—Ye shall not surely die—a deceitful message directly related to the “immortality of the soul” and the “living dead.” The New Testament itself describes “him who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14; Revised Standard Version).
The late founder of the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey, himself stated outright (in contrast to the above-cited Witchita Beacon’s Dorothy Wood): “I am glad that Christian parents let their children worship the devil at least one night out of the year. Welcome to Halloween.”
Numerous scriptures throughout the Bible expressly forbid various Halloween practices and traditions. As Dennis Leap wrote in his article “Unmasking the Origins of Halloween”:
All Hollow’s Eve is still a festival of the dead. Even though Christian leaders have attempted to put a holy face on the day by having people pray for the dead, the custom does not make the evening Christian. …
Some of the most popular costumes for adolescents and teens are werewolves, vampires and zombies. What are people thinking? Even home decorations feature satanic themes of darkness, death and misery. The colors black, orange and red—regarded as essential for Halloween home decorating—are considered Satan’s colors. Spiders and spider webs are featured in Halloween decorating. Did you know that the spider is considered one of Satan’s followers? Witches are given place of honor in many homes during Halloween. Yet the Bible says, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” (Exodus 22:18; kjv). … Halloween is one of the most overtly pagan festivals ….
Isaiah 8:19 reads, “When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?” (New International Version). Deuteronomy 18 warns: “There shall not be found among you … one that useth divination, a soothsayer, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer [witch], or a charmer, or one that consulteth a ghost or a familiar spirit, or a necromancer [one who calls up the dead]. For whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto the Lord; and because of these abominations the Lord thy God is driving them [the Canaanites] out …” (verses 10-12).
And it is for the very festival and “sin of Jeroboam,” God explains, that the entire northern kingdom of Israel was utterly conquered and driven out—“vanishing” from world view at the end of the eighth century b.c.e.! As 2 Kings 17:16-18 relate:
And they forsook all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made them molten images, even two calves … they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and gave themselves over to do that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger; that the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of His sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only.
The Prophet Jeremiah, in relaying God’s words, is direct in condemning the practice of “borrowing” of pagan traditions. “Learn not the way of the heathen …” (Jeremiah 10:2; kjv). Deuteronomy 12 similarly warns, “Take heed to thyself that thou be not ensared to follow them [the conquered heathen nations], after that they are destroyed from before thee; and that thou inquire not after their gods, saying: ‘How used these nations to serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.’ Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God …” (verses 30-31). God clearly spelled out His own holy days for His people to follow “as a statute for ever”—these are found in Leviticus 23 and repeated throughout the Bible (including the New Testament). And the Bible prophesies that at the coming of the Messiah, they will be celebrated by all people on Earth (Zechariah 14).
Halloween is clearly a festival in which horror and violence—pretend or real—is indulged. Yet the Bible says that “the wicked and him that loveth violence His soul hateth” (Psalm 11:5). Another prevalent belief is that dressing up in satanic costumes is in mockery of Satan. That is not biblical, though—just the opposite. “Fools make a mock at sin,” says Proverbs 14:9 (kjv). And for another perspective from the New Testament, even the powerful archangel Michael dared not taunt Satan—he left that prerogative to God. “Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil … dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”" (Jude 1:9, New King James Version). Or more simply put, from the Contemporary English Version: “Even Michael, the chief angel, didn’t dare to insult the devil …. All Michael said was, “The Lord will punish you!”"
And from another angle again, given the premise of this festival, is it just coincidence or accident that Halloween is often accompanied by various incidents of literal bloodshed, gore and tragedy?
Halloween is a festival of horror and darkness. Yet the Bible repeatedly describes God as a God of light and living. “Woe unto them that call evil good, And good evil; That change darkness into light, And light into darkness …” (Isaiah 5:20). “[T]he path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more … [t]he way of the wicked is as darkness” (Proverbs 4:18-19; kjv). And the last verse of Psalm 56: “Thou hast delivered my soul from death … that I may walk before God in the light of the living.”
God is light, and His holy days reflect that. Halloween, on the other hand, is the antithesis of that—a festival ultimately in worship of a being who is the antithesis of God.
For more in this series, take a look at the following articles:
Christmas Trees—In the Hebrew Bible?