Discerning what is appropriate freedom v’s legalism for followers of Jesus with advice from a former witch.
Halloween as we know it today is cobbled together from various pagan cultures around the world including Celtic, Greek, and Aztec traditions held around the last week of October to the first week of November. Within the pagan community, a huge diversity of practices and people relate to Halloween differently, so I’m going to talk about the broad spectrum of what Samhain (pronounced; sowaine) means to witches and other pagans as I experienced back in the days when I was one of them.
During this time of the year, the “veil” between our physical reality and the spirit world is supposed to be thinner than usual. There is certainly a lot of activity which happens in pagan groups at this time of year, usually centered around ancestor worship and contacting the spirits of the dead. Sacrifices are made to various “gods” such as Hecate who’s legend says that she releases all the spirits of the dead from the underworld to roam the night. People would leave food offerings outside of their houses as a way to appease the hungry ghosts without allowing them into their homes. In Celtic tradition the ancestors visit their relatives during the night, and anyone wishing to guide their relatives would leave a candle burning in the window as a beacon. The only problem was that the spirits of the dead were not alone, with many ghouls and demons also stalking about, looking for unsuspecting victims, which is why people dress up in horror costumes; to pass unnoticed among the demons. In Aztec culture they would take out the bones of their ancestors and provide food and flower offerings to “feed” them in the afterlife, or they would make sugar skulls to represent their ancestors on an altar to the gods, trying to appease them. The Hindu tradition also celebrates Diwali at this time of year, which is known as the Festival of Lights because it wards off the encroaching darkness.
All of these disparate cultures divided by thousands of miles have a lot in common when it comes to their understanding of the spirit world at this time of year and it would be foolish for Christians to assume that they don’t know what they’re talking about. They all recognise that spirit activity is heightened, especially malevolent spirits and “ancestors” (which may, or may not be, their dead relatives) and that it is a time of spiritual struggle. Over the centuries they have learned to embrace it by placating the parasitic entities roaming about, and even joining in with the mayhem through revelry and intoxication.
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake; for “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” – 1 Corinthians 10:23-26 (NKJV)
If there is a book of the bible which can help a Christian navigate something like Halloween, it would have to be First Corinthians. In this epistle from Paul we can see him advising a church where there is a mixture of former pagans and Jews following Christ together. It was no longer necessary to observe the laws regarding food in the Torah, but many Messianic Jews did so from a mixture of habit and fear, while former pagans also avoided any meats which had been offered to idols after their salvation for fear of going back to their former lifestyle. Other believers had been learning discernment and wisdom for long enough that they knew it was not a sin to eat food as long as they thanked God for it. After all, God made all the animals, not some Greek pretender god.
Navigating freedom in Jesus Christ is a process. Not being required to do anything “religious” in order to be His follower feels weird at first and the human condition bucks against the helplessness of not being able to perform a relationship with God. Instead, you actually have to talk to Him, in person, with total honesty and transparency, about all your issues. Undergoing an assessment of your heart and mind is much more confronting than following a strict diet.
Now, that doesn’t mean that Christianity doesn’t have some lines in the sand which are God’s boundaries we’re not to cross, but it does mean that He gives us decision-making power in every other aspect of our walk through life. We’re credited with being responsible adults.
As a former witch I’ve seen some interesting debates about Halloween in the Christian community, especially polar opposite arguments between the highly permissive and the highly legalistic, neither of which are particularly loving to their neighbour. For one group they’re certain that absolutely nothing is off-limits for the believer, even holding seances for their dead relatives, and anyone who says otherwise is a fascist. The other camp says that drinking a spiced-pumpkin latte will send you to hell.
I don’t know if I really need to say this or not… but they’re both overly simplistic and kinda rude to their fellow Christians who have differing opinions.
Are there seriously dangerous no-go zones? Yes. But they’re probably not as many as you might think.
To make life easier, I have sorted Halloween into three levels for a Christian to navigate: green for totally safe activities, the danger zone for grey areas which require discernment and tact, and red for absolutely NOT under any circumstances.
The Green Zone
“Three times you shall keep a feast to Me in the year: You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt; none shall appear before Me empty); and the Feast of Harvest, the firstfruits of your labors which you have sown in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you have gathered in the fruit of your labors from the field.” – Exodus 23:14-16 (NKJV)
Did God make pumpkins? Is it ok to eat vegetables with thanks to God? I think we can safely answer yes to both of these questions. Autumn is a time of harvest, and even in paganism it’s one of the main themes of Halloween, which is totally innocent and enjoyable. As long as you are intentional about who gets the thanks for the provision of food, then you’re in the green zone.
Why not have a celebration with your family and friends to enjoy the fruits of the season? After all, God’s plan of salvation for humanity is represented by three harvest festivals in the Jewish calendar: the wave-sheaf offering of the barley harvest at the start of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, coinciding with Passover, which symbolises the death and resurrection of Jesus; the Feast of Firstfruits, which is also known as Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit brought in the first harvest of believers to coincide with the wheat harvest; and the Feast of Tabernacles, also known as Ingathering, which is when Jesus returns to reap the final harvest and bring heaven to earth so He can dwell with us.
What you’re celebrating when you give thanks to God for harvest time is life, not death. The Christian perspective is one of eternal life and spiritual abundance, which is technically the antithesis of the Halloween theme of zombies, ghosts, witches and demons. We worship the risen Lord, not the un-dead lord. As it says in Luke 20:38 (NIV): “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” Pagans often practice necromancy at this time of year, which is why you need to be careful about the invitations you accept, but it doesn’t have to be a case of staying home and never enjoying a social life.
The Danger Zone
All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power. – 1 Corinthians 6:12-14 (NKJV)
If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, “This was offered to idols,” do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake; for “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.”
“Conscience,” I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience? But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks? Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. – 1 Corinthians 10:27-33 (NKJV)
This is the area where you need to exercise the most caution because you can totally go to a party with your friends for Halloween, but that doesn’t mean that you stop living by God’s standards. Scripture still tells us that the few lines we don’t cross are the lusts of the flesh and the pride of life. If you’re having a night out with friends, don’t get drunk or take anything which will impair your judgement because that’s the slippery slope towards doing a range of other things including sexual activity and other stupid mistakes you’ll regret the next day. Not to mention the hangover.
Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. – 1 Corinthians 10:12 (NKJV)
You might think that you can handle something, but often the hardest people to say “no” to are the people who you are trying to impress, like friends or a romantic interest. Do you dress up in the skimpy bunny outfit, or would you rather not have those pictures of your butt on the internet?
Even if you do know your limits and have a strategy for dealing with pushy friends, and even if you know that what you’re doing is perfectly ok for a follower of Christ… who else is being led by your example?
Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.
However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.
But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. – 1 Corinthians 8:4-13 (NKJV)
What Halloween means for some people is different for what it means to others. We all come from various backgrounds and have an assortment of stumbling blocks we need to navigate. Something which is perfectly innocuous for one, is deadly serious for another. The other issue is that not everyone has maturity in Christ just yet, so they may not understand the grey areas if they cease to be grey and start to be red. You might be taking an inch, while someone else sees your example and takes a mile.
Is that your fault? According to Paul it is actually a sin because you have caused a new Christian to stumble. This is where exercising your freedom in Christ can become unloving to others. Yeah, you’re allowed to do it, and it isn’t the place of legalistic naysayers to sneer at you for doing it, but have you thought about how it looks to people who are vulnerable to the wrong message?
With liberty comes responsibility.
Red Zone: The Spirits are Real
There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you. – Deuteronomy 18:10-12 (NKJV)
During Halloween you might get all sorts of invitations to spend time with friends, so you will have navigated the green zone and possibly the grey zone. What should you do if you’re already at a party and someone breaks out the oiuja board for “a bit of fun” and laughs it off as a harmless game? Is this the moment when you bounce from the party, your friends calling you a wimp as you leave? The answer to those questions should be unequivocally YES.
As a former witch, there are two aspects of Halloween that Christians should not underestimate. The first is that this “holiday” is very much seriously observed by a spectrum of different occult practitioners from people who identify as “white witches” to fully-fledged satanists. The second aspect is that the spirit realm is a very real place and is not to be played with. Jesus calls us to love our neighbours, even if they hate us or fundamentally disagree with our beliefs, so I think it is important to know how you might be able to connect with people during this season without compromising the relationship with God.
When it says in Exodus 20:2-3 that we shall have no other “gods” before Yahweh, this tends to confuse the modern materialist mindset which has dismissed the notion of a supernatural dimension as mythology or stupid ancient people who didn’t know any better. But the other reason why western Christians recoil from the notion of other gods (with a little ‘g’) is because we think this some kind of threat to the supremacy of Yahweh, something which not considered threatening at all in the bible. However, the true premise of the meaning behind the word used in ancient Hebrew underpins the entire biblical narrative and if we don’t comprehend what it’s really referring to, we will have a limited understanding of both ourselves and God.
The bible has two main languages which separate the Old Testament (OT) from the New Testament (NT) which are Hebrew and Greek respectively. Even though our bibles have been translated into modern languages, referring back to the original words and their complex layers of meaning is essential for teasing out how each word was applied in the first place.
The bible talks A LOT about spiritual allegiances and the supernatural realms which overlap and intersect our own material reality, something science has been catching up with lately. The concept was well understood by the biblical writers, which is why they do not feel the need to explain themselves within the text.
There are entire chapters of the Torah dedicated to discerning whether someone is sent from God or sent from Satan, emphatically telling Israel not to wander away from God and give their worship to false gods.
“If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’—which you have not known—‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him.” – Deuteronomy 13:1-4 (NKJV)
The Hebrew word used which translates as “gods” is elohim, which is also used to describe Yahweh or the Lord God of Israel. It’s also the same word used in 1 Samuel 28:13 when Saul consults a medium to bring the spirit of Samuel back from the dead for answers. We would call it a ghost, but Hebrew writers called Samuel elohim, which is not really the word for god, but more to do with the realm or state they exist in. When God forbids mediumship, spiritism and calling up the dead in Deuteronomy, He’s not forbidding that for no reason. Why would something be forbidden if it doesn’t exist? The bible operates under the assumption that spirits of the dead and other spirits are very, very, very real… and you’re NOT to talk to them.
Christians do not play with dead things.
Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He? – 1 Corinthians 10:20-22 (NKJV)
The New Testament was written in Koine Greek, so the word Paul uses in his letter to Corinth is daimónion which alludes to a spirit much like the word elohim does, and is alternately translated into English as demon or little-g gods, depending on the context of the passage. We could just as easily use the term entity to describe these beings, but (whatever term is used) we get the idea that it refers to a disembodied spiritual being which has powers beyond the human realm.
Christians do not need to be afraid of these entities because greater is He who is in us, but we are also not permitted to contact them or be part of rituals designed to make contact because God will hand us over to those spirits if that’s what we’re seeking. I can tell you from experience that when Jesus told His disciples that “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” [Mark 9:29] He wasn’t kidding about that. These things will follow you home, burrow into your life, torment your family, and attack you in your sleep if you’re granting them access. You fling the door wide open spiritually if you engage in activity like summoning ghosts, or having your fortune read. It’s not harmless fun, its extremely real.
Not only that, but engaging with spirits other than God is called idolatry and you are rejecting God’s covenant when you consort with them. You cannot share the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons, that’s spiritual whoring. God will allow you to leave Him if your heart is not faithful, so don’t think that you will not have to make that choice.
By all means enjoy time with family and friends, but also take the warnings given in the bible seriously. They aren’t just beneficial advice for your wellbeing and safety, this Halloween season seriously puts your faithfulness to the test and can determine whether you are following God… or not.