Thursday, 31 October 2013

Hallow's Eve and the Day of the Dead

I've never seen any attraction or merit in mimicking witches, ghosts and ghouls. My father had his front door sprayed a few years ago with paint by "trick 'n treating" children at Halloween. It cost him a lot to clean it off. They have sufficiently terrorised him to keep sweets in the house, as a defence. How many elderly living alone tonight will be cowering behind their door, waiting with their bag of sweets to bribe children not to deface their front door?

There is no warrant for Halloween in Scripture or in the Church. Halloween (31 October) is traditionally the first day of three day Hallowmass which is related to the dead. It is the eve of All Hallows Day on 1 November, so actually Halloween is Hallow's Eve. In the Church of England's calendar, 1 November is All Saints Day which is the eve of All Souls Day, a parallel to the Catholic "day of the dead", when it is the custom of many Catholics to visit cemeteries. Some academics think Halloween is linked to pagan Celtic harvest festivals. Certainly, delicious nuts are plenteous and there is something to be thankful for!

On 2 November, across the Catholic world, the living visit the graves of the departed and lay flowers, some praying for their souls, supposedly in the fires of Purgatory. Some Italians even take family picnics as well as flowers. This is a traditional and deep rooted, possibly pagan custom which the Reformation largely stamped out, seeing it as a superstition.  But even in Martin Luther's Day, this popular custom was carried on in Germany.

The Bible expressly forbids any intercourse with the spirits of the dead and with the occult. It forbids pagan levels of grief for the departed, though recognises that some grief is only human. Reformers saw that it is no good grieving for those in heaven, whom we should hope to join in due course, if we are true believers. Equally, we can do nothing for those elsewhere. Apart from babies and children, who go to Heaven, they had to be for or against Christ, in this life. We cannot overrule that now.

The Bible tells us not to try to contact the dead through mediums. It gives no promise that praying for the souls of the dead has any effect on their eternal destiny. This is clearly taught by Jesus, in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus known as Dives.  Jesus said that there is a "fixed chasm" between the living and the dead, that is between heaven, earth and hell. 

The Reformation cast out 'superstitious' purgatory as a non-existent place of imagination, with no Scriptural warrant. In the Bible, half-mad King Saul "calls" through the Witch of Endor the departed and cantankerous 'ghost' of Samuel, but this is a work of occult illusion. Soon afterwards, Saul came to a sticky, earthly end

Ghosts, a stock favourite of some of our great writers, are supposed to be the souls of the troubled, murdered and beheaded departed, stuck in a kind of limbo, through their injustices, or in the fires of purgation. The Reformation strongly taught that these are "works of the devil".

William Shakespeare, who knew both Catholic and Reformed theology, used the Catholic idea of Purgatory combined with spirits, to confuse both MacBeth and Hamlet, who were supposed to immediately recognise the satanic element of the dangerous spirits they met with. They did not, which unhinged and ultimately killed them and others. Meddling with the occult was seen as dangerous. The Church still sees Halloween as giving a kind of 'green light' to wicked and deceiving spirits.

The Swiss Reformers stated this in the Helvetic Confession.

"We count those apparitions among the laughingstocks, crafts, and deceptions of the devil, who, as he can transform himself into an angel of light, so he strives either to overthrow the true faith or to call it into doubt. In the Old Testament the Lord forbade the seeking of the truth from the dead, and any sort of commerce with spirits (Deut. 18:11). Indeed, as evangelical truth declares, the glutton (in the story of the beggar Lazarus) being in torment, is denied a return to his brethren. As the divine oracle declared in the words: "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead" (Luke 16:29 ff.).

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