A Pagan-Christian dialogue about Halloween and All Souls

Just as Christian's are trying in places to shine light into and build relationships with Muslims, should Christian's not also be seeking a more accurate understanding of the Pagan faith?

Just as Christian’s are trying in places to shine light into and build relationships with Muslims, should Christian’s not also be seeking a more accurate understanding of the Pagan faith?

Last week a pagan friend sent me this from ACT Assoc of Christian Teachers – ABP3 Halloween2_May 2010_ , and asked a simple question: what do I make of it?

Jane, my pagan friend, only made one introductory comment to me, and that was that the comments on modern pagans ‘stuck in her craw’. Frankly, I’m not surprised.

Whilst neither of us have an issue with the historic background detailed in this paper, the associations made between pagans and illegal, violent acts on page 2 (paragraph c) is a miss-representation of the truth, and in my view falls into the category if ‘dangerous sweeping generalisation’. A more accurate generalisation would I think be to say that most pagans are no more or less likely to harm you physically or psychologically than any other person, Christian, agnostic or atheist. There are however a few, including a ex-witch I once knew and all sorts of others totally unconnected with the occult, who have done some pretty grim things to other people. In the churches I’ve been in over the years I have witnessed mind-less vandalism and terror visited upon people by those who called themselves pagan – yet I know that in real pagan understanding, that which you wish on others is believed to come back to you three-fold, so their behaviour wasn’t authentic to their beliefs! As Jane put it to me; ‘pagans are people, no more good or bad than any other people, and like Christians, we have to strive to be the best people we can be.’

What as a trainee minister worries me still further, is that the document goes on to in my view mis-represent, ‘Diocesan exorcists’. I’m no expert, but my understanding is that places do have memories and histories that can freak people out (battles, burial grounds, the previous occupants of homes, all sorts), and people can find that their past practices, or the past practices of their close family, can have a disturbing effect on their psychology and/or Christian faith. Yes, most diocese have at least one minister who can be called on to help and advise on such issues, who has a range of skills in what I think they would prefer was known as a ‘deliverance ministry’, plus where possible including in medical psychotherapy. This is not a ‘renewed belief in the the reality of demons’, it is a ministry of specifically Christian healing that involves discernment of the real issues, recognition of a variety of medical, generational and other phenomenon, and often a journey through repentance for a person, and or release for a place. That smattering of understanding I got from college day last year with Revd Dr Russ Parker of the Acorn Christian Healing Foundation, and with the book which touches on related matters called ‘Healing Death’s Wounds’ which he wrote with Michael Mitton and he led me to believe he’s hoping to revise. The situations he spoke of were incredibly varied, and often without ‘evil’ at their root.

I was intrigued to discover from my friend, that pagans recognise the end of October as a spiritually thin point in the year, where ‘the borders between the living and the dead are at their thinnest’ and ‘messages of love and remembrance for those we have lost are more powerful.’ So as Christian’s celebrate All Souls with services of Remembrance and Thanksgiving, pagans too use the time to remember their loved ones, especially those they have lost in the previous year. This is why one church I know was able to come together last year with a local study centre to celebrate ‘Life and Lives Lived’.

I also discovered in our conversation that pagan’s have a need for exorcism too, something she herself has been involved with, and I wonder what the spiritual background to such situations are? She suggests that this is a ‘cosmic cleaning job, [where she thinks a] dustpan and brush would be more useful than bell book and candle’!

Halloween is a tricky one to know how to handle as a Christian/Church. Churches often have light-parties, which have many of the fun and games, and simply avoid the undertone of evil that some feel pervades much halloween imagery. But, is this creating fear where their need be none, avoidance where education and understanding should stand in it’s place?

Other churches I’ve heard of have hosted a fellowship evening for those who live alone and/or fear the trick-or-treat visits. In the past I’ve made a Christian cross in a pumpkin & taken it to a men’s prison to preach about All Souls, and when my son was little, we handed out candle’s with a message about Jesus on the holder at my doorstep when the trick-or-treaters came. Most trick-or-treaters I suspect have a much understanding of the imagery behind modern-halloween, as they do of the imagery behind the nativity at Christmas, and it is just that, imagery. Of itself, I’m not convinced it does any harm, just like a nativity scene does no good, unless you’re willing to accept the message behind it.

I agree with Jane’s view that ‘no one should be forced to celebrate what they don’t agree with’ and indeed she doesn’t agree with the modern Halloween either. But her greatest concern is one which I think as Christian’s we also need to connect with. She wrote to me that this style of mis-representation can cause the

children of pagan parents to be demonised and vilified in schools. In fact it seems to be encouraging teachers to tell them they are wrong. There have been cases where primary school children have come home in tears because their teacher has told them their parents are going to hell. It isn’t right IMO to scare children in your care because you disagree with their parents faith and you get the feeling its regarded as OK if their pagan whereas it would not be OK if they were Muslim.

However strong their belief that Christ is the light who has, and continues to, break the power of evil in the world, should Christian’s really be mis-representing those of another faith to the extent that children fear for their parents eternal well-being, and causing the sort of psychological damage that ACT are accusing pagans of in the document that started this conversation?

Personally I don’t think so. I think as Christian’s we need to do better at educating ourselves about what pagan’s really do and believe, and understand that they too have a healthy regard both for the need to remember loved ones who gone before them, and the fact that people and places have histories that can linger into the future and need spiritual healing. The focus of that healing I’m sure differs, but as Christian’s lets not bring fear into the lives of others ourselves where there need be none.

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About Rachel Hartland

Church of England Ordinand, child of God, daughter of the New Forest, wife and mother.
This entry was posted in life, ministry, theology - how God fits in and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to A Pagan-Christian dialogue about Halloween and All Souls

  1. Dyfed says:

    Great post. We should be encouraging dialogue at all times with those who differ to us including pagans.

  2. Thanks for this Rachel, I agree with the dangers of vilifying groups of people and struggle to decide what a healthy christian attitude to Halloween actually looks like… neither underestimating the dangers of genuine evil nor allowing an unhelpful fearfulness, remembering always that ‘ love is stronger than death’. It seems to me to give us an ideal opportunity to look our ‘bogey monsters’ in the eye and question what it is that we are actually afraid of… and why.

  3. Good post. With my Celticist hat on, I’ll point out Samhain marks the start of winter not the end of summer. The month names in Welsh and Irish show this. The Welsh for July, Gorffennaf, literally means Summer’s end, while Hydref, October, means Autumn. 31st October is Calan Gaeaf, the winter Calend. In Irish September is Mean Fomhair, mid-Autumn and October is End of Autumn (spelling escapes me).

    As to Diocesan exorcists, my grandfather was one in the 1970s

  4. Peter Fisher says:

    On any other day, knocking on a door and demanding anything using threats is criminal offence. This growing tradition, where ever its roots are, is teaching very young children to do wrong. As such it is not ‘a bit of fun’, and anyone with a high moral code should be firmly against it. It is therefore reasonable to describe it as a manifestation of evil. We should not be vilifying people whatever their beliefs, but we should be fighting evil in all its forms.

    • ramtopsrac says:

      Lindsay: Why are we afraid of these ‘bogey monsters’? A really good question, I wonder is our faith so fragile that it can’t cope?

      @YrIeithydd Thank for those translations, fascinating.

      Peter, I used to agree with you, but actually my experience of recent years, has made me less convinced, as I’ve not experienced the threats you speak about, but perhaps the kids in my neck of the woods are just too nice. Perhaps I need to think more clearly about what exactly ‘evil’ is.

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