Archives For Paganism

Jack-O-LanternI’ve written a bit on Halloween in the past, and I’ve even engaged in a very gentle debate with some of my coworkers on whether or not it’s appropriate for a Christian to Trick-or-Trick (here). Some people can be dismissive about this issue (myself included), but there are significant factors involved. It deserves careful thought.

Here’s what no one should ever do on Halloween, or any other time of the year:

  • Worship Satan
  • Call upon evil spirits, enlist their aid, or try to appease them
  • Celebrate evil
  • Harm other people or their property, whether through physical or magical means

If Halloween means any of those things to you, run from it. If taking your kids door to door to ask your neighbors for candy implies any of the above listed activities to you, then find a suitable alternative. I have no agenda to convince anyone to go against their conscience. My simple and slanted thoughts are offered only for those who aren’t sure what to make of Halloween.

Here’s what you need to know. Halloween has pagan roots. I have not done the work to verify this, but I’ve read it a couple of places and it sounds right. I’m not interested in finding a credible source to verify the pagan roots because they don’t bother me. The names of our planets have pagan roots. So do the names of the days in our weeks. So does the timing of our celebration of Christmas and several of our Christmas traditions. Same with Easter.

So the roots are pagan. Do we throw it out? Honestly, why not? Definitely feel free to stop celebrating Halloween. There’s no reason why you need to. I’m not going to argue that it’s the Christian thing to do.

Halloween Hula GirlsBut here’s something to consider. Kids have fun on Halloween. My girls love to play dress up any day of the year, so they have a good time when all of the kids in our neighborhood dress up. Our country happens to celebrate National Dress Up Day on October 31. That makes for a fun night for my kids. This event also happens to coincide with National Share Your Candy Day, which my kids also happen to love. So it’s fun for them to go door to door, say hi to the neighbors, bump into them on the sidewalk, talk about each other’s costumes, and share candy with each other.

What I’m trying to say is that I don’t believe my neighbors are engaging in the occult on Halloween. They’re having fun. They’re atypically social on this one night. Some of my neighbors have decorated their lawns with spiders, tombstones, and ghosts, but I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that they won’t conjure a single dead soul or perform a single hex on October 31. They’re not thinking through the cultic connections of some of the original Halloween practices; they’re just enjoying what our culture has made Halloween into: National Dress Up Day / National Share Your Candy Day.

I’ll admit that I could be wrong here. My neighbors could be sacrificing goats in their backyards. But from everything I know about them, they’re not closet occultists. I’ll also acknowledge that while my neighborhood doesn’t seem to be into Satanism, yours might be. If so, don’t engage in their celebration of evil. That’s an easy decision.

But statistically speaking, your neighbors and mine are more likely to be naturalists than Wiccans. Which means that they don’t believe ghosts, spirits, curses, or the any other supernatural manifestations are real. I’m pretty convinced that my neighbors are not worshipping Satan—not because I think they’re too Christian to do such a thing, but because I don’t think they believe in Satan or anything similarly “unscientific.” I think they’re dressing up and sharing candy.

To me, this means we all have an individual choice to make. You can view Halloween according to its pagan roots and avoid it as a celebration of evil. You’re entitled to make that decision, and I won’t look down on you at all. You’ve got to do what’s best. Or you can view Halloween according to the way its modern celebraters see it—as a day of fun and games and sociability. I’m choosing to see it that way, and I hope you won’t look down on me for that.

Vampire TeethIt may be difficult to overlook the evil origins of Halloween, but our Christian predecessors thought it was possible—even beneficial—to take a pagan celebration and rework it into a reminder of good things. That’s why Christmas is when it is, why Easter is the way it is, and why we have All Saints Day at the close of October. Maybe they were wrong, but they took a celebration and tweaked it for what they believed to be God’s glory. In my view, our culture has handed us a gift in weeding out the actual Satanism of some early Halloween practices and giving us a night of fun and games. They’ve done the hard work of systematically forgetting all of the pagan implications and viewing it in terms of the imagination.

If you’re still up in the air on the whole issue, ask yourself whether it’s possible to redeem National Dress Up Day / National Share Your Candy Day for the sake of your friends and neighbors.

You are free to decide.

 

NativityWe’ve all heard the saying, and most of us have probably said it ourselves. Jesus is the reason for the season. But is it true?

You’ve probably heard vague statements about the pagan origins of Christmas. My guess is that Christian responses to these claims cover the following spectrum:

  • “That’s not true!”
  • “Are you daft? It’s called Christmas! It’s about Jesus’ birthday!”
  • “I don’t care.”
  • “Wait, what?!”

I’d like to help you think through this a bit. As Christians, we need to stand firmly on our beliefs. But we also need to be sure that our beliefs are grounded in reality. We don’t want to take a firm stand on some irrelevant and speculative point.

First of all, we should acknowledge that much of what we love about Christmastime is rooted in paganism. So much so, in fact, that the Puritans outlawed Christmas for a number of years. No joke.

The truth is, we have no idea when Jesus’ birthday really is. At some point, the Church picked a date, thinking that December 25 was as good a date as any to celebrate the incarnation. Actually, we should go a step farther and say that the church thought December 25 was better than other dates because of its ties with paganism. The Winter Solstice takes place around this date, and this was a big moment for pagans who celebrated the undying sun. It also corresponds to the pagan festival of Saturnalia, held in honor of the god Saturn. So Christian leaders chose to celebrate Jesus’ birth at this time of the year in order to repurpose a moment in time that had been dedicated to pagan worship.

Christmas Tree

This type of repurposing has been common throughout history. A conquering religious group would often use artifacts and culture from the conquered people’s religion in order to make the transition to the new religion easier. When we look at Islam, for example, much of their worship looks very foreign. But in reality, a lot of the architecture in their mosques and their practice of prostration during prayer were actually adopted from the Eastern Christians they conquered. They repurposed these religious elements, and eventually these things became as indistinguishable a part of the new religion as any other custom. Christians have done the same thing throughout history.

There are similarly pagan ties with other Christmas traditions. Christmas trees probably originated from the practice of worshipping the evergreen in winter by bringing it into homes and decorating it as a means of celebrating its inextinguishable fertility. Or it may have been a uniquely Christian phenomenon, chosen because of its triangular shape, which hints at the Trinity. I’ve heard both versions. Mistletoe is probably pagan in origin. Santa Claus connects back to St. Nicholas in the early church, but the tradition probably got mixed with some non-Christian elements along the way.

The point is, we can’t simply say, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” as though Jesus were born on December 25 and every element of our Christmas celebration has always been Christian. Many Christians get upset when the politically correct among us say Merry Xmas or Happy Holidays. But we probably shouldn’t. Christians have never had an exclusive right to celebration during the month of December. It’s unfair of us to have adapted non-Christian forms of celebration into our Christmas celebration and then tell other people that they can’t celebrate anything else during this season.

Christmas GiftsBut here’s the thing. I’m not anti-Christmas. I like our Christmas traditions. I find them rich in meaning. I’m not bothered by the reality that many of the elements of our celebration were repurposed from paganism. These things have been a part of the Christian tradition for a long time, and they have a deep significance for my family and for Christians everywhere. Symbols work through the connections and connotations attached to them. None of these Christmas symbols carry any sense of paganism for myself or anyone I know; the symbols have taken on new meaning.

Jesus may not have been born on December 25, but he was born. I’m happy to celebrate that truth in the dead of winter. It feels appropriate to enjoy the traditions with my children that I received from my parents, and that we all received from countless generations of godly, Christ-loving people. So let’s not get snooty about who wants to celebrate what on which day, and let’s enjoy the Christmas season to the fullest. We have much to celebrate!

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