Halloween Research

These are some notes about Halloween that I put together a while back to present to my church. Within evangelical churches, there has been much misinformation regarding the day. My purpose here is neither to endorse the holiday nor to discourage Christians from participating. Instead, I want Christians to formulate their opinions based upon accurate information.

Here is my slideshow:

Here are the notes that I took down for Sunday School. These notes were not initially intended to be handed out, so I apologize for any typos or general disorganization. I have included notes for information that I gathered directly from a particular source. I have included a list of additional sources that I used to confirm the works that I primarily drew info from. Hope this helps everyone!

Possible origins of Halloween

Samhain (sow-an)


Agricultural: One of four Celtic feast days, commemorated the end of summer, and the preparation for coming winter. This involved many different activities associated with agrarian societies such as inventory of supplies and re-organization of society. (Rogers, 12)
Spiritual: This period had a very spiritual significance to the Celts. Many superstitions involved the coming darkness of winter, and the transitional period between the seasons. One Celtic tradition involved the lighting of bonfires to ward off evil spirits and invoked the help of gods to this end. (Rogers, 12)
A general Celtic belief was that on the 31st of October the souls of the departed could return to torment the living, and some would try to ward them off with fires or welcome them with food and drink. (Feldman)
Druid Beliefs: Many connections have been made to the Druids. These were a priest and judge caste from ancient Ireland that was suppressed by the Romans. While their connections to Halloween are not certain, there is at least some evidence that they did at times practice human sacrifice and other brutal practices. (Rogers, 15) This comes from Roman records and from some archaeological evidence. (Rogers, 18)

Question of human sacrifices

Roman Claims: Roman sources such as Julius Caesar and Pliny the Elder depicted Irish rituals which included animal sacrifice and most likely human sacrifice, but these events are not necessarily specifically related to Samhain. (Rogers, 14-15)
Irish oral history: Most of the first-hand knowledge that exists of pre-Roman Irish history comes from oral traditions in the form of poetic sagas. These sources do not reference sacrifices, but are not written as historical records. (Rogers, 18)
Christian Sources: Some early Christian writings speak of the Celts performing human sacrifices, but St. Patrick made no mention of them. (Rogers, 17)

Continuation of practices into modern times

Halloween as a holiday seems to have maintained little connection to pagan practices, and became more closely connected to superstitions related to Christian culture. There does seem to be some continued connection within Ireland and Scotland, and places that retained some knowledge of the practices of Samhain. This retention was, however, syncretistic with Christian practices. (Rogers, 41) However, though the Irish were largely responsible for bringing Halloween to America, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that they brought much more than the general celebration of the day and the mischief that has always been a part of it.

Roman feast days

Feast of Pomona: Goddess of fruits and seeds
Feast of Parentalia: Festival of the dead

All Saint’s Day

Roman Catholic festival that commemorates all of the saints who have died. This owes its beginning to days that were set aside to commemorate the sacrifices of the martyrs. The date was initially different for different churches. The Syrian church held it during Easter week, and the Greeks on the Sunday after Pentecost. England and Germany held theirs on November first, but Ireland actually celebrated on the 20th of April which makes it doubtful that the date of November 1st is an attempt to Christianize Samhain. (Rogers, 22)
There are some historians that argue that the date of All Saint’s Day was set to November first to reflect the Celtic New Year as a way to Christianize the pagan practices. This movement of the celebration was performed by Pope Gregory III in the eighth century. (Feldman)

All Soul’s Day

Roman Catholic festival on November 2nd that commemorates the souls of all of the departed faithful. Central to this practice is the belief that the living can offer up prayers in order to free the souls of the faithful in purgatory. This is one connection to the dead that exists with Halloween, because it was believed by some that the ghosts of dead relatives could return to visit the living on this day. (Rogers, 23)

Guy Fawkes Day

In England, the commemoration on November 5th of the foiling of the gunpowder plot on the life of King James I carried many similarities, and there was a general blending of the two holidays. Mischief, bonfires and carved-out turnip lanterns are among these crossovers. (Rogers, 37)

Origins of specific Halloween traditions

Trick or Treating

All Souls’ and All Saints Day: A tradition that even survived Protestantism in Britain involved giving food or other handouts to poor that came to the door in exchange for their prayers for departed loved ones. (Rogers, 24) This developed further into the tradition of “souling” which was practiced on a number of festival days and holidays, as a form of forced charity only slightly connected to praying for souls. (Rogers, 30)
The “trick”: The general mischief that is universal to Halloween traditions seems to form the basis of the “trick.” This is a general connection that many festivals have in common throughout history; however, in the early to mid-1900’s the mischief of young people celebrating Halloween grew out of control and led to the attempt to control and limit participants. The modern tradition was born out of the attempts of residents to bribe young people in hopes that their property would be spared. (Rogers, 86)


All Souls’ and All Saints Day: The tradition of costumes in connection to these days has an early start in part of the general revelry and acceptance of counter – normal activity. (Rogers, 25-26)
Irish Tradition: Folkloric evidence suggests that Irish tradition in the mid-17th century involved costumes and door to door reveling. (Rogers, 42) It must be noted that these traditions were part of the general practices of the holiday, and not connected to specific religious practices.

Apple Bobbing

This, and other divination methods (looking in a mirror, watching roasted nuts crack, etc.) are all connected to the general superstition that Halloween was closely connected with the supernatural. Usually the purpose was to attempt to divine who one would marry, or in some cases when one would die. (Rogers, 32) It seems these practices took place in Christian, non-Christian, Catholic and Protestant cultures throughout the history of the day, and are not only connected to Halloween.

General Mischief

One of the most enduring aspects of Halloween is not religious or even a particular custom. This is the prevalence of mischief and revelry. This may well be because the holiday seems to have always been associated most strongly with the younger generations.

Jack o’ Lanterns

All Souls’/Saints Day: When practitioners of souling went door to door, they carried hollowed out turnips with candles inside that represented the souls of those trapped in purgatory. (Rogers, 29)
The Legend of Jack: “The jack-o’-lantern is said to be the wandering spirit of a blacksmith named Jack, who was too evil to get into heaven, but because he had outwitted the devil, was not allowed into hell. Expelled from hell, he scoops glowing coal in the vegetable he is eating and uses it as a lantern to light his way as he wanders the earth.” This status of being trapped between two worlds is a common motif among the creatures of folklore. (Santino, 11)

General Halloween Motifs

Many depictions such as bats and black cats, though historically connected with witchcraft and magic, seem to have become associated with the holiday through the influence of Gothic fiction in the 19th century. (Rogers, 77) This is evidenced by the fact that they were not present in the early practices of Halloween in the Americas.

Common Myths

Myth 1: Halloween comes from “Satanic” roots.

Satanism as a distinct belief system has always coincided with Christian beliefs. Ancient societies worshiped false gods, but these were not understood by them to be Satan as a Christian would believe. The “satanic rituals” that were purported in the 80’s to be the origins of Halloween are, as far as I can tell, pure myth. (Jack Chick is largely responsible for propagating the “druids going door to door to find a human sacrifice” myth in tracts such as “The Trick” http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0011/0011_01.asp )

Myth 2: Much of Halloween comes directly from pagan religious practices.

As it has already been illustrated, Halloween has a very diverse past with connections to pagan, Christian, and secular history. Many of these connections are inferred based upon similarities between different practices at different times. Halloween as it is currently celebrated may have similarities with ancient practices, but it seems that there is very little direct connection with particular pagan religious rituals.

Myth 3: There have been numerous cases of candy poisonings and sharp objects placed in candy by Halloween sadists.

Most of the hype over poisoned candy seems to have stemmed from two specific incidents.
First, In 1970, five-year-old Kevin Toston died after eating heroin supposedly hidden in his Halloween candy. Later it was determined that the drugs came from his uncle’s house. Then in 1974, Ronald Clark O’Bryan laced his son’s Pixie Stix with cyanide in an attempt to cash in on his insurance. The boy was the only casualty though the candy was distributed to other children, perhaps in an attempt to foil investigators. (The Augusta Chronicle, October 31, 1999), (NYT 11 Nov 1974)
To a lesser extent, the 1982 Tylenol poisonings contributed to the hysteria of maliciously tainted food. (Rogers, 94)
Though there have been numerous reports of similar poisonings, there does not seem to be any other credible example of a person killed or seriously injured from randomly distributed poisoned Halloween candy. The cases of tainted candy that are recorded are not satanic rituals, and usually are accidents or pranks gone badly. Of the study performed in the mid-eighties, only two deaths were reported, most of the other cases were unconfirmed and the few which reported injuries involved minor cuts and bruises, the worst of these requiring 11 stitches. (Summary of Best, 491)


Best, Joel, and Gerald T. Horiuchi. “The Razor Blade in the Apple: The Social Construction of Urban Legends.” Social Problems 32, no. 5 (June 1985): 488-99. Accessed October 25, 2011. HeinOnline.
Feldman, Ellen. “Halloween.” American Heritage, October 2001. Accessed October 25, 2011. ProQuest.
New York Times. “Texas Man Indicted In Poisoning of Son.” November 12, 1974. Accessed October 25, 2011. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
Rogers, Nicholas. Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Santino, Jack. Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1994.
Santino, Jack. “Halloween in America: Contemporary Customs and Performances.” Western Folklore 42, no. 1 (January 1, 1983): 1-20. Accessed October 21, 2011. JSTOR.

The Augusta Chronicle. “Candy Man’s Deed Still Haunts Holiday.” October 31, 1999, All ed., NEWS sec. Accessed October 25, 2011. LexisNexis Academic.


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