Halloween is the first day of a three-day Christian observance called “Allhallowtide.” It consists of “Halloween” (or “All Hallows’ Evening”) on October 31, then “All Hallows’ Day” (or “Hallowmas,” or “All Saints’ Day”) on November 1, and then “All Souls’ Day” (or the “Day of the Dead”) on November 2. “Allhallowtide” is a time of year set aside by Christians to remember and honor those who have died and gone to the other world. The current traditions of Halloween have been influenced by the Mexican celebrations of the “Day of the Dead,” as well as Celtic festivals such as “Samhain.” In all of these traditions, it was seen as a time when the boundary between this world and the next was thinned. People would leave out offerings of food, either to appease the supernatural beings wandering the earth, or to give to the souls of the dead who were said to return home at this time of year. The tradition developed for people to wear masks and disguises in order to either personify good and evil spirits, or to protect themselves from evil spirits. As one of the origins of “trick-or-treating,” people would go “souling,” which was a tradition in which children and the poor would go door-to-door offering to pray for the souls of the dead in exchange for “soul cakes.” One of the Christian traditions during “All Hallows’ Eve” was to abstain from eating meat, which gave rise to the consumption of foods such as apples, pumpkins, and of course: candy. Originally in Europe, people would carve turnips with grotesque faces, creating portable lanterns, in order to both illuminate their way while “souling,” and also to ward off evil spirits. These became known as “jack-o’- lanterns.” In America, people discovered that the native pumpkin was easier to carve than the turnip. “All Hallows’ Day” is the day for specifically honoring the “saints” who have gone to heaven, and then “All Souls’ Day” is the day for honoring all those who have died.
The teachings of the New Church bring a lot of clarity to these traditions (see Last Judgment 24; TC 845). We know that when people die, they go to the spiritual world and eventually choose either Heaven or Hell as their final home. We know that angels and devils are not a supernatural race of beings, but simply people who have died. “Saints” are simply good people, wherever they may be found (see TC 307). We know that the spiritual world is actually all around us, and that we are constantly influenced by both good and evil spirits (see DP 320). And while I like carving jack-o’- lanterns as much as the next person, we also know that what really wards off evil spirits is the sphere of charity and mutual love (see SH 1398). And in our annual tradition of wandering door-to-door, giving a friendly greeting to our neighbors, complimenting costumes, offering treats, and expressing gratitude, I think we have the potential for many evil spirits to be scared off, and many a soul to be warmed by mutual love.