Langley's Piece


I seem to be involved in a losing battle where my family are concerned. It concerns the celebrations around Halloween. Every year we have resisted the idea of trick-or-treating; no easy task when our children’s friends are set to enjoy themselves. It is not that I am a killjoy. I want my children to have fun – and they will – but I object for three reasons. First, unlike other religious festivals, I am not convinced that we know what Halloween stands for. As for the Church, we celebrate All Souls’ Day; we remember the truth that when we die we go to heaven, and that we are people of the light. Yet, I am not sure we understand why we might carve out pumpkin lanterns and celebrate Halloween. It has its roots of course in the beliefs that magic spells and secret rites can ward off evil spirits. The tradition began in America, not far from the time when, if you were not a puritan Christian, you would bury a dead cat under the floor of a new house to bring good luck. Whilst I would hope that we no longer believe in such superstition, more esoteric beliefs are still present. Today I was invited, via the BBC website, to meet the real witches. The following is a direct quote:

 Tonight, after they have finished work and the sun has set, a group of women will gather at one of their homes. But this is no ordinary girls' night in. This is a coven of witches, and 31 October - Halloween - is their new year. Denise Frain, who lives in Bolton, Greater Manchester, is hosting. "I have got a fire outside and we will do certain spell work. We'll sit in a circle for protection, then we will celebrate and put food on the altar for the ancestors."

The witches have been preparing for today. They've visited a nearby cemetery and written down names from graves which look old, overgrown or unattended. They will read out the list at tonight's ritual.


Helen Davidson, 44, who runs this coven, explains that all members are "hedgewitches" - solo witches who do not follow an organised faith like Wicca. "Hedgewitches don't pray to a specific god," she explains. "We just love being around nature…In the past we would have been known as the wise woman. It's kind of like that crazy little lady who lived down the road who knows a lot about herbs and concoctions. I seem to be quite good at protection or banishing spells," she says. "I helped one of the witches not that long ago. She had to end a relationship and it was not nice for her. "I said, what we need to do is protect you from this person, to keep them well out of your life and do a cleansing around the house. A few weeks later, that person left the town to never be seen again. Sometimes things like that are needed.[1]


The article goes on to note how Denise, 48, felt different from a young age, and drawn to ‘an Earth-based religion’. It then turns to Matt Rowan, a London hedgewitch who felt that he did not fit with Christianity and feels that its magic allows him to be protective and nurturing. He speaks of how he prefers the term ‘witch’ rather than the more negative. ‘warlock’, and of how he has charged items with the power of positive energy and visualisation so that they provided protection to a friend who was afraid of snakes. He states,” He hasn't been bitten yet… whether that's luck or anything to do with me I don't know!"


I want to make it clear that whilst these beliefs and practices trouble me – they run counter to a Christian belief in God, the teachings of Jesus, and the work of the Holy Spirit - my position is that everyone has the right to their own beliefs, their own faith. I would never decry someone of another faith – for example, a Sikh or a Muslim, and nor would I decry a witch. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and freedom of expression – so long as no harm comes to others of course. (Not that historically, Christianity can hold its head high in this respect. Let’s not forget that at one time the established church was complicit in persecuting witches in our own country). Indeed, I wish people of any faith, and none, well. I pray that we will all know life in all its fullness, and all the peace and love that goes with that. May we all be drenched in the love of God – or just love, if we do not believe in God.


What concerns me more is whether, as we quite literally buy into Halloween, we are aware of its origins. I want to know, as we might well know in relation to Christmas, or Hanukah, or Diwali, or Ramadan, why we do what we do (or choose not to partake)? What are we celebrating? Whilst I find it slightly grating that our shops are gearing up for Christmas before Remembrance, at least most of us understand that we give gifts because Jesus was God’s gift to the world. Ask children in a primary school why we celebrate Christmas – particularly in a Church school – and they will tell you. Ask them during Halloween why the walls are covered in spiders’ webs, and why we carve out pumpkins and illuminate them, and they will not have a clue. This is my issue and it goes far deeper than the reality (in which I believe) of spirits, ghosts and ghouls. (Let’s not forget that the clear majority of Jesus’ ministry was concerned with delivering people from evil, and bringing healing – both physical healing, and healing in the broadest sense of personal wholeness and community peace). My issue is that in life, one key principle is that we should know why we are doing what we are doing. This is not a religious position. It is a humanitarian one. It is about knowing what motivates us, how we come to a decision over something, and therefore ‘why we do what we do’. Just going along with the crowd or saying that we are doing something because we fancy a laugh and having a bit of fun, seems a tad risky.


My other objection to Halloween is its focus on death and blood and gore. In our shops, there are, quite frankly some horrific things of this sort that are designed to appeal to children. Whilst I think that it is good for our younger generations to talk about what frightens them, and even confront their fears, I fail to see how Halloween benefits this. Finally, with reference to trick or treating, I fail to see how this is anything more than legalised doorstop mugging – technically, the threat to do something unpalatable unless the recipient gives you something in return is robbery! Yes, I know that, this is a bit of fun, but again, why are we doing it? What if things do turn sour – and for someone, they will. What of those who do not want to be disturbed at night? What if the mischief goes too far?


Despite my protestations, as I shared at the beginning of this article, I have lost the argument with my own kids. They have been carried away on a tide of anticipation about the volume of sweets that they can scrounge. Yet, I do believe that my humorous protestations – given in far less detail than in this article – have had some impact. My children are visiting the homes of people they know. They will be supervised.  One group are amassing as Winnie the Pooh, Tiger, and Piglet. One child is dressing as a skeleton. This is hardly the stuff of horror. And they know, because of the way in which we live as parents, something of our faith and values. Perhaps having lost the battle, we will win the war. After all, as the apostle Paul writes, ‘We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. For us, Jesus, and not spells, is the answer.


God bless you all,
Oh, and happy All Souls’ Day when it arrives.