There was a time when people took evil seriously. They believed that evil spirits roamed the planet intending harm and mischief. So fear of evil was a real part of their lives, and so was the need to feel safe. Rituals and customs to ward off evil and help people to feel safe, therefore, became an essential and vital part of their culture.
Now wind the clock forward and here we are in a pandemic, where again fear of harm is real and so is the need to feel safe. The virus is being treated much like those evil spirits of old as ‘public enemy number one’, so governments had to come up with something to help us feel safe too. The wearing of masks and lockdowns to keep the evil virus at bay, for example, became an essential part of our culture, as did a “miracle” working vaccine that, we were told, had the power to keep us safe by preventing the evil virus doing nasty things to us. So the pandemic, rather ironically, has given us a very real connection today with those in the past who created rituals and customs to help them feel safe from an invisible and very tricky enemy too.
And it’s not surprising we have that connection because we also share the same invisible, tricky enemy. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us who it is too: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” So our ancestors are not to be scoffed at for their fear of evil spirits roaming the earth, nor for their rituals to feel safe from them either.
But this is where the irony continues, because we may think our ancestors’ belief about evil spirits and their rituals for protecting themselves as rather primitive and silly, but we’ve picked up some really odd Halloween customs and rituals too, that ironically are very much like theirs.
And for that we can thank the Irish, who happily claim they were the first to believe that on October 31st the most evil and vengeful of creatures came to play pranks on them. So to keep these evil creatures at bay they lit massive bonfires and dressed up like evil spirits to blend in, painting their faces black and wearing masks, so the spirits wouldn’t recognize and play tricks on them. They also dressed up as ghosts and demons to receive offerings of food on behalf of the spirits to appease them.
And the idea of a lit up pumpkin, or turnip back then, pictured an Irish lad named Jack O’Lantern who tried to thwart the devil and got himself condemned to roaming Ireland for eternity with only a turnip, gouged out to hold a burning coal, to light his way.
Which may seem weird and completely nutty to us, perhaps, but ironically it also sounds very familiar. As our kids prowl the streets on Halloween dressed up in costumes and masks to get treats, it’s like seeing the ghosts of our ancestors – doing exactly the same thing – travelling with them.
Which is where the irony continues too, because there’s something not quite right about children being given bags full of candy during a pandemic. We fear for our kids’ health and want them to be safe, which is why some are so sensitive about protecting children with mandatory masks and vaccines. But the kids most likely to get sick from the virus are those with underlying problems of diabetes and obesity, which candy and over indulging on sugar are connected to.
I wonder if the irony of that is now more apparent, when our dearly loved custom of handing out candy is actually making our children more vulnerable to the Covid virus. Our ancestors would likely say, “Well, there’s your proof that evil is real and intent on doing mischief to us,” but what do we say? That “It’s all just a bit of harmless fun?”
One has to wonder, therefore, if our ancestors had a better grasp of evil than we do, that there really are evil spirits roaming the planet looking for people to devour.
But the irony for our ancestors was not grasping the solution to their fear of evil in a simple promise from God in James 4:7 – “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” And that all it would take to keep them safe was “not giving the devil a foothold,” Ephesians 4:27. And if they’d believed that they wouldn’t have come up with Halloween and all its weird customs that we are now lumbered with as well.