Why Do We Connect Halloween and Satanism?
Diablo III concept art. Credit: Blizzard Ente
May 22, 2012 --
"Evil is back." This simple slogan heralded the return of Blizzard Entertainment's new long-anticipated chapter in the Diablo video game series. Diablo III, released last week, returns players to Sanctuary to battle the forces of the Burning Hells. Descending ever further into the game, players have to hack, slash and blast their way through beasts, ghouls, ghosts, skeletons and, of course, demons. Long before Blizzard unleashed digital demons, however, these creatures existed for centuries in the religious and mythological traditions and were even believed to roam the real world. Diablo, also known as the Lord of Terror in the eponymous series, might be the most infamous villain in the world of Sanctuary. But here on Earth, these demons are the ones that humankind long feared. And after all, if you want to be a real demon-slayer, you'll need to know what to look for.
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Perhaps the most famous demon in the western religious traditions is Lucifer, who has been alternatively referred to at different times as Satan or the Antichrist. However, there are also also demons who have been interchangeably referred to by these titles. According to Christian lore, Lucifer was once an angel who had fallen to hell after being cast out of heaven for challenging God. For this reason, Lucifer, even if he hasn't been identified directly as Satan, has long been associated with the sin of vanity.
Beelzebub, whose name has so many different spellings that he surely must be evil, is yet another contender for the prince of darkness in the Christian tradition. Before he was cast as a demon in the Christian faith, Beelzebub was a god to the Philistines. His name literally translates to the "Lord of the Flies," which sounds considerably more terrifying when you consider how much of an impact insects had in terms of spreading disease in the ancient world. Beelzebub is also the demon most often associated with the idea of possession, the opposite role he served as the Philistine god as being a kind of fly chaser.
Like Lucifer and Beelzebub, the demon Mammon is one of the seven princes of Hell. Mammon is frequently associated with greed, and may have been a pagan god of wealth in a prior incarnation. In fact, the word Mammon itself means riches in Aramaic. Mammon's first true appearance as a fallen angel was in John Milton's epic poem "Paradise Lost," in which he is portrayed with his eyes always scouring the ground for valuables. Despite his avarice, Mammon also appears to express a sense of contentment with his station, stating his belief that it's "better to reign in hell than serve in heaven."
Pazuzu is a demon that has been terrifying people for over 4,000 years. Originally appearing in Assyrian mythology, this demon was also one of the spirits responsible for possessing the protagonist 1971 horror novel "The Exorcist," which was later made into a movie of the same name. Often depicted with a combination of human and animal features, Pazuzu is a demon commonly associated with famine and drought. Despite how fearsome this demon might be, Pazuzu was actually often invoked to ward off his evil wife, the next entry on this list.
Lamashtu was not only the wife of Pazuzu, but also his fiercest rival. This female demon would prey on pregnant women as well as their infant children after they gave birth. According to myth, Lamashtu was responsible for causing pregnant women to miscarry, killing young children, drinking men's blood and bringing disease. For these reasons and more, she was considered the most fearsome of all demons in ancient Mesopotamian religions.
An incubus is a class a demon that attacks women in their sleep. The attack isn't so much violent as it is sexual in nature. Incubi can impregnate a women, and therefore produce more demons as a result. Repeated encounters with an incubus can result an sickness or even death.
A succubus is the female demonic counterpart to an incubus, preying on sleeping men instead of women. Unlike the incubus, however, which is always nightmarish in appearance, a succubus may appear as beautiful or monstrous. A succubus will also cause her victim to have nightmares and deprive him of his virility, but no offspring will result from their encounter.
Derived from Jewish legend, Asmodeus, a name possibly rooted in the Hebrew term "to destroy," is the king of demons, and appears in both the Book of Tobit and the Testament of Solomon. After becoming obsessed with Sarah, a relative of Tobit, Asmodeus killed seven husbands out of jealousy. God only allowed the slaughter because the men didn't marry her for the right reasons. It wasn't until Tobias, a pious young man, took her hand that the demon was expelled. Asmodeus is one of the seven princes of Hell, and is frequently associated with lust because of his legend.
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No demon on this list would ever be called a looker, but Asag, a devil stemming from Sumerian theology who is also known as Asakku in Babylonian folklore, was known for being ugly even among demonic standards. In fact, he was so hideous that he supposedly boils rivers of fish alive just with his presence. Just don't tell him that. Asag might not have been able to attract a living mate, so instead he coupled with the mountains themselves. Out of that union came an army of stone that he is able to command in battle.
If you've ever wondered why envy is something referred to as the "green-eyed monster," the answer lies with this demon. Leviathan, a sea monster of Hebrew origin, was originally made by God on the fifth day of creation alongside a mate, known as Taninim, which resembled a large snake. God killed its mate, since the world would fall into ruin should the two ever have offspring. Leviathan is not only the symbol of envy, but represents the punishment of those guilty of the sin who haven't repented, since they will be consumed by this monster upon entry to hell.
Belphegor is a demon who has evolved somewhat since he got his start as a god who was worshiped and associated with excessive promiscuity and orgies. Later, he served under Lucifer on a kind of reconnaissance mission to discover whether marriage on Earth could actually result in happiness. Lucifer had believed that the nature of human beings was to be inherently quarrelsome and harmony was impossible. Although he was later most commonly associated with sloth, Belphegor function as a demon was to tempt men into coming up with inventions with which they would amass great wealth and turn on one another. Given his varied history, Belphegor has been portrayed at different times as a beautiful woman and a hideous almost man-goat hybrid.
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For most people Halloween is a fun time of dressing up, creating elaborate costumes and decorations, visiting haunted houses, taking kids trick-or-treating, and of course eating candy. It has become a heavily commercialized holiday second only to Christmas in terms of the number of people who celebrate and participate in it.
For some, however, the fears associated with Halloween go beyond fake-scary ghosts and into genuine spiritual warfare for the souls of the innocent. These people, including many fundamentalist Christians, believe that there is a dark and sinister side to the Oct. 31 festivities. Where did this belief come from?
Fear of Witches
Part of the answer lies in the reputed origins of Halloween. Many trace it back to an ancient Celtic pagan celebration called Samhain (pronounced “sah-win”). Samhain, which occurred on Halloween, the night before All Saint’s Day, was an annual communal meeting to gather resources for the winter months.
Samhain has many aspects but focused on the changing of seasons and preparing for the dormancy (and eventual rebirth) of nature as summer turned to winter. These pre-Christian practices, with their focus on nature’s cycles and many deities, were viewed as occult by the Roman Catholic Church. All Saint’s Day and Samhain, coming so close together on the calendar, influenced each other and, many believe, later combined into the celebration we now call Halloween.
Then there’s the fact that the Bible is pretty clear about its position on magic and the occult — for example Exodus 22:18 commands that “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Because witchcraft is seen as an abomination in the eyes of God — along with other occult practices such as dowsing, astrology and Ouija boards — anything associated with it is to be shunned as evil.
Still, you may ask, what’s the big deal? What, exactly, is the link between the Devil and the day kids dress up as ghosts, Spider-Man or Shrek? Christian evangelist Phil Phillips and Joan Hake Robie, in their book “Halloween and Satanism,” explain why many fundamentalists are concerned about Halloween: “A tragic by-product of fear in the lives of children as early as pre-pubescence is the interest and involvement in supernatural occult phenomena.”
Thus, they believe, if a child is scared by a haunted house zombie or spooky witch costume, his or her natural curiosity will soon lead them to read books and watch TV programs on the things that scared them — dead bodies or witches, for example. According to Phillips and Robie, this will start children on the road to Satanic practices.
Of course, it’s true that Halloween practices — like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and other holiday practices and rituals — have a historical context and make use of certain symbols, foods, music and so on. However just because there exists a long history of real, genuine witchcraft claims — such as those that resulted in the infamous Salem witch trials of 1692 — doesn’t mean that any child who sees a green-skinned, pointy-hatted witch costume will become interested in magic or witchcraft, much less become a witch.
Unlike concerned adults who read sinister meanings into things they fear or shun, children tend to take things at face value. They are more concerned about how much candy they get — or how good their costume is — than whether their black cat lawn ornament is really an invitation for Satan.
Halloween is only a high-profile part of the problem. Role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, the Harry Potter books, and even popular films like “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial” and “Ghostbusters” are also gateways to sin. Rap music, violent cartoons and video games, and so on are all evidence of social moral decay leading to drug use, suicide and murder. Underlying all this is a conspiracy-theory like belief that there are hidden meanings behind everything, and powerful, sinister forces at work trying to brainwash the innocent.
Halloween, Samhain and Satan
The connection between Satanism and Halloween is even less plausible in historical context. Though a clear and direct historical connection between Halloween and Samhain has never been proven, many scholars — and the public — believe that the traditions are linked.
As for the allegedly sinister nature of that ancient Celtic feast, Nicholas Rogers, a history professor at York University and author of “Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night,” writes:
“We can dismiss the argument that Samhain was ‘satanic’ or that in some essentialist sense Halloween is a ‘satanic ritual,’ as the Reverend Pat Robertson, the founder of the Christian Coalition, declared in 1982…. Satanism is essentially a Christian creation, a travesty of Christian forms centered on the fallen rebel angel Lucifer. In fact, the early Christian church left little room for Satan… Certainly, Satanism was incompatible with the polytheism of the ancient Celts. Indeed, the belief in satanic cults blossomed only in the late medieval period — long after the demise of Samhain.”
The confusion may have arisen, in part, because Wiccan witchcraft traditions worship a horned god which superficially resembles depictions of a goat-headed Devil. This “Horned One,” however, is a god of fertility (among other things). Since these early pagans did not believe in anything resembling a Christian Satan, it could not have played a role in their rituals.
Hell Houses for Jesus
Despite no evidence that Halloween is satanic or occult, some religious organizations have tried to ban the holiday. Nicholas Rogers writes:
“Christian fundamentalists have taken exception to Halloween school parties on the grounds that they insidiously promote pagan, if not satanic, beliefs. There have been attempts to ban the annual party outright, or at the very least prevent masquerading as devils and witches.”
In fact some religious groups have co-opted Halloween for their own purposes, creating their own evangelical version called Hell House to give wayward teenagers a chance to be “scared straight.”
“Evangelical churches have promoted scare-fare enterprises on Halloween as a counterpoint to society’s permissiveness. In 1996 a church in Arvada, Colorado,
It’s true that Halloween has been associated with pranks and bad behavior for centuries — after all, “trick or treat” is a not-so-veiled extortion threat — but the idea that All Hallow’s Eve is a time for Satanists to run amok doing evil is the stuff of myth.