Witches, Demons, Halloween, and Fear

When I was a Christian, Halloween always terrified me. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved dressing up in costumes for our church’s Harvest Fest, where we played games and got candy. What terrified me was Halloween itself, which I was taught to associate with witches and demons.

I grew up believing that there were real witches who worshiped Satan and communed with demons. These witches were dangerous and powerful because they got actual power from Satan himself. We believed that God would win eventually, but that for the time being Satan had a great deal of power and dominion over the world. Witches could cause real pain, because they had real power.

I grew up believing that demons were real, physical beings all around us. I read Frank Peretti – a serious mistake – and his books terrified me. I think the only way to explain this adequately is to quote the summary of the first of his books I read:

This Present Darkness, by Frank Peretti, is among the classic novels of the Christian thriller genre. First published in 1986, Peretti’s book set a suspenseful standard in spiritual warfare story-telling that has rarely been met by his contemporaries. Set in the apparently innocent small town of Ashton, This Present Darkness follows an intrepid born-again Christian preacher and newspaper reporter as they unearth a New Age plot to take over the local community and eventually the entire world. Nearly every page of the book describes sulfur-breathing, black-winged, slobbering demons battling with tall, handsome, angelic warriors on a level of reality that is just beyond the senses. However, Christian believers and New Age demon-worshippers are able to influence unseen clashes between good and evil by the power of prayer. Peretti’s violent descriptions of exorcisms are especially vivid: “There were fifteen [demons], packed into Carmen’s body like crawling, superimposed maggots, boiling, writhing, a tangle of hideous arms, legs, talons, and heads.” This book is not for the squeamish. But for page-turning spiritual suspense, it’s hard to beat.

Demons were very real to me. I believed that they were battling with angels in the air around us, every day, everywhere. They were generally invisible, but I believed that they could make themselves visible if they wanted. Let’s just say that I took Frank Peretti’s portrayal VERY serious.

Of course, I believed that as a Christian I was protected from demons. I believed that our home was protected by God and that the demons could not enter it. But at the same time, I believed that a bad thought or bad book or bad music could let demons in. One of my parents’ friends told us about how she confronted a demon in the hall at night after her daughter listened to rock music. When a relative came to visit and brought a Harry Potter book he was reading, my parents made him leave it in the car for fear that it would let demons in.

I believed that Halloween was the main holiday for witches, and that they held secret meetings with demons, conducted animal sacrifices, and carried out Satan’s work. Halloween terrified me, because I could almost feel the demonic power climax with the holiday. While I loved our church’s harvest fest, Halloween itself was a holiday of fear.

Today, my fear of Halloween has almost completely disappeared. I no longer believe that there is such thing as Satan or demons. I now know that Wicca (pagan witchcraft) has nothing to do with demons or Satan. I don’t doubt that there are a few self-proclaimed witches who do claim to worship Satan, but since there’s no such thing as Satan, that doesn’t bother me. All that remains is a sort of residual fear that is not logical or rational but rather purely emotional, a sort of leftover from my past. I imagine even that feeling will decline with time.

Too often conversations between Christians and atheists focus on the question “but how can you live without God?” You know what? Being an atheist doesn’t just mean living without God, it means living without Satan. Sure I no longer believe that there are angels waiting around to help me out if I need it, but I also no longer believe that there are demons ready to torment and tempt me. Believing in the supernatural means believing in a great powerful force of good, but it also generally means believing in a great powerful sense of evil. I no longer believe in either. I no longer credit things that happen to forces beyond human control, whether good or evil. And when I’m laying in bed at night and think I hear a movement, or when I’m outside in the dark and my hair suddenly stands on end, this makes all the difference in the world.

With the removal of the supernatural world, filled with forces of evil as well as forces of good, I somehow find that the wold feels much less scary and I feel much less fearful. Yes, many things about the world suck, but they aren’t beyond our understanding or our ability to improve. We may not have a supernatural force of good to call on, but there’s also no supernatural force of evil sabotaging thing. Instead, things just are, and we have make the best of them and do the best we can.

And today I realize that the only thing “scary” about Halloween is the potential rise in drunk driving and the teenage pranks that often accompany the holiday.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03763879283931347382 secret agent woman

    Just came across this blog and have been reading back through the last few posts. I work in an area where I see the damaging effects of fundamentalism in many of my patients. It's sad. As for Halloween, I completely agree that taking out the supernatural changes it for the better. Have you heard about JesusWeen? I did a post on it, but I've read about it elsewhere, too.http://undergroundagent.blogspot.com/2011/10/jesusween.html

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04510986008238276269 Amanda

    I had the same experience as you. I was terrified of Halloween and I believed demons were real and lurking about in dark places, just waiting for the chance to pounce. I remember hearing a story about how my friend's mother could hear demons coming up the stairs to my friend's bedroom because she was a rebellious preteen and listened to the beatles. Do you remember the man who preached about his experiences with trick or treating, how he saw glowing eyes in the sky, and was tormented for years afterward? He was pretty well known in the evangelical circuit when we were kids.We always went to Chuck E Cheese on Halloween night so that we wouldn't feel weird about all of the other kids having fun and getting candy, but I remember being terrified on the way there that I would look into the sky and see demons celebrating their holiday.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Amanda – I'm happy to say I never heard that story! It would have just freaked me out MORE if I had! Were you ever told that UFOs are actually demons, and that it's part of Satan's plan to prepare for the Rapture, so that he can convince the people left after the Rapture that the Rapture was actually an alien abduction? Yeah, all that did was make me REALLY scared of seeing a UFO!

  • http://janeyqdoe.com Janey

    Wow. All I had to worry about here in Australia was being told by my Mum that I couldn't go trick-or-treating because it was an American tradition not an Australian one. 9 year olds just don't get cultural imperialism.Aside from that, it's only since I started delving into the workings of Christian fundamentalism that I began to realise why there was such a furore over Harry Potter. I couldn't understand why they were so against it when the entire story was basically about good triumphing over evil with a bit of resurrection thrown in for good measure. It seemed to me that it gave kids exactly the right messages about how to live a good life. It was only when I discovered that they thought the books somehow opened up a portal to hell in your living room that I finally understood. And then I wept for humanity.

  • http://elliha.blogspot.com Elin

    I don't know what I think about Halloween. I don't really like that it has spread to Sweden. Sure, I love dressing up in costumes and in fact I met my partner at a Halloween party but I still mainly see American cultural imperialism and consumerism in it being celebrated here. As a Christian I am also a bit skeptical of celebrating it at all. I am not scared of demons and the devil, I think that type of Christianity I belong to tend to not talk too much about that although we do believe it is a reality. I don't think you are necessarily at risk just for dressing up in a costume and carving pumpkins but is it wise to incorporate a holiday into your calender which is questionable from a Christian point of view. Then again, most of our Christian holidays have elements from pagan days. In Sweden we eat Christmas ham and it is known that so was done before Christianity at about the same time of year. Well, I can go on about this for days but my main point is that I don't think it is productive to go around being scared about demons whether Christian or not.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04510986008238276269 Amanda

    Libby, YES! Oh my gosh, that is so weird. My dad used to talk about UFOs being demons ALL THE TIME. I remember watching a show about people who thought they saw UFOs, and my dad went on a huge tirade about that very thing! That when the rapture happened, the world would be fooled into thinking it was an alien abduction. I kind of thought it was my dad's own idea! I never knew that other people learned it, too!

  • Anonymous

    That's really weird, because the rationale behind Halloween is/was the complete opposite in Ireland. We were always told that it was originally an Irish holiday too, along with trick-or-treating, so it's strange to see everyone blaming corporate America for it! The tradition in Ireland behind dressing up for Halloween is so that the demons mistake you for a demon too, and therefore won't steal your soul. It wasn't a story I ever believed seriously, but that's probably because we were never very religious.-S_Morlowe

  • Brawne Lamia

    -S_Morlowe, I've always heard it was an Irish tradition too, and the Irish immigrants brought it over to the states, and like all cultural traditions, it was bastardized. I think it's that bastardization the people are complaining about being exported. But yeah, I find it interesting that people like Libby's family don't celebrate it because it of the demonic aspect, where the origins are to ward off demons. It's strange how that has changed.

  • Jenna

    I'm glad you brought this up. My family was "convicted" about Halloween when I was in 4th grade and we quit doing it. We did the church festival for a few years, and then that became too wordly too.I don't know if you have heard of it, but for my parents, it was a documentary VHS called "Trick or Treat" with all these antecdotes about ritual abuse. Seriously, until I googled it about a year ago, I believed that there was a network of satanist groups who would kidnap adults and children on Halloween to torture and sacrifice them. According to the wiki page on Satanic Ritual Abuse, I guess this was a fear in the 80's that was unfounded. There are individuals who have been abused, using sadistic ritual kind of language, but there is no widespread conspiracy.My husband and I went out to a Halloween party the other night, and I still had a hard time shaking this feeling that I was participating in evil. Hopefully I can get over it to take my son trick or treating in his cute pirate costume in a few hours.

  • http://www.ayoungmomsmusings.blogspot.com Melissa @ Permission to Live

    Yep. Dad told us to be careful not to ever be alone the week of halloween, because witches were looking for kids to kidnap for their human sacrifice ceremonies on halloween. One year halloween was the same day as the full moon and we were all even more freaked out. It sounds crazy, but we really believed it. I'm not sure what everyone means by consummerism, we carved a pumpkin, and made homemades costumes out of the stuff in the fabric box I have in the basement. And bought abox of chocolates (that we have seriously eaten way to many of, I hope we have enough for the trick-or-treaters). That's it. The only thing that bothers me about halloween now, is that some people really get into the gross gore/ horror/ torture thing, I just don't see any reason to celebrate that sort of stuff. I can't even watch a commercial for a horror film, why would I want to glorify the worst things that have happened to humans in real life, or make up stuff that could happen? Doesn't make any sense to me. I feel sad and sick when I hear about things like the james bulger case in the UK, I have absolutely no urge to re-enact it or pretend it's funny. I'll stick to halloween as a fun family time.

  • Rosa

    You know, for people who prided themselves on being outside the mainstream, freethinkers, not prey to the delusions of regular folks, your parents fell for a big fad – being afraid of Satanists. It was this weird huge explosion in the mid-80s. It affected just about everyone – I remember standing in line at the hospital to have our candy bags X-rayed in case there were razor blades in them, and we had the rumors in school that Satanists were kidnapping children, virgins, cats, whatever.As separated from the world as you guys were, you got it to. Does your dad still believe all of that?

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/ Ophelia Benson

    "Being an atheist doesn't just mean living without God, it means living without Satan."Oh I know – this is something I lean on a lot. Without Satan and without Hell – two of the worst ideas humans ever had.I can't help feeling somewhat angry at your parents when reading this post. All that pointless fear…It's awful to do that to children.

  • http://masagoroll.livejournal.com/ masagoroll

    I read those Frank Peretti books, too, but I think I always thought they were a bit overblown or else I just tried to push the thought that all of the stuff he was saying was supposed to be REAL out of my mind. I really liked them because my parents never let me see or read anything scary, so those were like scary things that were approved because they were Christian, ha.

  • Disillusioned Ex-Homeschooler

    @ Amanda, I SOOOOOOO remember that guy! Lol. And I hadn't thought of the UFOs-are-demons line for years. We had to go to bed at dusk on Halloween, so that the lights would be off and none of those evil trick or treaters would come (bringing their demons along with them).It took me a while as an adult to get into Halloween, but I just had an absolute blast trick or treating with my kids and handing out candy. It's so much fun!

  • jose

    Whoa. Having a hard time coming to terms with the idea that this post is real, not fiction. Demons and witches. I wonder what they would say about people who worship Death.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12748323591285790043 Nathan Salo Tumberg

    "Being an atheist doesn't just mean living without God, it means living without Satan."Huh. I never actually thought of that. Excellent point actually!

  • Anonymous

    Wow. I'd never heard of the UFO/rapture thing. I can't imagine telling my kids that. I grew up Catholic, didn't believe in God as a teen, then became a Christian as an adult. Halloween was fine by our family, and I read Stephen King, ghost stories, etc. We do Halloween, but not anything gory or evil (such as dressing up as a serial killer or Hitler), because who wants to glorify that? Evil is all too real, unfortunately, but it doesn't need Halloween to introduce itself into our lives. We usually do that pretty well all by ourselves. What I don't understand is when Christians ascribe such power to random things (like Jack O-Lanterns) — as if Christ is not big enough to cover that.Nancy(commenting anon. because of a cranky google account)

  • Anonymous

    my mom wouldn't let us read the Frank Perreti books because she thought he wrote too scary. We also were not allowed to celebrate halloween. We weren't even allowed to celebrate with the church's "harvest parties" because my mom felt it was just a mimicry of the world and giving satan glory and attention.I just let my kids go trick-or-treating this year for the first time and they had a blast, we connected with and met a lot of our neighbors for the first time. I enjoyed seeing my kids bring a smile to a cancer patient who stood behind her husband who was handing out candy. I enjoyed seeing an elderly lady talk with my kids and smile while she gave them candy. All in all, it was a great experience, my kids enjoyed handing out candy on our porch after they were too tired to walk anymore. I think it was a great holiday of bringing the community together and having a great time.I do not like the celebration of violence however, one of my neighbors set up a really gruesome scene of a monster dismembering children in a field a few years ago, I was pregnant and a friend had a family member who lost a 7 month old baby to SIDS that year, and the scene made me want to vomit when I drove by it.All in all, I don't like the bloody scenes-but I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with celebrating it-even though I'm still a Christian and I do still believe in a spiritual world. You can't accidentally worship Satan anymore than you can accidentally worship Jesus-so the whole idea of abstaining from a cultural holiday seems ridiculous to me now as an adult.But I'm still terrified one of my kids are going to tell my mom that we went trick-or-treating and it will result in another mindf–king argument with her, like when I had to explain to her that I loved Harry Potter, but I'm still a Christian despite whatever it was that she wanted to say or believe about me. She has a really hard time acknowledging that she's not the only one allowed to define what being a Christian is all about.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Anonymous – "She has a really hard time acknowledging that she's not the only one allowed to define what being a Christian is all about."THIS. Absolutely, this.

  • Vivi

    I'm sorry to tell you, but this sounds all so weird to me. I never knew modern Christians believed in demons as real beings that are all around them in their lives. I thought it was all just silently understood as abstract concepts and metaphors. This explains a lot about the ridiculous "witch hunts" on Harry Potter and things like D&D.; That UFO thing is mind boggling in its deceptive logic.Where I come from (Eastern Germany), Halloween isn't really "a thing", or at least it wasn't when I was a child. (I did see one or two kids trying to go trick-or-treating this year. We ignored them. (Because the same kids will put explosives in your mail box on Silvester's.) When I grew up, the 31st of October was just a day we got free (Reformation Day), because letting the Catholics have so much more official holidays is unfair. It's a bit sad. We did have lantern/bonfire festivals, and days to stay up long after dark, and days to dress up in costumes, but nothing so wonderfully morbid as Halloween. As a people, we compensate by having a large pagan/goth/medieval/fantasy/metal/LARP scene, trashy witch tourism on the Brocken mountain, and writing stuff like "Faust"… I kid. But not entirely. I do think my early interest in myth and folklore and later fantasy came from missing a certain level of magical thinking in my very atheist upbringing. Still, if the other option is genuine fear of the dark and even fear of pop culture, I guess a prosaic and boring view of the world is healthier for the psyche.

  • Anonymous

    It has been commented that some people feared finding razor blades in the candy (especially in the 80's). Where I live, there's not much trick and treating and it was less when I was a child but my Medicine university teachers comment that the crysis here was with crystal shards instead of razor blades. The original case never existed, it was just an urban legend but in the next years there were 2 isolated cases of crystals inside chocolates. The case were investigated and it was sadly proved that it was the family of the cildren who had done it in both cases using the urban legend as a cover. It's just so sad.

  • Azura

    It's very interesting to me to read stuff like this as a living, breathing witch. I don't think it'd help people quite as terrified as you were as a kid, but for pagans Halloween is a time to remember and honour your dead friends and family because the veil between this world and the next was at its thinnest. I think even atheists can benefit from using the 'dying' period of fall to think of those who have passed on. Unfortunately, the good that this holiday was meant to do is buried in xynophobia and ignorance (which I do not blame your parents for. I generally try to educate people who don't know better as long as they're respectful)Though, I am also a lover of horror and gore, so I want to take a stab (heh) at explaining at least my mindset over that as some commenters seem not to understand, which is fair enough. I like horror as a way to get an adrenaline rush, but also as a way to deal with the reality of the bad in the world in a sort of disconnected way that keeps me from getting completely depressed. I use humour the same way. Many people frown upon jokes about the Holocaust, rape, 9/11 and other tragedies, but I use it as a way to cope. If I wasn't laughing, I'd be crying. Also, comedy can often make novel connections in a way that is less threatening, and horror does the same for me. Getting into the mind of a serial killer that was abused as a kid in a story helps me cultivate empathy that I'm not sure I could with a real-world situation. I'm glad to hear that your kids will get to experience Halloween, Libby. Even back when I was an atheist/agnostic kid it was my favourite holiday. Bobbing for apples, running around in the night, getting to know neighbours or visit ones I knew, the creativity of coming up with a costume, helping my mom and dad make them and decorate the house… Lots of fun :)

  • http://yamikuronue.wordpress.com/ yamikuronue

    I'd never heard of Frank Peretti until my mom sent me one of his books in a care package and I decided to do a deconstruction. Ever since I started blogging about it, though, I keep seeing that name come up more and more often. If you're interested, the decon is at my blog: yamikuronue.wordpress.com

  • george cruz

    let me tell you about hollween it is bad for human my name is george cruz i have to tell you um this hollween is about devil and demon i see demon in my home i use to be a demon but jesus save me from demon the devil tell me i give you all the power but i say no and he get mad at me so he go and try to kill me but jesus said no no you can not kill this man and i said let me kill demon and devil for you so i pray to jesus so he can give me power it is my job i well be mad at the devil i will kill demon i have the power if i do not have it i go and do it in jesus name and i can have fury power i can be mad you well see it i am just 16 old boy