2023 October – Ghosts and Spirits


To tell the truth, I have very conflicted feelings about Halloween. It is my least favorite holiday  community event. It is just barely the end of September, and the stores are totally covered up with Halloween celebrations as well as items for decorations and trick-or-treat candy. Everything from fresh pumpkins to candy apples… costumes with bags and buckets; tis the season for these lingering traditions to be celebrated. Of the three big holidays at year’s end: Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, the first gets the worst reputation among Christians.

The first house on my street has already installed a fifteen-foot-tall skeleton, and a twenty-foot-tall goblin. There’s no way you could miss them when you turn the corner. I expect to see lots of orange lights, mystical music from unknown sources, ghosts hanging from the trees, spiders on huge cobwebs, and other Halloween decorations popping up in my neighborhood during the next few weeks. But I don’t decorate for Halloween. That’s my personal choice.

Now, I’m not sitting in judgment if you enjoy these traditions… not trying to change your mind about however you feel about Halloween. Yes, I went trick-or-treating when I was a kid. Yes, in a couple of weeks I will purchase candy in case I have trick-or-treaters ring my doorbell. However, it is mostly because I don’t want anyone messing with my house or yard for tricks or kicks.

So, really, are you informed about the source of these traditions? You could compare it to celebrating Santa Clause during Christmas without really knowing why.

Halloween has been around for more than a thousand years. Originally a religious observance, it became increasingly secular over the centuries until its religious trappings all but disappeared. Today Halloween is considered a holiday for dress-up and fun, especially for children.

Halloween’s origins can be traced back to the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain, which was held on November 1 in contemporary calendars. It was believed that on that day, the souls of the dead returned to their homes, so people dressed in costumes and lit bonfires to ward off spirits. In this way, popular Halloween tropes such as witches, ghosts, and goblins became associated with the holiday.

In the 7th century CE, Pope Boniface IV created All Saints Day, originally celebrated on May 13. A century later, Pope Gregory III moved the holiday to November 1, likely as a Christian substitute for the pagan festival of Samhain. The day before the saintly celebration became known as All Hallows Eve, or Halloween.

Though the holiday began in Celtic regions of Ireland, the United Kingdom, and France, it quickly spread to other parts of the world. The first American colonists in New England were forbidden to celebrate it for religious reasons, though it enjoyed some popularity in the Southern colonies. By the 1800s, fall festivals marking the seasonal harvest incorporated Halloween elements, and Irish immigrants escaping the devastating Potato Famine brought with them many Halloween traditions that remain today.

The custom of trick-or-treating, in which children dress up in costume and solicit treats from neighbors, became popular in the United States in the early 20th century as Irish and Scottish communities revived the Old World custom of “guising,” in which a person would dress in costume and tell a joke, recite a poem, or perform some other trick in exchange for a piece of fruit or other treat. By 1950, trick-or-treating for candy had become one of Halloween’s most popular activities. Today, Halloween is one of the biggest holidays for candy sales in the United States, estimated to be more than $3 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. [1]

So, is Halloween based on history, reality, fiction, or fantasy? Maybe a little bit of all that. Many of you know that the study of the Holy Spirit is one of my favorite biblical studies. But let us not confuse the word ghost or spirit in Bible references with fantasy.

The word “ghost” is used in a few ways in Scripture. In the King James Version, the Bible uses “ghost” almost interchangeably with “spirit,” for example: the Holy Ghost, such as in Matthew 28:19, when Jesus tells the disciples, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (KJV).

But in other, more modern translations, “ghost” is used more sparsely, and typically for things referencing specters or apparitions. For example, in the Gospel of Mark we’re told the disciples were overcome with fear after they saw Jesus walking on water, for “they thought he was a ghost” (Mark 6:49, NIV). And in Luke, after Jesus’s crucifixion, the disciples saw him and again thought him to be a ghost. But Jesus reassured them he was not, showing them his hands and feet and eating some broiled fish as proof of his full resurrection.

The word translated as “ghost” in Matthew 14:26 is the Greek word phantasma, meaning illusion, phantom, specter, or most commonly, ghost. In Luke 24:37, the Greek word is pneuma, or wind, breath, or immaterial substance, much like a ghost.

There are also a few other places where a ghost or ghostly figure was mentioned in the Bible. For instance, in 1 Samuel 28, Saul consulted a medium, who brought forth the spirit of what Saul believed was the recently deceased prophet Samuel, to explain why God had left him.

In Job 4, Job’s friend Eliphaz the Temanite described a frightening encounter he had in the middle of the night, when, “A spirit glided past my face, and the hair on my body stood on end. It stopped, but I could not tell what it was” (Job 4:15-16).

And in Isaiah 29:4, the prophet Isaiah told the people of the city of Ariel they will be “brought low,” and their voice “will come ghostlike from the earth.”

These are only brief mentions, for it is clear that ghosts are not what many have imagined them to be, even during Bible times. For while some assume the apparition of a spirit is, perhaps, the “ghost” of a late relative come to communicate, the Bible sets us straight: this does not happen.

When people die, they die. They cannot communicate from beyond the grave.

As it says in Job 7:9-10, “As a cloud vanishes and is gone, so one who goes down to the grave does not return. He will never come to his house again; his place will know him no more.”

And as Psalm 146:4 says, “When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.”

Hebrews 9:27 notes that “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.”

As it says in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” [2]

JESUS, name above all names… not a fantasy ghost hanging on a tree… but once flesh and blood human hanging on a cross for my sins… now Spirit… still alive and sitting on the right hand of God. (Mark 16:19; Luke 22:69).  My redeemer lives!



[1] https://www.britannica.com/story/why-do-we-celebrate-

[2] Excerpts from Crosswalk.com article by Jessica Brodie,
Award-winning Christian Novelist and Journalist