Religious Halloween Stories from Scripture

01259_All_Saints_Day_Sanok,_2011Everyone knows that Halloween is a time of spooks, monsters, and witches. What has been lost in the costumed time of begging for candy is the religious foundation of the festival. Some Christians, including Latter-day Saints, have a hard time with this season as they consider it a celebration of evil. There is truth to that, but only because of cultural transformation. It actually has a Christian devotional relationship.

From a William Hamblin and Daniel Peterson article about the holliday roots:

The word “Halloween,” or “Hallowe’en,” dates to about 1745. It’s a contraction of “All Hallows’ Eve,” and it denotes the evening before the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day (i.e., “All Saints’ Day”) — a time, in the Catholic calendar, for remembering the dead, particularly saints, martyrs, and departed Christian believers. (It’s akin to the Jewish “Yizkor” prayer and the Hindu period of “Pitru Paksha.”) . . .

All Saints’ Day became a Christian holiday in A.D. 609, but it was originally celebrated on May 13. By the end of the 12th century, all of Europe observed it. Churches rang their bells, and criers dressed in black paraded in the streets, summoning others to pray for the deliverance of the souls in Purgatory. (Act 2, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona” recalls the sound of “a beggar at Hallowmas.”) Skulls and skeletons were commonly depicted as reminders of death and the transience of human life. “Soul cakes” were baked and distributed in memory of all christened but departed souls, which suggests one possible origin for the treats given out at Halloween.

In 835, though, Pope Gregory IV changed the date of All Saints or All Hallows to Nov. 1. Some readers will be familiar, in this connection, with the common Hispanic observance of the “Dia de Muertos” or “Day of the Dead.” . . .

Curiously, Martin Luther is said to have nailed his famous “95 Theses” to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg — and, thus, to have launched the Protestant Reformation — on Oct. 31 because he knew that the church would be packed with worshippers on All Hallows’ (or All Saints’) Day the following morning. Hence, Oct. 31 is also celebrated as “Reformation Day.”

In honor of the religious aspects of Halloween, I present Scripture stories that would fit in with the season. They can frighten and enlighten. Perhaps these can be a step in inviting back the spiritual aspect of the holiday. Another option is spending time contemplating the struggles and triumphs of family history before dressing up and celebrating. Continue reading

A Woman’s Testimony: The Road Hill House Murder

imageI have the privilege in participating in a book group. This month’s selection was The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective.

The story of the shocking murder is laid before the reader: a three-year-old boy, Saville Kent, turns up missing in June 1860. His body is found in the servants’ privy, having been murdered.

The local police force, largely composed of unpaid local volunteers, fails to determine who committed the crime after two weeks. Mr. Whicher, the most reknowned of Scotland Yard’s eight detectives, is sent to solve the disturbing case. John Whicher almost immediately comes to his conclusions: the murder was committed by individuals living in the Kent household in Road Hill, and the most likely suspects are the murdered boy’s half-siblings, teenagers Constance and William Kent. Mr. Whicher only has physical evidence to support accusations against Constance, and that is circumstantial.

The spectacle of a working class man sifting through the family’s soiled laundry to accuse a respectable middle class maiden of brutally killing her younger brother causes country-wide revulsion. Mr. Whicher’s career is destroyed, though he is able to find work as a private detective a few years later, when Constance Kent confesses to being solely responsible for the murder. Constance spends 20 years in jail.

William, freed from suspicion by his sister’s testimony, is able to inherit the thousand pounds his deceased mother had bequeathed to him upon his majority and goes on to enjoy a successful career in science. Once Constance is released, she changes her name and spends the rest of her life with or near her brother, William.

This one murder case has a profound impact on the zeitgeist of the age, manifested in the new genre of detective fiction. It popularized conlusions that had been arrived at decades earlier by those involved in the judicial system: human witness (confession or eyewitness evidence) was too subjective to be trusted. As early as 1825, Jeremy Bentham’s A Treatise on Judicial Evidence (1825) argued that testimony needed to be backed up by material proof.

Yet when it comes to matters relating to the emergence of the central doctrines regarding marriage in Mormonism, the vast majority are content to hang their interpretation on the testimony of human witnesses, ignoring the capacity of these witnesses to mislead, whether intentionally or not. Continue reading

Shouldn’t they be called ‘Confer Women?’

This is a guest post by Michael Davidson.

On Friday, an essay entitled “Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women” was published on, and the reactions from some quarters of the internet were entirely predictable. One of the most common complaints I’ve seen is that the Church is claiming that the word “ordain” doesn’t mean “ordain.” The most cogent of these observations came courtesy of April Young Bennett, who argues:

The authors attempt to explain away the ordinations of female Relief Society officers in Nauvoo by stating that “Mormons sometimes used the term ordain in a broad sense, often interchangeably with set apart.” Maybe they did sometimes, but not in this case. In the minutes of the Nauvoo Relief Society, Joseph Smith explained that Emma Smith did not need to be ordained at that meeting as she had already been ordained previously, just like men who have already been ordained in the modern church do not need to be ordained again to take on new callings. Instead, Emma Smith received a blessing that is similar to the modern practice of “setting apart” while Sarah M. Cleveland and Elizabeth Ann Whitney received ordinations.

In support of her assertions, Ms. Bennett provides a link to the minutes of the Nauvoo Relief Society from the Joseph Smith Papers Project website. It is instructive to read exactly what was recorded about the ordinations of Sarah M. Cleveland and Elizabeth Ann Whitney.

Elder Taylor was then appointed to ordain the Counsellors— he laid his hands on the head of Mrs Cleveland and ordain’d her to be a Counsellor to the Elect Lady, even Mrs. Emma Smith, to counsel, and assist her in all things pertaining to her office &c.

Elder T. then laid his hands on the head of Mrs. Whitney and ordain’d her to be a Counsellor to Mrs. Smith, the Prest. of the Institutio[n]— with all the privileges pertaining to the office &c.

He then laid his hands on the head of Mrs. Smith and blessed her, and confirm’d upon her all the blessings which have been confer’d on her, that she might be a mother in Israel and look to the wants of the needy, and be a pattern of virtue; and possess all the qualifications necessary for her to stand and preside and dignify her Office, to teach the females those principles requisite for their future usefulness.

Each of Mrs. Cleveland and Mrs. Whitney were ordained to be counselors. No mention is made of priesthood office, nor was there any mention of the conferral of any priesthood to Emma Smith, Sarah Cleveland or Elizabeth Whitney. Which leads to the main point of this post: “ordain” has never meant conferral of either the Aaronic Priesthood or the Melchizedek Priesthood in the Church.

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