Following the dispersion of mankind at the tower of Babel (Gen. 11), virtually every ensuing culture has maintained a legend regarding a “Great Flood.” Often, as we will see, such traditions are also associated with a great “Day of Death,” as well as a “new beginning” (linked to the salvation of Noah and his family). Interestingly, these traditions are all tied to the fall of the year—specifically the end of October and the beginning of November. Is it possible, as the evidence suggests, that there is a connection between the flood of Noah’s time and the pagan holiday known today as Halloween?
Was the flood in the fall of the year? Many scholars believe that— much like today’s Jewish calendar—the calendar employed in Genesis began in the fall, with the first month beginning somewhere from mid-September to mid-October. Genesis 7:11 states that the flood began “in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month.” Therefore, this could easily place the beginning of the flood at the end of October or the beginning of November. A year later—on the 27th day of the second month—Noah and his family left the ark, their “salvation” complete. Thus, a “new year” began around the first of November.
One scholar writes: “What is often overlooked, however, is that there is [in addition to the great flood legend] the remembrance of the ‘Day of the Dead,’ followed by a New Year. This occurs on our [Roman] calendar at the end of October or the beginning of November” (Frank Humphrey, The Great Flood and Halloween).
The following examples serve to illustrate how widespread the tradition of the “Day of the Dead” and a “November New Year” had become. Note the many “themes” that correspond to Halloween.
- In Egypt it has “long been known that the ship of Isis and the chest or coffin of Osiris [note the death theme] which floated on the waters for a year are confused Egyptian recollections of the [great] Flood. Plutarch says [that] Osiris was shut up in his box and set afloat ‘on the seventeenth day of the month Athyr, when nights were growing long and the days decreasing.’… In Plutarch’s time, Athyr did in fact coincide with October-November.”
- “In ancient Assyria the ceremonies for the souls of the dead were in the month Arahsamna, which is Marcheswan [the month of Heshvan on the Jewish calendar, which is mid-October to mid-November]. In Arahsamna the Sun God became Lord of the Land of the Dead.”
- In India, “the Hindu Durga festival of the dead was originally connected with their New Year which commenced in November.”
- In Iran, “the Persians commenced their New Year in November, in a month which was named Mordad-month, i.e., the month of the angel of death.”
- In the fall of the year the Aboriginal Australians “painted white stripes on their legs and arms to resemble skeletons.”
- In French Polynesia, “the inhabitants … pray for the spirits of departed ancestors at the end of their New Year celebration in November.”
- In Peru, “the [Inca] New Year commenced in November and the festival called Ayamarka—[meaning, the] carrying of a corpse—concluded with [the] placing [of] food and drink on graves.”
- “The Mexican [Aztecs], too, kept the Day of the Dead at the same [fall] time of the year.”
- In many parts of Europe, “November 2 is All Souls’ Day, the Day of the Dead.”
- In France “it is Le Jour des Morts, Christianized now for centuries, but still at [the] heart [of] the old Day of the Dead when flowers are taken to the tombs.”
- The “early Anglo-Saxons called November Blood-Month,” while Celtic inhabitants of Britain “kept their New Year in November.”
- In Wales and Scotland “early November is the time for ghosts to be remembered.”
(Adapted from The Great Flood and Halloween, bold emphasis and bracketed comments added; for Web site information see Bibliography.)
Humphrey concludes, “The legends cited above are found all over the world in cultures radically distinct from one another…. And yet they all have in common this remembrance of death and a new beginning at the end of October and the beginning of November” (bold emphasis added).
Is this mere coincidence? Or does the evidence presented hint at the true origin of Halloween? Is Halloween, in fact, a sort of morbid memorial to the wicked that God destroyed by Noah’s flood? Humphrey suggests that— perhaps like the “Great Flood”—Halloween itself is a sober “reminder both of God’s judgment on human rebellion and His offer of deliverance to those who put their trust in His mercy.”