Long before little ghosts and witches filled plastic jack-o-lanterns with candy every Oct. 31, ancient Celts celebrated the festival known as Samhain, Wikipedia tells us. The occasion marked the end of the “lighter half” of the year and beginning of the “darker half.” On this day, which became All Hallows’ eve (the day before All Saints Day), it was believed that the border between this world and the Otherworld became thin, allowing both harmless and harmful spirits to pass through to ours. To ward off the evil spirits the Celts disguised themselves as wicked spirits by wearing costumes and masks, a tradition still embraced by today’s trick-or-treaters. According to a 2007 Pew Research survey, two-thirds of Americans (68%) completely or mostly agree that angels and demons are active in the world (and not just on Halloween). Just 14% completely disagree with this idea. Among religious groups, Mormons (88%), evangelical Christian (87%) and members of historically black churches (87%) are the most likely to agree that angels and demons are active in the world. Jewish Americans are by far the most likely to disagree that these spirits stalk the planet (73% disagree with 52% completely disagreeing). Buddhists (56% disagree), Hindus (55%) and the religiously unaffiliated (54%) are other faith groups disagreeing that angels and demons exist in our world. Happy Halloween! Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.