The #1 Scariest Reason Why Amish People Don’t Need Halloween

by Vicki Nemeth
Amish people don’t celebrate Hallowe’en, but their Anabaptist history is scary enough. The Anabaptists originally lived in Europe in a time when European countries didn’t have freedom of religion. When church authority combined with political authority, people in power did horrifying things to people they considered heretics. You can read about Anabaptist martyrs in Book 2 of Martyrs Mirror which, after the Bible, is the most important book in most Amish homes.

Be careful of the disturbing content in Martyrs Mirror

You might want to reserve Martyrs Mirror for the adults in your home. It has detailed descriptions and illustrations of torture. It’s not surprising that its other name is The Bloody Theater.

Martyrs Mirror, Book 2, page 10: Burning of Leonard Kayser, Scharding, 1527

The art style of Martyrs Mirror consists of realistic black and white etchings. Very little of the art is embellished with heavenly symbolism. It’s just plain and simple torture. The most shocking pictures show gore and suffering without holding back. Other images are merely disturbing, showing an arrest and the acceptability of persecution in seventeenth-century society. Some show the aftermath for families grieving for their martyred loved ones.
Book 2 focuses on Anabaptist martyrs, but Book 1 is just as shocking and details the martyrdoms of Christians from the first century all the way up into the middle ages. While Book 1 documents martyrdoms that predate the founding of Anabaptism, the martyrs it covers are thought to have had beliefs similar to Anabaptists.
What sets Martyrs Mirror apart from other martyrdom literature, such as hagiographies or Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, is its focus on Christians who are believed to have refused to defend themselves. It’s no surprise that Amish communities today practice pacifism. The book’s most famous martyr who refused to defend himself is Dirk Willems.

Who was Dirk Willems?

Dirk Willems is the most famous Anabaptist in "Martyr's Mirror" for saving a prison guard he was running from
In 1569, Dirk escaped from prison. While running from prison guards he was light enough to cross a frozen pond. But a guard who tried to chase him across fell through the ice. Dirk could have left him there. Instead, he turned around and helped the guard out of the water. Even then, the guard wouldn’t let him go. He re-arrested Dirk, and the authorities later burned him at the stake. The text describes how much pain Dirk went through and doesn’t gloss over it.
The illustration of Dirk saving the guard is frank. It doesn’t depict him having a superhuman aesthetic or a halo. It’s just him reaching for a man who has fallen through the ice. Even the trees are scraggy and leafless. By using realistic line drawing, Martyrs Mirror focuses on normal, everyday people who are not magical.

Martyrs Mirror Book 2 Page 812: Persecution in Switzerland

Martyrs Mirror, Book 2, Page 812: Persecution in Switzerland, 1637

When you look at the pictures and read the accounts in Martyrs Mirror, you understand why so many Anabaptists moved to America where they could have religious freedom. As a matter of fact, settlers in what is now Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, translated Martyrs Mirror from Dutch into German in 1749. You could say Americans adopted this Dutch book into American culture.
Martyrs Mirror is a religious book, and it does teach about the theology motivating its martyrs’ perseverance. It’s also critical of the Catholic Church before 1660. At over 1100 pages, it’s an ambitious reading project. Likewise, the English translation is from the 1800s, so it’s not the easiest book to read.
Unlike modern-day Hallowe’en, Martyrs Mirror doesn’t make light of pain, gore, and death. But it does warn readers to take human fragility seriously, and along with that, their right to freedom of conscience.


No Responses to “The #1 Scariest Reason Why Amish People Don’t Need Halloween”

  1. Kate Ras says:

    Wow that was odd. I just wrote an extremely long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyway, just wanted to say wonderful blog!

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