The Human Truth Foundation

Halloween

By Vexen Crabtree 2017

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#christianity #USA

Halloween occurs on the evening of the 31st of October and has become a popular yearly celebration throughout most of the developed world. Children dress up as undead creatures, monsters, or other horror-related beings, and go around their neighbourhood 'trick or treating'. They knock on doors, make monster noises associated with their theme, and are then given sweets in return. In the build-up, those who wish to take part decorate their houses with skeletons, skulls, pumpkins-with-candles-and-carved-grimaces, and other tacky paraphernalia such as spray-on cobwebs. Families take uneasy concepts such as the supernatural and death, and treat them in a prosaic and fun fashion1, with all the grotesque elements being suitably ridiculous to be children-friendly. On the main night, leaving a porch light on to illuminate the decorations is a sign to revellers that the house is taking part in Halloween2.

Halloween was originally called Samhain (pronounced 'sowwen'), and derives from ancient pagan rites3, in particular, Celtic Irish traditional and ancient beliefs that on this day, the veil between our world and otherworlds is especially thin, allowing interaction between the two4,3, often in conflict3. Christian powers have made multiple attempts to subvert Samhain with their own Catholic Day of the Dead, "All Hallow's Eve" or "All Saints Eve" (which eventually became "Halloween" in English)1. Therefore, like Christmas and Easter, modern Halloween is a mixture of pagan and Christian culture. Once exported to the USA, it was transformed into a family-oriented festival with a commercial focus on tacky decorations1 and this is the dominant form that Halloween takes today.


1. The Origins of Halloween

1.1. 8th Century BCE: The Celtic Origins of Halloween

#celtic_spiritualism #christianity #egypt

Halloween also draws from Samhain, a pagan Irish harvest festival3. The Celts 'coalesced as a society circa 800BCE'5 but Samhain was celebrated in particular by the Irish (mostly) not by the Welsh and found itself in Irish writings between the 12th and 15th centuries3. It occurred on their celebration of the new year, and was the biggest and most important Celtic holy day6.

The glittering otherworlds of Celtic myth are the invisible realms of gods and spirits, fairies, elves and misshapen giants. Some are sparkling heavens and some are brooding hells. The veil between the visible and invisible worlds is gossamer-thin and easily torn. Seers and bards pass in and out on spirit-flights or journeys of the soul, as do some privileged heroes... on the eve of Samhain, October 31, all the gates to the otherworld open and wondrous spirits emerge from under the hollow hills.

"Celtic Mythology" by Arthur Cotterell (2000)4

The word 'Samhain' comes from the Gaelic words for "summer" and "end". Samhain the time when magical beings and the otherworld interact readily with our own, sometimes in conflict3. The discord of the supernatural in conflict with humanity remains a feature of modern Halloween3. Some believed that at this time, the year's dead would traverse the Earth, the good ones being taken up into Tir Na Nog, the others remaining behind. The bad spirits that were left behind could pose a threat to the living, so, the Celts performed many ritualistic and symbolic acts to prevent themselves from being harmed. These 'wards' lay behind many of the elements of modern Halloween.

Some specifics are decidedly not Celtic in origin: For example, there were no pumpkins in Europe during Celtic times7. Some elements of Halloween might be Celtic:

Apples were considered have long been associated with female deities, and with immortality, resurrection, and knowledge. [If] an apple is cut through its equator, it will reveal a five-pointed star outlined at the center of each hemisphere. This was [a] Goddess symbol among the Roma (Gypsies), Celts, Egyptians, etc. There are many Halloween folk traditions associated with apples.

OCRT (2006)5

1.2. 7th-9th Centuries CE: Failed Catholic Subjugation

#christianity

Christians from the 7th Century were instructed by Pope Gregory I to place Christian celebrations on top of pagan ones to try to suppress them and trick people into observing Christian practice. There is unsure evidence that the 7th to 9th centuries saw the first attempts to use this against existing pagan practices on the 1st of November8. But after four such attempts, it has not worked and most Christians now celebrate Halloween in a secular way, no longer attempting to give it Christian meaning.

As a result of their efforts to wipe out "pagan" holidays, such as Samhain, the Christians succeeded in effecting major transformations in it. In 601 A.D., Pope Gregory I issued a now famous edict to his missionaries concerning the native beliefs and customs of the peoples he hoped to convert. Rather than try to obliterate native peoples' customs and beliefs, the pope instructed his missionaries to use them: if a group of people worshipped a tree, rather than cut it down, he advised them to consecrate it to Christ and allow its continued worship. [...] Church holy days were purposely set to coincide with native holy days. Christmas, for instance, was assigned the arbitrary date of December 25th because it corresponded with the mid-winter celebration of many peoples.

Wikipedia6

The Christians took over the Pantheon at Rome, the Roman 'All Gods' place of worship. They turned it into a Cathedral which they called the "Church of the Blessed Virgin and All Martyrs".

Pope Boniface IV established [All Saints' Day, or All Hallow's Day] when he consecrated the Pantheon on May 13, 609 (or 610). This Christian feast day was moved to November 1st from May 13th by Pope Gregory III in the eighth century in order to mark the dedication of the All Saints Chapel in Rome - establishing November 1st as All Saints Day and October 31st as All Hallows' Eve. Initially this change of date only applied to the diocese of Rome, but was extended to the rest of Christendom a century later by Pope Gregory IV in an effort to standardize liturgical worship. [...] Because Samhain had traditionally fallen the night before All Hallows', it eventually became known as All Hallows' Even' or Hallowe'en. While Celts were happy to add All Saints' Day to their calendar, they were unwilling to give up their existing festival of the dead and continued to celebrate Samhain.

Wikipedia9

Modern Halloween then, is a combination of these original festivals with the Catholic day of the dead, which was moved to a date to coincide with Halloween in order to suppress the original pagan festival.

2. Modern Halloween

2.1. A Mixture of Cultural Practices

Professor Hutton, historian, makes a few comments about Halloween's role in society:

Book CoverThe fun consists principally of parodying or evoking two phenomena with which present-day industrial society is profoundly uneasy: the supernatural, and death. The [...] former [...] still exerts a hold upon the imagination of very many people, in many different ways. The latter remains universal, and mysterious, but direct contact with the dying and the dead is a rarer and rarer experience within the contemporary developed world.

"The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain" by Ronald Hutton (1996)1

The careful Professor Hutton is an expert in historical prime sources, and he has reviewed most (if not all) of the available information. He concludes that there are also 'old' customs involved in Halloween but a lack of evidence prevents us from drawing sensible conclusions about their origins, which is a concern shared by historians in general10. Many hold, due to the coincidences and from reasonable extrapolation, that some of the original features of Halloween featured in Celtic folk practices that are only a few hundred years short of 3000 years old. The prankster and youth-orientated aspects of Halloween are modern inventions developed from the 18th century onwards. It became known as "Mischief Night" in some places from 1736 to the twentieth century due to the behaviour of youths at Halloween.

There were certain days in the medieval church calendar where customary largesse or begging was sanctioned and etiquette required the rich to feed or give handouts to the poor. All Souls was one of these. In return for charity, the recipient would be expected to pray for the souls of the rich. [...] Disguise is a common element in begging traditions, and this seems to be a modern manifestation of souling customs.

"Tradition and Ritual" by Leila Dudley Edwards (2000)11

2.2. 19th Century: The Rise of American Halloween

Halloween was not very well observed at all until the nineteenth century, at which point Irish immigrants brought observance of it to America en masse. American cultural influence changed Irish sobriety concerning the dead, turning Halloween into a jovial representation of supernatural forces, ghosts and witches. The custom by which households signal their willingness to participate by leaving their porch lights on, illuminating their Halloween decorations, is squarely American in origin2.

In the first half of the twentieth, Hallowe'en developed steadily into a national festivity for Americans, guising becoming a ubiquitous tradition of fancy dress to represent ghosts, goblins, and witches, pumpkins replacing Irish vegetables as cases for lanterns, and mischief-making and house-to-house calls combining in the custom of trick-or-treat. The same process occurred in Britain, partly as a result of a parallel massive influx of Irish under Victoria but mainly also because of increasing American cultural influence from that period onward.

"The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain" by Ronald Hutton (1996)1

2.3. Christian Opposition

#christianity #paganism

Halloween is perhaps the only worldwide annual celebration that involves taboo subjects such as death, horror and Earthly afterlife, and has often been associated with witchcraft12.

Book CoverIt might have been expected that this very novelty, combined with the arcane associations of the night, would create strains, and they have been increased by the fact that today almost every national festival is by definition one for the children, the family having replaced every other social unit as the essential community of the British. An attack upon the celebration of Hallowe'en, especially in schools, correspondingly developed in the late 1980s, and, continues at the time of writing. It has not, however, taken the form of a chauvinist reaction against an alien feast, but has been inspired (like the celebration) from America and has been given a specifically Christian rhetoric. It has been organised by evangelical groups in Protestant denominations.

"The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain" by Ronald Hutton (1996)1

This Christian reaction against modern Halloween has, according to Hutton, centered around two criticisms:

  1. "That Halloween is a glorification and glamorization of evil powers".

  2. "That it is essentially unchristian; in the words of the organizers of a youth-group campaign against it in 1993, it leaves young Christians feeling 'disenfranchised'."

Hutton continues to demolish these two themes:

The first is that to note with interest that, in a supposedly modern and pluralist society, some Christian groups should find it unpalatable that there should be a single national and public festival which does not (in contrast to every other traditional seasonal celebration and every seventh day) have an apparent Christian component. The second is to emphasize, once again, that a Christian feast of the dead is thoroughly embedded in the history of Hallowe'en and that its legacy is usually impossible to distinguish from that of paganism in the practices and associations of the night. It is of course maintained by what is still by far the largest of the world's churches, the Roman Catholic. To describe the festival as fundamentally unchristian is therefore either ill-informed or disingenuous.

"The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain" by Ronald Hutton (1996)1

Christian fundamentalists continue to engage in outlandish and often ridiculous campaigns against Halloween13.

The irony is that, after helping create the event, Christians' subsequent attacks on it have forced it to become non-Christian. Early reformers drove the event away from churches and clerics, forcing Halloween to be purely secular. As Christians have dropped nearly all magical associations from their religion apart from events such as baptism and mundane practices such as praying, general society is left wanting for drama and magic. Paganism's arrival on the religious scene has seen it take up these elements with glee and conscious irrationality. Now, they claim that Halloween (and other ritualistic holidays) have been pagan all along, the Christian's (mostly wrong) argument that they are non-Christian events plays perfectly into pagan and secular hands, both of whom are happy to handle fun events such as Halloween.

Most Christians celebrate Halloween in a secular way, whilst fundamentalist Christians continue to ignore it or attack it.

2.4. Mexico 14

#mexico

Halloween in Mexico: In the fall, countless numbers of Monarch butterflies return to Mexico and the shelter of its oyamel fir trees. The beliefs of the Aztecs live on in many contemporary Mexicans who believe that the butterflies bear the spirits of their dead ancestors. It is these spirits that the people honor during "Los Dias de los Muertos" (The Days of the Dead). It is a joyous, happy holiday - a time of remembering past friends and family who have died. It is celebrated, during Halloween, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, OCT-31 to NOV-2. Altars in the homes are decorated with bread, candy, fruit, and flowers. Candles are lit in memory of their ancestors. The people dress up as ghouls, ghosts, mummies and skeletons. They parade a live person in a coffin through the streets. Vendors toss fruit, flowers and candies into the coffin. Families visit the cemetery carrying tools to spruce up the graves and decorate them. They stay over-night. American Halloween customs are gradually taking over this celebration.

OCRT (2006)5

3. Paganism

#paganism

All strands of paganism share a focus on eight principal calendar events throughout the year, and Samhain/Halloween is a significant one, celebrated by modern pagans12 and Wiccans as a fun event7 but also as a spiritual one with some elements of solemnity where the dead are honoured.7,9

"Many pagans prefer to use the term 'Samhain' to denote their festival rather than the Christian 'Halloween', consciously emphasising their links with pre-Christian paganism and the old native traditions"15. Many of the personal practices of pagans at Halloween focus on personal loss and overcoming personal problems16.

In contemporary pagan celebration of Halloween ... [approaches differ] widely from relatively large-scale public celebrations incorporating aspects of ritual such as the Pagan Halloween gathering organised by the House of the Goddess, to private ritual or solo meditation, to a simple and convicted belief in the permeation of Samhain energies throughout everyday life. [...] The most important focus of the festival for many pagans is the emphasis on death and rebirth and the vast importance of having a time specifically designated for letting go, being aware and acknowledging the more difficult aspects of life. [It] is the point in the year which embodies the concept of the mutual dependence of light and dark, and strongly acknowledges the presence of the supernatural world.

"Tradition and Ritual" by Leila Dudley Edwards (2000)16

4. Satanism

#christianity #satanism

Satanists celebrate Halloween as an opportunity for fun, and laughing at paranoid Christians who get angsty about all the pagan connotations of Halloween. Satanists consider the pagan, Celtic and religious elements that underlie Halloween to be daft superstitions, but, are nonetheless happy to embrace its outwards elements.

Book CoverAfter one's own birthday, the two major Satanic holidays are Walpurgisnacht and Halloween (or All Hallows' Eve). [...] Halloween - All Hallows' Eve, or All Saints' Day - falls on October 31st or November 1st. Originally, All Hallows' Eve was one of the great fire festivals of Britain at the time of the Druids. In Scotland it was associated with the time when the spirits of the dead, the demons, witches, and sorcerers were unusually active and propitious. Paradoxically, All Hallows' Eve was also the night when young people performed magical rituals to determine their future marriage partners. The youth of the villages carried on with much merry-making and sensual revelry, but the older people took great care to safeguard their homes from the evil spirits, witches, and demons who had exceptional power that night.

"The Satanic Bible" by Anton LaVey (1969)
Book of Lucifer:11

The Satanic elements of Halloween are:

Although Satanism embraces Halloween, it is not the case that Satanists have influenced the popular event in any way.

Current edition: 2017 Oct 16
Second edition 2008 Nov 13
Originally published 2006 Sep 06
http://www.humanreligions.info/halloween.html
Parent page: Human Religions

All #tags used on this page - click for more:

#celtic_spiritualism #christianity #egypt #mexico #paganism #satanism #USA

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References: (What's this?)

Book Cover

Book Cover

Book Cover

Cotterell, Arthur
(2000) Celtic Mythology. Paperback book. Subtitled: "The Myths and Legends of the Celtic World". Published by Hermes House, imprint of Anness Publishing Ltd, London, UK.

Edwards, Leila D.
(2000) Tradition and Ritual. Paperback book. Subtitled: "Halloween and Contemporary Paganism". This essay is in "Pagan Pathways" by Graham Harvey & Charlotte Hardman (1995) (pages 224-241).

Harvey, Graham & Hardman, Charlotte
(1995) Pagan Pathways. Paperback book. 2000 edition. Originally published 1995. Current version published by Thorsons.

Hutton, Ronald
(1996) The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Paperback book. 2001 re-issue. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

LaVey, Anton. (1930-1997) Founder of the Church of Satan.
(1969) The Satanic Bible. Paperback book. Published by Avon Books Inc, New York, USA. Anton LaVey founded the Church of Satan in 1966..

OCRT. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. Website on www.religioustolerance.org.

Footnotes

  1. Hutton (1996) p379-385.^^^^
  2. Edwards (2000) p235.^^
  3. Edwards (2000) p225-226.^^
  4. Cotterell (2000) chapter "Celtic Otherworlds" p20.^^
  5. OCRT (2006) article "Halloween Customs and Traditions". Date last accessed 2006 Sep 04.^^
  6. Wikipedia: The History and Folklore of Halloween, webpage accessed 2006 Sep 04.^^
  7. OCRT (1997 Oct 13) article "Halloween: From a Wiccan / Neopagan Perspective". Date last accessed 2006 Sep 04.^^
  8. Edwards (2000) p228.^
  9. Wikipedia: Halloween, webpage accessed 2006 Sep 04.^^
  10. Edwards (2000) p225,227.^
  11. Edwards (2000) p231.^
  12. Edwards (2000) p224.^^
  13. Edwards (2000) p237-240.^
  14. Added to this page on 2017 Oct 16.^
  15. Edwards (2000) p225.^
  16. Edwards (2000) p235-237.^

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