Halloween

#calendar_events #halloween

Halloween is a popular celebration, mostly in Western countries. Christians have traditionally called it "All Hallow's Eve" or "All Saint' Eve". The event sits annually on the night of the 31st of October.


#christianity #mexico #paganism #USA #wicca

On the evening of the 31st of October, children knock on their neighbours doors 'trick-or-treating', dressed as creatures of the dead, such as ghouls, demons, ghosts, vampires and anything horror-related. Shouting 'trick or treat', they are given sweets. Houses and porches are decorated with skeletons, skulls, pumpkins with faces and grimaces carved on them, with candles lit inside them, and other tacky devices such as spray-on cobwebs on the corners of windows. Mostly, families treat it in a prosaic fashion, with all the grotesque elements being suitably ridiculous to be children-friendly. It is part of popular culture. Also alternative subcultures such as goths, punks, metallers also celebrate Halloween in specially-arranged nightclub events, drunken parties and fancy dress. Not everyone celebrates it, although it is becoming more and more popular, so a tradition has spread from the USA where those who wish to take part leave their porch lights on, so children know to avoid houses with them off.

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.

Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance (2006)3

Professor Hutton makes a few comments about Halloween's role in society. He is a distinguished and respected historian who we'll hear from more below.

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)4

2. The Origins of Halloween

2.1. A Mix of Cultural of Festivals

Much of modern Halloween is rooted in a Catholic day of the dead. The historical evidence on this is clear. The careful Professor Hutton who we mentioned before is an experted in historical prime sources, and has reviewed most if not all 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. That isn't to say that they are automatically very old; many customs that we nowadays think are very old are in fact Victorian inventions. 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. It was Americanized when it was made to centre around children's fun, and this new family version is currently taking precedence over other forms throughout the West.

2.2. 8th Century BCE: The Celtic Origins of Halloween

#christianity

Halloween originated "in Ireland as the pagan Celtic harvest festival, Samhain"2, which is pronounced "sowwen", where in English it became known as "All Hallows Eve". The Celts 'coalesced as a society circa 800BCE'3. It occurred on their celebration of the new year, and was the biggest and most important celtic holy day5. The word 'Samhain' comes from the Gaelic words for "summer" and "end". They 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 nearly all the elements of modern Halloween.

Some specifics are decidedly not Celtic in origin: For example, there were no pumpkins in Europe during Celtic times1. 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.

3

2.3. 7th Century CE: Failed Catholic Subjugation

#christianity

Christians from the 7th Century were instructed by Pope Gregory I to place Christian celebrations on top of Halloween to try to suppress it, 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.

The Catholic day of the dead gave us much of our Halloween when it was combined with local customs and exported to the USA, before being recentered around family fun and then being imported back to Europe. This old Catholic event had itself had been a conscious creation, attempting (as usual) to usurp pagan celebrations.

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.

Wikipedia5

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.

Wikipedia2

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 festivals.

3. Modern Halloween

3.1. 19th Century: The Rise of American Halloween

Halloween, complete with pumpkins and candles, 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.

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)4

3.2. Opposition to Paganism

#christianity #paganism

Halloween is perhaps the only worldwide annual celebration that involves taboo subjects such as death, horror and Earthly afterlife.

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)4

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 no (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)4

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.

4. Satanism

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:

See: "Satanism" by Vexen Crabtree (2013).

By Vexen Crabtree 2008 Nov 13
Originally published 2006 Sep 06
http://www.humanreligions.info/halloween.html
Parent page: Human Religions

References: (What's this?)

Book Cover

Book Cover

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..

Footnotes

  1. Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance: Halloween: From a Wiccan / Neopagan Perspective, webpage accessed 2006 Sep 04.^^
  2. Wikipedia: Halloween, webpage accessed 2006 Sep 04.^^^
  3. Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance: Halloween Customs and Traditions, webpage accessed 2006 Sep 04.^^
  4. Hutton (1996) p379-385.^^^
  5. Wikipedia: The History and Folklore of Halloween, webpage accessed 2006 Sep 04.^^

© 2017 Vexen Crabtree. All rights reserved.