Because I am here not only to entertain but to educate let me state for the masses that a ghoul is a shape shifting monster descended from Satan that has its roots in Arabian folklore and is spoken of in the Koran, and a goblin is a gnome-like creature with origins in European fairy tales that is more mischievous than evil. These terms aren’t all that necessary in relation to the topic du jour but I have an affinity for inconsequential yet semi-fascinating minutia.
Readers of The Manofesto know that I have rather robust views on a variety of subject matter, from politics & religion to sports & entertainment. So my ambivalence toward Halloween may come as a bit of a surprise to some. I am a fairly middle-of-the-road Christian, which usually means I cannot win. Our world has been so programmed with politically correct garbage like “tolerance” and “multiculturalism” that anyone that takes a stand for morality and the teachings of Christ is looked upon with scorn. Conversely, I know too many brothers & sisters in faith who are so hardcore, so serious, so unwilling or unable to loosen up that sometimes my views are looked upon by them as lackadaisical. So be it. I am who I am, I know what I know, and I believe what I believe. Time and experience molds us all, beliefs and attitudes do change.
Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, began as a Celtic festival called Samhain in 16th century Ireland. The Celts were much more than a basketball team from Boston. They were a tribal society in Central Europe during The Iron Age that eventually migrated to Great Britain by the 1st Century AD. The Celts were polytheists, which meant that they had literally hundreds of gods and goddesses. They tended to worship nature, believing that many natural things contained spirits with which they could communicate. The tribal clergyman were known as Druids and were held in high esteem amongst the social order of the day. One of the responsibilities of the Druids was to lead the four annual religious festivals. Imbolc was held at the end of January and marked the beginning of spring. Beltane was held on May 1 and celebrated the coming of summer. Lughnasadh was a harvest celebration held in August. And then there is the festival that eventually begat what we know as Halloween…Samhain (pronounced saw-een), the most important of the four festivals. Samhain can be loosely translated as “summer’s end” (and is NOT the Celtic god of the dead), and it marked the time of year when the days began to grow shorter and darkness lasted longer. But there is a lot more to it than that.
The Celtic people did not have the understanding of Heaven and Hell that is common in our modern world. They believed in what they called the Otherworld, a place where their deities, spirits, and the dead resided. On October 31st they thought that the passageway between this world and the Otherworld was opened, allowing spirits, both evil and benevolent, to roam in their midst. Sounds crazy, right?? Probably. But it is what these folks believed. It was a scary time for the Celts. Think about autumn. Much of the time it is cold, dreary, and dank. Crops won’t grow. Leaves are falling from the trees and other foliage is dying. The dead foliage in turn prevents animals from grazing, so whatever food was on hand at the time had to last them through the long hard winter…no freezers, grocery stores, or other conveniences were available after all. We have a scientific understanding of the whats, the whens, and the whys…they did not. So in order to appease the evil spirits and prevent mayhem and destruction the Celts decided to offer sacrifices of food and occasionally livestock. Hence the earliest version of trick-or-treat. They also built bonfires and inserted candles into turnips to “light the night”. When Irish immigrants came to America after the potato famine of the mid-19th century they continued their familiar rituals, including Samhain, but found pumpkins more plentiful than turnips, and boom…the jack-o-lantern was born. An old folktale is attached to the jack-o-lantern wherein a really bad guy named Jack is so malevolent that he’s banned from both Heaven and Hell and therefore doomed to roam the Earth with nothing to light his way but a candle inside a turnip. Another tradition was dressing up in scary costumes to hopefully keep the evil spirits away. At some point during these Samhain celebrations bobbing for apples became a popular component of the celebration, in no small part due to the spread of the Roman Empire. Bobbing for apples was an ode to Pomona, the Roman goddess of love & fertility. Those wacky Celts also believed that oftentimes spirits inhabited the bodies of animals, most notably the black cat.
Enter Christianity, which began to spread like wildfire just prior to The Middle Ages. It is easy to imagine that pagan rituals and beliefs did not sit well with Christians, and they wanted to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. So they came up with a great idea…they moved All Saints’ Day, a holiday celebrating the lives of saints who didn’t already have their own special day, to November 1st. All Saints’ Day is also known as All Hallows’ Day, which makes October 31st All Hallows’ Eve, aka Halloween. One can debate the success of this strategery, as thousands of years later Halloween is one of our most popular holidays while All Saints’ Day, especially outside the Catholic church, doesn’t seem to have retained much significance. But hey, it was worth a shot, right??
I am not a historian and am far too faineant to spend endless hours doing research, so this isn’t exactly a thorough examination. However, you get the basic gist.
Now let us fast forward to where Halloween stands in America. Many tired, poor, huddled masses, yearning to be free, began immigrating from Europe to America in the 19th Century. Naturally they brought with them the traditions of their homelands. The Irish brought us Halloween. Today’s Halloween is pretty simple. For children it is an opportunity to dress up and go door-to-door to score bags full of candy. For adults it is just another excuse…as if any old Friday or Saturday night isn’t already enough of one…to party, i.e. dance and drink copious amounts of adult beverages. The question is, does this make us a bunch of Satan worshiping heathens?? As you may have already guessed, my answer to that query is “no”. Furthermore, it is my opinion…your mileage may vary…that those who try to make modern Halloween something sinister are silly.
First of all, if one really wants to go all those centuries back to the beginnings of the holiday the line must be drawn between paganism and Satanism. Contrary to popular belief there is a difference. Paganism, especially all those years ago, was a sin of ignorance not evil. They worshiped nature as they understood it and went a tad too far by assigning god status to inanimate things. I have a strange sense of pity for these pagans. It seems like their lives were ruled by fear and paranoia, always waiting for some sort of doom to befall them. It sounds like an awful way to live and it is a considerable reach to equate them with Satanists.
Secondly, regardless of what the origins of Halloween were and what one may feel about it, is it fair to even compare Halloween in 21st Century America with what was going on in Ireland 2000 years ago?? Is it rational to think that some little kid dressing up like Batman and trapsing through the neighborhood begging for chocolate has any concept of evil in his/her cute little brain?? Even the thirtysomething going to a costume party at the local pub isn’t doing anything any more heinous than they’d be doing anyway if it was just another weekend and they were getting all liquored up to blow off steam from a rough week at the office, the difference being that once a year they do it dressed as Lady Gaga or one of the idiots from Jersey Shore. So what??
Unfortunately I have a feeling that my passivity toward Halloween is not an attitude shared by a lot of fellow believers. For example, in the course of the negligible investigation I did do for this diatribe I found the following from televangelist Pat Robertson: “I think we ought to close Halloween down. Do you want your children to dress up as witches? The Druids used to dress up like this when they were doing human sacrifice. The children are acting out Satanic rituals and participating in it, and don’t even realize it.” Sorry Pat, but you’re wrong. The Celtic people didn’t leave a lot of photos or other memorabilia, so we don’t actually know how the Druids dressed, and who can say with any authority how witches typically dress (then or now) anyhow?? Plus, as already covered, these Druids were doing pagan rituals…not Satanic rituals. And our children aren’t acting out anything…they are having fun. Maybe Pat Robertson should try that sometime. I also found this gem:
Many religious conservatives regard themselves, their families and friends as continuously being at risk for demonic oppression or possession. Conservative Christian psychiatrist David Enoch has said that: “Halloween practices open the door to the occult and can introduce forces into people’s lives that they do not understand and often cannot combat.” Some believe that “doorways” which allow Satan to have access can be created by something as simple and innocent as bringing a box of Celestial Seasonings tea into the home. These have a 5-pointed star on the rear of the container. This is a “Star-K” certification symbol indicting that the products meets kosher food requirements as stipulated in the Old Testament. However, many conservative Christians believe it is a Satanic symbol. Having such a box of tea in the house is said to give Satan the “legal right” to enter the home and attack the family. A “doorway” could also be created by a Wiccan healing ritual, acupuncture, yoga exercises, hanging an aboriginal dream-catcher on the wall, or engaging in thousands of other activities.
If you believe that a box of tea, yoga, or acupuncture are pathways for Satan to possess people then you are a moron.
Even Christians who attempt to continue the long and storied history of usurping the original meaning of an event and giving it a Godly spin aren’t good enough for some when it comes to Halloween. Many churches do things like Light the Night or Harvest Parties in an effort to remove the “darkness” motif and emphasize the Light of Jesus. A great idea in my opinion. But again my minimal efforts brought forth the following:
Harvest parties on October 31 tend to assume that our children need something to take the place of Halloween since they won’t be participating in the secular and pagan celebrations. It suggests our kids are missing out on something. And indeed they are, if we allow them to spend Halloween in celebration. There are better things to do on Halloween than partying. If we are to train our children to be soldiers in the army of Christ, why would we sign a pass for them to go on leave when the battle is escalating on the front lines?
Come on folks…these are kids we’re talking about!! There are better things to do on Halloween than celebrating & partying?? Not to an 8 year old. Soldiers?? Battles?? Front lines?? How about we let them enjoy their childhood?? I believe wholeheartedly in training a child right, bringing them up in church, and teaching them about God, salvation, prayer, and various other things. But I also think that Christians…both children and adults…are allowed to enjoy themselves occasionally. Church folk who take themselves way too seriously are not doing the faith any favors.
Are there negative things associated with Halloween that I don’t like?? Sure. I am not a fan of horror movies at all, and there are a lot of them on TV and in theaters this time of year. I prefer to laugh and have a good time instead of seeing fictionalized depictions of death and mayhem. People who are a little too into scary movies are definitely wired differently than me. Witches aren’t at the top of my list of favorites either. I also think that moderation should be exercised when choosing costumes. Graphically bloody costumes aren’t all that appropriate, especially for children. But is this really even an issue?? For as long as I can remember most of the kids I’ve encountered on Halloween have been dressed rather innocuously. Superheros like Spiderman and Superman, whomever the sports stars du jour are, characters from popular movies and television shows, and general “characters” like firemen, soldiers, and cowboys always seem to be what the kids dress like, not mass murderers, Satanic figures, or any other manner of evilness. One of the biggest selling costumes for 2010 is apparently President Obama. I may not be a fan of his policies but even I will admit that he isn’t an agent of the devil. Now Oprah on the other hand…..
Anyway, that is my opinion. Will I feel the same in 20 years?? I don’t know. If you disagree that’s fine and I respect your opinion. However, I do prefer that opposing opinions have some basis in reality and be expressed intelligently. I don’t mind debates about politics or religion except when the parties involved are complete fools, which, unfortunately, is all too common. I just do not believe that going to a haunted house or reading a well written ghost story condemns a person to the fiery pits of Hell. Halloween, if anything, is a fantastic opportunity to witness to people, to talk about light vs. darkness, hope vs. fear, and eternal life vs. death. I think that is something upon which most would agree. The debate is how best to seize that opportunity. I choose to have some fun, look for ways to inject Godly wisdom into the situation, and try to find a way to pragmatically relate to as many people as possible. Others choose to condemn, hide from, or ignore what is all around them, which just makes them look foolish and judgmental. How do you view the issue??
- Teach Your Kids about All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (halloweenforkids.blogspot.com)
- Samhain (socyberty.com)
- Remembering All Hallows Eve, All Saints & All Souls Day (brighthub.com)
- Halloween: Old English Folklore or Fact? (groupon.co.uk)
- The History of Halloween (socyberty.com)
- Halloween Facts! (socyberty.com)
- Harvest Party vs. Halloween Trick or Treating (halloweenforkids.blogspot.com)
- HALLOWEEN AND THE DRUIDS (with recipe) (gail1booboo.wordpress.com)
- Facts about Halloween and Christian WARNING (codybateman.org)
- This is Halloween | Ramblings of a Ruminator (karenoconnordesmond.wordpress.com)