Friday, October 23, 2009

And People Wonder Why I Drink

Here's a fairly typical "local press" attempt to cover Halloween, this time from the Warwick [Rhode Island] Beacon. The comments, alone, make it worth reading.

First, the story does a pretty decent job of covering the xian War on Samhein, waged by the same folks who, in a few weeks, will be screaming bloody murder about what they perceive as the "War on Xmas":

What has been new, or at least become more noticeable about Halloween in the last few years, is the objection of religious fundamentalists who see it as wicked thing.

In a recent “special report,” Costa Mesa's conservative Citizens for Excellence in Education proclaims Halloween nothing less than anti-Christian, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times.

“When the roots of this holiday are traced,” the report contends, “nothing but deadly evil is unearthed.”

In places all over the country, schools are replacing their Halloween parties with “fall festivals” because of parental concerns about the holiday's religious roots.

“There is a kind of amazing concern for the demonic world among Christians these days," says Newton Malony, a psychology professor at the evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena who was quoted in the Times story. “A lot of people believe very strongly that there are demons, and to participate in Halloween is to encourage the demons.”

In Orange County, fundamentalist Christian groups are scaring the wits out of parents who thought the only danger Halloween posed to children was a wicked sugar high, according to the Times. In a popular video called
"Halloween: Trick or Treat," the leader of a 30,000-member congregation contends that Halloween is nothing less than a heyday for bloodthirsty Satanists and claims that when a class of 9-year-olds was asked how they wanted to celebrate, 80 percent said by killing someone.

As I've said before, I think what's going on here is that there's a secular holiday (Halloween) that involves dressing up like Luke Skywalker, or Lady Liberty, or Darth Cheney and going around asking your neighbors for candy. That secular holiday overlays, parallels, and has its roots in the Pagan tradition of celebrating the Beloved Dead, both in South America and Celtic lands, and in the modern Pagan Sabbat (holiday, holy day) of Samhein. Similarly, there's a secular holiday, let's call it xmas, that involves buying presents, giving parties, eating a feast, and sending cards. That secular holiday has its roots in the xian tradition of celebrating the birth of Jesus, which, as we know, was overlaid centuries ago on the Pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice. Jews and others have elevated their seasonal holidays to fit in with this tradition.

I think we'd all do well to begin to distinguish between the secular and the religious holidays. I'm not going to get bent out of shape if the store clerk selling me candy and a Batman mask for G/Son doesn't say: "Blessed Samhein. May you always connect with your Beloved Dead." Xians can get over it if the person selling them a Gameboy doesn't say: "Merry Christmas."

And, to be clear, I don't want public schools celebrating the religious holiday of Samhein and, yeah, fine, call the secular celebration Autumn Festival or whatever. Similarly, I don't want public schools celebrating the religious holiday of Christmas. But the secular holiday? Knock yourselves out. Call it Winter Festival or whatever and let the kiddies make soap flake snow men, paper cut out snowflakes, candy cane decorations for their HomeEc projects. Let the chorus sing Let It Snow, Frosty the Snowman, and Jingle Bells until they drop. I'm capable of dealing with overlapping realities, unlike, I guess, most xians.

Where the article goes awry, IMHO, is in its attempt to explain the history of the holidays.

As is usually the case, the history of Halloween is benign and relatively bloodless. According to Random History’s Web site (, the ritual of Halloween was to put the demons away where they could do no harm.

The Celts, which included tribes from northern France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales and Brittany, believed that on Oct. 31 the Lord of Death, Samhain, would call together all the souls that died the previous year to travel to afterlife during the Vigil of Samhain. Ancestral ghosts and demons emerged from their graves and were free to roam, harm crops and cause trouble. The living disguised themselves in ghoulish costumes so the spirits would think they were one of their own and pass by without incident. Masked villagers would form parades and lead the spirits out of town limits. In addition to costumes and, arguably, as a precursor to modern-day trick-or-treating, the Celts would offer food to Samhain to persuade him to more be temperate as he judged their ancestors. They would also leave out food for their ancestors’ spiritual travels, or to appease spirits who were looking for trouble.

Halloween has not only survived, but it has thrived during epic cultural, religious, economic and industrial changes throughout its long history.

When the Romans conquered the Celts, just before the birth of Christ, they both assimilated and added to ancient Celtic symbols and rituals. The use of apples in a previous celebration was transposed into Christian practice of honoring saints on All Souls’ Day.

In many respects, these rituals remained the same as their pagan counterparts with a few important derivations. For example, like the ancient pagans, the Church encouraged their congregation to remember the dead – but with prayers instead of sacrifice. Instead of appeasing spirits through food and wine, members of the congregation would go house to house carrying a hollowed out turnip lantern whose candle “symbolized a soul trapped in purgatory and offering prayers for the dead in exchange for “Soul Cakes.” Poor churches could not afford genuine relics of the saints and instead held processions where parishioners dressed as saints, angels and devils to reflect Christian instead of the old religion, now held to be the ancient and honorable practice of “Wicca.” Men who practiced it were called druids and women were called “wiccans” or “witches.”

Modern feminists have appropriated the religion to honor the goddesses who were part if their earth-based faith and fertility rituals. They are attempting to change the stereotyped image of witches as evil.

“That’s all Hollywood,” said Nancy Iadeluca, the CEO of the Silver Dragon Company, a worldwide leader in the manufacture of “wiccan” symbols and jewelry. She has sold the seven stores she used to run and concentrates on marketing “runes, pentangles and pentagrams” made of sterling silver by local craftspeople.

“One of the first beliefs of Wiccans is ‘To harm no one.’ They don’t put curses on people, because they believe if they did, the curse would come right back to them,” she said.

But there are some people who will persist in seeing this old, earth-based system of faith as evil.

“When I had the store in the Rhode Island Mall, some people would come in with holy water and sprinkle it on our store to save us,” she said, with a smile. Iadeluca, who was brought up as a Catholic, said she has done very well selling talismans to people of a different faith.

“A lot of them are like me,” she said. “I take the best of both of them.”

As a "modern feminist appropriator," who does not believe that female druids were known as wiccans (I don't, I don't, I don't), I'm just going to sigh. There's too much wrong there to even begin to untangle the skein, but it's worth noting that this is the sort of nonsense most people read about us.

Meanwhile, blessings upon your Beloved Dead, and may your secular Halloween be full of green punch, candy corn, folks in sexy/funny/odd costumes, and multiple versions of this.

Picture found here. In the spirit of the season, my briliant friend, E, is reprising the Ghost of Amazing Pumpkins past.


FallenAngel said...

Enjoyed this post.
Happy Samhain!!!

Thomas said...

I actually kind of like the idea of "fall festivals" in lieu of Halloween. Such a shift has the potential to shift the emphasis of the holiday back to what really matters and off of the kitschy-cartoony consumerism of he modern secular holiday.

Teacats said...

Well -- our graveyard is built here on Lot 13 on Cemetery Hill (actual address). But we are one of very very few decorated homes in this neighbourhood. So much so -- that we are actually a bit nervous about the upcoming night! Hoping for lots of Trick-and Treaters!

Jan at Rosemary Cottage (where kitsch is part of the kith-and-kin)

Tara said...

You sound like me. The people who scream about the "War on Christmas" (made up baloney for "how dare anybody recognize holidays other than mine between November 1 and January 1") are the same ones who are engaging in the very real war on Halloween. They concoct ridiculous tales about "the occult" and "evil", and claim children are in danger from all sorts of boogeymen. It's sad when the only way some people can feel good about themselves is to bring others down--particularly when they have to lie about it.