A Halloween Primer… Part 2: What’s in a name? The Christian Attempt to Subvert a Celebration.
I will admit up front, the title of this blog post is purposefully provocative. A brief history lesson will explain why.
All Saints’ Day was officially declared by Pope Boniface IV in 609 or 610 as an official church holiday to commemorate martyrs of the faith; sort of a Christian Remembrance Day. Likely feasts of this sort had been thrown for hundreds of years to that point and Pope Boniface IV was just making it official. Originally, All Saints’ Day was celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost. As an aside, Orthodox Churches never changed the date and use that day still.
Sometime during the reign of Pope Gregory III, the date was changed to November 1st and it may not have been until the mid-800’s that the celebration moved throughout all of Western Christendom.
I have long heard that Pope Gregory III purposefully chose the November 1st date in order to squash the influence of the Pagan festivals in Rome and elsewhere, but there is no direct evidence to suggest that. At the best, we do know that Pope Gregory III was sensitive to the practice of those Pagan religions at one time decreeing the eating of horse meat to be an abomination because of its use in Pagan rituals and feasting.
So, with the brief history lesson over, our calendars now note November 1st as All Saint’s Day (or All Hallow’s Day) and October 31st then became known as All Hallow’s Eve, or Hallow’een in some circles.
How does this explain carved pumpkins, costumes and candy? Well. It doesn’t.
Hallow’een is actually the wrong name for the religious holiday we celebrate on October 31st. The correct name is Samhain. Interestingly (at least to me) Samhain is a Gaelic word, so the actual pronunciation is Sow-een. Not that much different from Halloween, soooo I guess we can all forgive the confusion.
Honestly, I could probably stop the blogging right here and just say “go google Samhain” because there is a lot out there about Samhain, its history, the historical practices and the current practices of Pagan religions. If you do choose to google the name, please know most of the results will be taking you to articles on Wiccan and Pagan websites. Personally, I never think information is harmful, especially if one is well versed in Truth, but I did want to put the warning out there. Anyway, I won’t make you work that hard.
The Pagan year is divided into two main seasons, the season of light, and the season of dark. Samhain is the beginning of the season of dark. In a nutshell, Samhain was the beginning of the new cycle of life for the next year. Starting at Samhain, the world would get darker and darker until it would fully “die” at Yule (yes… I could go on about Yule) and be reborn, getting lighter and lighter into the spring.
Without going into everything around the Pagan calendar, Samhain was likely seen as the most important of Pagan holidays because of its part of that cycle, but also because it was seen as one of the two great doorways into the spirit world. Of course with the cycle getting darker, Samhain was seen as the time when the vale between living and dead was the thinnest and a time at which dark (evil?) spirits could cross over, or when mortals had the best chance of contacting or influencing the darkness.
I dare say all the ways we currently celebrate Halloween are directly linked to Samhain and this historical context. However, we’ll look deeper into that next blog.
Next Time: A Halloween Primer… Part 3: Celebrating Samhain — Western Style.