A Halloween Primer… Part 3: Celebrating Samhain — Western Style.
I am tempted to jump ahead a bit.
After conversations with family and friends that are reading my posts, it would seem that I may be being misunderstood a little; at least my intentions are being misinterpreted. Although I may question the rectitude of a Christian worldview embracing Samhain, I am not expecting to see the day outlawed from all hearts and minds. Principally, those who espouse no spiritual belief contrary to those practiced on “Halloween” aren’t even on my radar. However, I do think it’s always good and proper to have a full understanding of anything we get ourselves involved in.
For example, I like to play soccer. If I knew that soccer was originally played as a game between warring countries with the heads of innocent virgins and that the losing team was then sacrificed in a volcano, I would sincerely weigh the beginnings on whether it was a good sport to be involved with. More so, if I knew that is some cultures or countries those soccer practices were still ongoing, I might wonder if one who followed Christ should be associated with soccer at all.
Even here, I have to hedge my comments by saying all I am intending to do is present my understanding about our current practices around Halloween, bring in some scripture that I think is relevant, and maybe state my opinions. Beyond that, your thoughts are your own. I am not condemning everyone that even thinks of eating a fun sized confection on October 31st. I have never believed condemnation was within my power or jurisdiction to begin with.
So, on with the show.
To this point, I have made the assertion that it is not “All Hallow’s Eve” that is celebrated on October 31st, but rather Samhain. Samhain, being a Celtic (some would prefer that term to ‘Pagan’) feast marking the coming death section of the year’s cycle attributed this evening as the time when the fabric between the mortal world and the spirit world was at it’s thinnest. It is so thin that it was possible to contact the spirits directly, and they could actually dwell in this plain of existence for a while.
Jack O’Lanterns were originally carved out of smaller vegetables; ther turnip was the most traditional choice. However, it wasn’t until much later on that they recievied that name and a story to go along with them (see: The Legend of Stingy Jack). As the Celt’s believed the dead or dark spirits could actually visit them in their houses, these carved glowing vegetables were meant to be representative of a spirit already visiting their house. This would then trick the dark spirits from coming any closer.
Given the above, the practice of “trick or treating” has some obvious roots. Food and other “treats” were often left out at the doorstep for these undead creatures, hoping the harvest offering would disuade the uninvited guests from progressing further into their houses. Dressing up like supernatural creatures, whether light or dark, had the benefit of blending in with any untoward beings in the area.
Simple games like bobbing for apples have roots in forms of divination. Bonfires (bone-fires) were lit to burn the bones of livestock slaughtered before the winter months. Walking between these fires was considered a method of bringing good fortune in the coming year.
It is with some caution that I even bring up the following; there is much speculation on the nature of these bonfires over the years. Some historians have asserted the bones were from animal sacrifices. Others yet don’t limit the bones to mere livestock. As there is not a consensus on those tidbits, feel free to completely discount their merit.
But that was then, what about now?
To a Pagan (ie: Driud, Wiccan, etc), this night still holds much meaning. As it is considered a night when the veil between flesh and spirit is thinnest, it is the night when divination is most reliable, when spells, both light and dark, are most effective (some being only possible on Samhain) and when the ability to contact the spirit world (both light and dark) is most possible. It is a high holiday, highly revered and celebrated.
You may think “ok, so 4 teenagers in lousiana are making pretend spells?”
According to the American Religious Identification Survey, Pagan religions are on the rise. From around 194,000 Americans identifying as Wiccan, Druid, Pagan, etc in 1990, to around 793,000 in 2008, the most recent year of the survey. This puts Paganism in America only slightly behind those identifying as Seventh Day Adventist. Couple that with more and more popular media upholding a Hollywood image of Wicca, and the thought is the numbers will increase rapidly.
If you haven’t stopped reading yet, totally aghast that I would link neopaganism with kids collecting candy door to door, well, fair enough. It is worth the question, though. Even if modern day Halloween is merely a commercial candy sale minimizing the Pagan holiday the way Christians lament the commercialization of Christmas, the question still remain; Is this something those professing Christ should consider more deeply?
Next time: A Halloween Primer… Part 4: Although the Candy Itself is Nothing…