Origins of Halloween
I didn’t feel I had the brainpower to write a new post, so I’m copying the guest post I wrote for SME at Swallowing the Camel.
It would seem that some “former Satanists” and “former Pagans” who “found Jesus” (he was behind the couch the whole time! Who would’a thunk it?) have said some…interesting things to say about the origin Halloween.
That’s right, if your preconception of the origin of Halloween involves “Satan” or “The Devil” you can throw it out the window right now. If you don’t think you can do that, then I won’t be able to teach you anything and you might as well stop reading now. I’ll wait for those of you who are closed-minded to leave.
They gone? Good.
Now, Halloween is special (and, in this case, by special I mean not special at all) among religious holidays in that it has multiple origins. First I’ll discuss the one that many people are apparently unaware of: Samhain (don’t try to pronounce it, you’ll only embarrass yourself).
Samhain is a Gaelic/Celtic festival that marks the beginning of winter, and thus the end of the harvest season. As such, it is also a Day of the Dead. Traditionally it is held at the halfway point between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice. This can be…tricky to calculate from year to year, so in more modern times it is simply rounded to October 31 or November 1. In many traditions, including Wiccan and Celtic traditions, it is believed that the veil between our world and the “otherworld” is thinned on this day. This allows spirits of the deceased, among other entities, to cross over and interact with our world. One of the more common traditions in the Pagan community is to set an extra place at the table on Samhain for the spirits of the dearly departed to attend and spend time with their loved ones once more. In ancient times all kinds of sacrifices were made. However, as Samhain is at its core a harvest festival, humans were rarely sacrificed. Most sacrifices were, in fact, livestock and other items that were truly “harvested.” Living sacrifices have fallen out of favor with the modern Pagan community as the times have changed. Today any sacrifices made tend to be things like bread crumbs and grape juice/wine and, of course, human sacrifices are completely forbidden. Quite the contrast to the tales of “door-to-door sacrifice collectors” and the like, is it not? Other practices included carving of harvested materials into faces to ward off evil spirits, bonfires, and general revelry.
The other origin of Halloween lies within Christianity itself. All Hallows Eve is the first day of the Hallowmas, a holiday commemorating all of those who have been beatified. It starts on October 31 and finishes on November 1 with All Saints Day. November 2 is All Souls Day, and commemorates the souls of those who have yet to be purified and reach Heaven. Personally, I was raised Lutheran and converted to Paganism when I was 13, so I admittedly don’t know much about Hallowmas. I’m also not going to trust Wikipedia 100% on something like this. If you’d like more information on it I would suggest a trip to your local library or bookstore (just…stay away from the conspiracy junk, ok?).
As for the other rumors that have been spread around by these phonies, it almost makes me feel dirty just responding to them, but here goes.
Druids burned candles made of human fat: Unfortunately, due to the persecution of Pagans in the last several hundred years we may never know the truth of this. However, as the Samhain sacrifices were done via fire this seems unlikely in the extreme. Also, because human sacrifice does not occur in modern-day Paganism, any rumor of this occurring in the modern era has to be ruled as completely false or done by those only claiming to be pagan.
Sacrifice of Virgins and Door-To-Door Sacrifice Collectors: To my knowledge, no deity demands a virgin sacrifice. Also, as stated previously, sacrifices of humans was rare in the Druidic community. Usually those sacrificed would be a criminal of some sort. Think of it as an ancient form of the death penalty, as it were. Occasionally there would be willing sacrifices, but those were volunteers, not “door-to-door” by any means. Door-to-door sacrifice collectors just would NOT have happened. Population growth was too important to the ancients.
All-in-all, you have to realize, what these “former pagans” and “former satanists” want is attention. Maybe they truthfully grew up in an abusive or neglected home. Perhaps they grew up showered in attention and then emerged into the real world; upon which they discovered that not everyone was willing to give them their undivided attention. Or maybe, just maybe, they truthfully believe that paganism and Satanism are the same thing, and that both deal with the Christian devil (neither do) and, since they couldn’t find anyone who had converted, they invented one. Themselves. Whatever their backgrounds or motives, their intentions are the same. Attention. Whether for themselves or for their churches. They become the grown-up (or in some cases elderly) versions of the little kid that everyone wants to backhand in the grocery store because their parent won’t discipline them. The difference here is that YOU can discipline them. How? Call them out on their lies (they will get very angry and accuse you of being “them” but ignore it), politely tell them to “keep their opinion to themselves” or, best yet, completely ignore them. Let them disappear into obscurity.
The truth always wins out in the end.