Reader makes attempt to clear up common Halloween misconceptions
This item originally appeared in the November 4, 2004 issue of The Tech Talk.
I was intrigued by your article on Halloween in the previous issue of the The Tech Talk. Halloween is my favorite holiday, and my birthday comes on the day just before it. That said, there are a few things that I would like to comment on.
Rachel Hulett and BCM president John Aaron Matthew are incorrect in associating Halloween with Satan. There is no need to exorcise Satan from Halloween because he was never part of it to begin with.
Dr. Abraham Attrep of the history department noted in the article that Halloween is a pagan holiday practiced by the ancient Celts as part of their religion, Druidism. Satan, largely a product of Christianity and Judaism, but also recognized by Islam and Zoroastrianism, has absolutely nothing to do with Celtic Druidism, which was ancient when Christianity was young.
The only reason that Christians feel the need to take Satan out of Halloween is because, ironically enough, they put him there in the first place.
As stated earlier, Halloween is a pagan holiday celebrated by both ancient and modern Druids. The holiday's original name is "Samhain." It is the last day of the harvest season and commemorates summer's end and the onset of the long, dark winter. In bygone days, winter was associated with death.
Food supplies often ran short, and the cold brought sickness with it. It is little wonder then, that the character of Halloween today is somewhat macabre.
However, it should be recognized that death is not satanic, but is part of the natural cycle of life and the will of God.
There is also much confusion as to the rituals of Samhain. In the article, there was mention of sacrificing animals, virgins and children to the devil. This is simply not true.
For one thing, as stated above, Satan had no place in Druidic ritual until Christians falsely placed him at the center of it. Secondly, it is unclear whether or not the Celts engaged in ritual killing.
According to www.religioustolerance.org, a wonderful Web site, human sacrifice is mentioned only once in Celtic literature and that is strongly suspected by historians to be a Christian forgery.
Modern Druids, despite what is said by fundamentalist Christians, do not engage in ritual killing of any kind.
The article is correct in asserting the supernatural aspect of Samhain. On that night, the barrier that separates this world from the Otherworld, the world of the dead, was believed to be thinner than usual. Thus, spirits of the dead could travel between this world and the next.
The article is incorrect in saying that these spirits sought to possess the living. Rather, it was believed that they came back to visit their families and friends, and spots at the dinner table were reserved for them. Some people left food and drink outside of their homes.
However, it was also believed that malicious spirits wandered the night. In order to ward these spirits off, the people would dress up in fantastic costumes, hoping they would be mistaken for a fellow spirit and left alone.
Trick-or-treating originally arises from the Celtic tradition of walking from house to house gathering peat and wood for the large bonfires that were burned as part of the Samhain ritual.
So how did Samhain become associated with Christianity? When the Catholic Church was attempting to Christianize Celtic lands, they also Christianized Samhain, renaming it "All Saints' Eve," in an effort to convert Druids to Christianity.
As a matter of fact, most Christian holidays have their roots in pagan holidays. The Catholic Church appointed Christmas to correspond with Yule, a pagan holiday that falls on the winter solstice, and Easter was placed at the same time as Beltaine, a Celtic holiday celebrating fertility, which falls on May 1.
Many of our more secular holiday traditions, such as Santa Claus, Christmas trees and maypoles, all have pagan roots. Any Christian who insists on completely ignoring all holidays with pagan origins would do well to avoid celebrating Christmas and Easter as well as Halloween.
In closing, I would like to tell the readership that I am a Christian. Specifically, I am a Catholic. I merely wanted to clear up some common misconceptions about my favorite holiday.
My knowledge of the subject comes from the fact that I have several pagan friends, and I also got much of my information from www.religioustolerance.org and an online article about the origins of Halloween, http://www.bright.net/~jimsmems/samhain.html.
I trust this letter has been enlightening and informative.
English and theatre double major