| Gather 'round the campfire|
“”What would Jesus drop into her pumpkin? Would Jesus run off to church or hide back in the TV room with the front lights off?... Or would He use this golden opportunity to share His love with her?
|—Caption to a photo of a little girl trick-or-treating on Chick.com|
Halloween is a traditional celebration that takes place on 31st of October. Celebrating all that is ghostly, ghoulish and long-leggedy, it involves children dressing up as monsters, faces being carved into pumpkins and rubbish horror films being shown on Channel 4.
Fundamentalist Christians often oppose Halloween. A prime example is Jack Chick; in his tract The Devil's Night Chick claims that Halloween originated in pre-Christian England, where pagan priests of Satan (pre-Christian beliefs and devil-worship being interchangeable in Chick's world) worshipped a death god named Saman, portrayed in an illustration as a grim reaper figure. According to the tract, trick-or-treating derives from the pagan priests' practice of going door-to-door and asking for offerings of food for their gods; if food was not given to them they sacrificed one of the household's children instead, leaving behind a jack-o-lantern to show that no-one else in the house would be harmed. Another of his tracts, Boo, delivers a similar story but also claims that the human sacrifices are still being committed by modern Satanists, and muddies its history even further by showing one of the pre-Christian druids carrying an Egyptian ankh. Both tracts depict pumpkins being used as jack-o-lanterns, despite pumpkins being unknown in Britain at the time, but this is really the least of the problems.[notes 1] The same claims about Halloween were earlier published by Chick in his 1978 Crusaders comic book Spellbound?, which also claims to locate the origin of rock music in the Druids. Chick's main source for Spellbound? was John Todd.
Similar claims were made by David Brown in a 1998 book on Halloween. Brown claims that trick-or-treating is derived from the practice of offering food to demons; that the modern image of the grim reaper was based on the Celtic death god Saman or Samhain;[notes 2] that Halloween costumes date back to a practice of wearing animal skins during sacrificial ceremonies; and, citing an unnamed book, that jack-o-lanterns originated as signs that households were sympathetic to Satanists.
In response to Brown's book, neopagan commentator Curr Cuhulain argues that Samhain was not a death god, but rather a minor deity associated with cattle - the Celtic death god was named Gwynn Ap Nudd, Bile, Donn, Beli, or Arawn, depending on the location. Cuhulain suggests that the idea of Samhain as a death god originated in Ray Bradbury's 1973 novel The Halloween Tree. The name Samhain is in fact of ancient attestation; a month Samonios appears on the Coligny Calendar from Roman Gaul, where it marks a summer month. Samhain as a month or time of the year is well attested, but there is no evidence that Samhain was the name of a deity. As with Beltane, the chief means of observing Samhain was the building of bonfires. This part of the tradition in the British Isles got handed off to Guy Fawkes Day five days later. In many places of the British Isles both Halloween and Samhain were neglected until the custom was (re)-imported from the United States in the late twentieth century.
The actual source of the association of Halloween with the dead is the fact that it is, like the name says, the eve of All Hallows Day. This Roman Catholic liturgical feast commemorates the Communion of the Saints, the body of believers who have died and are now with Christ in Heaven. The same Catholic commemoration was exported to Mexico, where, under possible Mesoamerican influence, it became the Day of the Dead. The Aztecs may be entitled to part of the credit for that festival, which in turn influenced Halloween in the United States, but ancient Celts had nothing to do with it. The demonizing of All Hallows by Christian fundamentalists is especially peculiar, given the fact that death, resurrection, and the afterlife loom fairly large in Christian belief, and the existence of a holy day meant to call these things to mind seems like something you would expect.
Other sources of fundamentalist misinformation about Halloween include Mike Warnke's 1979 album A Christian Perspective On Halloween, and Phil Phillips' 1987 book Halloween and Satanism. And it's not just Christians - the British Islamist organisation Muslims Against Crusades has coughed up much the same rubbish.
All Saint's Day
The celebration has some connection with All Saints Day (November 1) also known as All Hallows or Hallowmas. (Hence, "Hallowe'en"; it's an abbreviation of Hallowmas Evening, much like Christmas Eve is the day before Christmas.) All Saints Day is a very solemn religions festival observed in Catholic countries.
Halloween seems to be an amalgam of this Christian tradition which venerated dead saints and relatives with a considerable quantity of non-Christian elements. In Mexican and other Hispanic cultures it is known as Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead.
- And, to be fair, the text in The Devil's Night does describe "something like a pumpkin" being used. It seems the illustrator was just being unimaginative.
- Although it appears that this should be pronounced "Sam-hane", it is in fact, spelled with the insanely weird Irish orthography, and thus is properly pronounced "Shah-jig-a-ma-fig-la-mar" ... no, not really. Although, it is actually pronounced "Sah-win" which still doesn't seem to make any sense to anyone who speaks English.
- See the Wikipedia article on Coligny Calendar.
- Hutton, Ronald (1996) Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford, Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-288045-4, p. 363.
- Hutton, Ronald. The Wheel of the Year: The ritual year in England (Oxford, 1993)