Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Basic History of Halloween
Halloween is upon us once more. Originally known as All Hallows Evening it is a holiday that stretches back in time and is primarily derived from a Celtic festival that took place at the end of summer. During this time it was believed that the barrier between the real world and the Celtic Otherworld was thin. The Otherworld was a place where ghosts and gods with both good and evil intentions liked to hang out. This festival still goes on today in certain countries under the name Samhain. It was believed that by disguising oneself as a malicious or mischievous ghoul one could avoid being tormented or confronted by any spirits who might cross over from Otherworld.
Modern day celebration involves little if any real superstition about ghosts and demons. Halloween has become a secular Holiday on which children and adults alike dress as their favorite fictional characters. While gruesome costumes designed to invoke fear are still common they are far from the only costumes available and essentially anything is open from inanimate objects to loveable children's characters. Children spend the night typically collecting candy and in general Halloween is just an all around good time... or is it?
Believe it or not there is a strong anti-Halloween undercurrent boiling just beneath the surface here in America. Who, you may wonder, would be silly enough to take Halloween seriously? Fundamentalist Christians, that's who. While the majority of mainstream Christianity has stamped its collective seal of approval on All Hallows Eve there is a fringe of vocal fundamentalists who have all but declared war on what has become a secular silly children's holiday. Many fundamentalists believe that Halloween encourages pagan beliefs about spirits and ghouls that are not shared by Christians and that such actions invites demonic spirits, which they do believe in. It is no secret that Halloween horror was influenced by the ancient Celts and that symbolism of the Occult, of Devils, dead people and spirits, is very common around Halloween time.
Harmless Holiday or Satanic Celebration?
Rather than accept the Holiday as harmless make-believe many Fundamentalists view Halloween as a glorification of Satan, death, witchcraft and mischief. This Fundamentalist war on Halloween bears a striking resemblance to their attacks on Rock and Roll music, Dungeons and Dragons, and Pokemon. Unwittingly they are basing their anti-Halloween position on superstitious beliefs that ironically mirror those of the ancient Celts who started the celebration centuries ago. The belief that spirits or devils will come forth BECAUSE of dressing as spirits and devils is extremely similar to the beliefs that such guises warded the spirits away.
Does dressing up as a cartoonish depiction of the Devil really invoke the wrath of Evil Spirits? Are children in danger of demonic possession when wearing such costumes? Are we teaching our children to view these very real demons as mere superstition, as mere characters to be dressed up as? And what about witchcraft? Exodus tells us to never allow a Witch to live... those words come straight from Yahweh's mouth! But its so hard, come Halloween, to tell the real Witches from those merely dressed as Witches for fun. Can we really, in good conscience, allow our children to dress as practitioners of Satanic rituals such as Witches?
Obviously all of those questions should leap out to you as patently absurd. It is one thing to maintain a belief in ghosts or devils but to claim that dressing as cartoonish depictions of them is dangerous or even downright immoral is silly. Yet that is JUST what some Fundamentalists do. If any of the nonsense shoveled out by Fundamentalists were true than demonic possession would be an extremely well understood phenomenon well-documented by science and NO ONE would be dumb enough to dress up as a Satanic character come Halloween. Most people of the world recognize the non-existence of such characters and even those who believe in Satan understand that he wouldn’t look like a red guy with a pitch-fork, goatee and curly mustache. Those depictions of Satan, as a Satyr, actually stem from the Greek God PAN.
Time for a Personal Experience
I know that anecdotal stories aren’t very good ways to make a point but the attacks on Halloween by Fundamentalist stupidity have effected me personally since my very early childhood. Most of you who were fortunate enough probably remember going out on Halloween to get bags and bags of candy and hang out with your friends while going door to door. Pretending to be someone else, particularly if its a character you were a fan of as a child, is a very fun experience. Halloween offers an opportunity to play pretend unlike any other. It is, in a way, like being in an actual MMORPG, in which Iron Man, the Ninja Turtles and Super Man can all hang out. But as a kid I never got to celebrate Halloween or go Trick-or-Treating, not once, EVER. The reason being - my Dad is a fundamentalist Christian.
We were not allowed to wear costumes or Trick-or-Treat on Halloween because Halloween was considered a day when Satan was glorified. It was a day when the Occult, and all the bad stuff that God and Jesus didn’t like, was being practiced by the masses at large. As if they had been brain-washed into it people fled their homes in droves and gave into the dark forces at work. Luckily my Mother explained it to me differently than my Father and while she was fully aware that Halloween was harmless we still didn’t get to celebrate it. So I had to listen to the stories of entire pillow cases and buckets filled with candy that my friends all talked about at school. My Dad still retains a number of Medieval attitudes. He believes that the Occult is all a product of Satan, that mental illness is often caused by demons and, still to this day, that Halloween is bad.
I still remember one incident that I will never forget in which a simple word search, containing Halloween related words such as Dracula, Werewolf, and Jack the Ripper, was confiscated by my Father. He scribbled scriptures on it and wrote a lengthy letter to my teacher about how the crossword was inappropriate for a sixth grader and that it glorified darkness. Later I won a prize for answering questions correctly in math class, the prize was some plastic vampire teeth... Thanks to my Father’s reputation, which had gotten around to every teacher I had, I was pulled out while they were giving out the prizes and asked if I wanted candy instead. Afraid of being punished if I picked the teeth I chose the candy.
So I experienced, first hand, the propaganda put forth by Fundamentalists against Halloween. Later in life I researched the subject and found that my Mother’s analysis had been correct. What my Father believed was unequivocally bullshit of the highest order.
While it may never be enough to convince Fundamentalists I hope this short analysis of Halloween has helped you understand the Holiday, and objections to it, a little better. There is, unfortunately, very little that can be done to combat such blind stupid superstition. Living in a world in which rational explanations and harmless Halloween fun must be maligned by those unable to tell fiction from reality is truly aggravating and frightening. Its the 21st Century and as much as I respect the right of people to believe what they want I also feel an obligation to dispel hollow baseless irrational superstition for what it is.
Happy Halloween everyone and may Satan invade your homes and possess you in your sleep!