Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Removing Christendom from Halloween

Halloween is a controversial subject in many ways, several folks I know and respect in the UK have been campaigning to get alternatives to horror movie imagery available in shops, with some success. others worry about the increasingly global practice of trick or treat. Christians worry about occultism, witchcraft, and obsession with death and the dead. Pagans want to reclaim their festival from the Christians and the shops. So why do i as a Christian want to suggest that Christendom is the major problem here and want to remove it from Halloween?

Firstly note I said Christendom and not Christianity, but the two are of course linked in the churches history. so lets take a brief tour of the history of Halloween, familiar territory but I hope to add a few insights that may lie behind the current controversy on route and show why I want to get Christendom removed from Halloween.

firstly before there was Halloween there was a Pagan festival in northern Europe at least called Samhain (pronounced sow-ain) this was a version of the 'day of the dead' known in many cultures. The dead were remembered, ancestors honoured and the line between death and life was seen as thin at this time. This meant things could cross over, the dead might walk abroad, and other creatures associated with the underworld too. this meant the festival was also about confronting fear and acknowledging the fear of death and the unknown.

when Christianity spread across Europe the missionaries often adopted Pagan custom because they felt it explained the new faith in terms people understood and because it helped cement the new faith in people's lives by getting into the character of previously Pagan festivals. Christmas is another case in point. it is for this reason that the feast of All Hallows, we would now say All Saints, was placed on the 1st of November, following the old Samhain festival crossing from nighttime on the 31st of October to morning of the 1st of November. following Jewish tradition early Christian festivals began on the evening of the previous day, as happens today at the Christmas Eve services. So the festival of All Hallows began at All Hallows Eve, that is Halloween. as such the very name of the festival tells us it is a Christian rather than a Pagan festival, albeit one deliberately adopting a Pagan predecessor. This is significant I would argue as many of the controversies of Halloween today come from its Christendom history.

The churches at All Hallows continued the remembrance of the dead, and added to this a particular remembrance of the lives of the saints, hence the name All Hallows. However a strong element of Christian faith is life beyond death and the theme of resurrection, indeed from the 1st century the idea that in Jesus death the power of evil and death were conquered was a central tenet of faith. So this was celebrated also, altering the character of the Pagan exploration of death at this time. in this sense i think the Christianization of the older festival was a good adaptation of the important themes Samhain explored appropriate for those with a Christian faith.

But Christendom was also a political animal and part of its agenda was to ensure it had no rivals. so Halloween became peopled with devils and ghouls that might get those who misbehaved and witches created as a propaganda tool against the persistence of Pagan faith as an underground religion. i find it interesting to compare the Halloween witches mask with the Nazi depiction of Jews, you will find them rather similar with hooked noses, green skin and warts. and this is the bit so many folks don't get, the wearing of these masks at Halloween is not a celebration of evil or witchcraft, but actually a piece of anti-Pagan propaganda invented by Christians and stemming from medieval Christian celebrations of All Hallows Eve.

today of course as with so many things Christendom has passed and the Halloween legacy handed over to those who have commercialised it, creating the Halloween that churches now complain about rather than celebrate. oddly i think the Passing of Christendom possibly unites rather than divides modern Pagans and Christians in this area. Pagans want to celebrate an important festival they do not want it turned into a commercial bonanza devoid of its true meaning, and i certainly doubt they'd morn the passing of the anti-pagan propaganda imagery of medieval Christendom. Christians too want to celebrate their different but related festival without these things, having ironically forgotten how much of what they now don't like was their invention. so how about a properly informed collaboration between Pagans and Christians to remove Christendom from Halloween? leaving both faiths free to celebrate a festival centred around their beliefs about the important subject of death and the relationship with our dead ancestors?

if we do this i add one thing that should not be banished, a place to also acknowledge our fear of death, the supernatural and evil. banishing the imagery of this from Halloween won't take away the fear, it just relegates it to places where we cannot face it together and handle it constructively, if differently in our two faith traditions. so i make a plea for renewed celebrations not to lose this element at least from both the medieval Halloween and its Pagan forerunner.

these are the links to the Halloween synchroblog, and they are very eclectic and also come from different faith views, so well worth checking out

The Christians and the Pagans Meet for Samhain at Phil Wyman's Square No More
Our Own Private Zombie: Death and the Spirit of Fear by Lainie Petersen
Julie Clawson at One Hand Clapping
John Morehead at John Morehead's Musings
Vampire Protection by Sonja Andrews
What's So Bad About Halloween? at Igneous Quill
H-A-double-L-O-double-U-double-E-N Erin Word
Halloween....why all the madness? by Reba Baskett
Steve Hayes at Notes from the Underground
KW Leslie at The Evening of Kent
Hallmark Halloween by John Smulo
Mike Bursell at Mike's Musings
Sam Norton at Elizaphanian
Removing Christendom from Halloween at On Earth as in Heaven
Vampires or Leeches: A conversation about making the Day of the Dead meaningful by David Fisher
Encountering hallow-tide creatively by
Sally Coleman
Kay at Chaotic Spirit
Apples and Razorblades at Johnny Beloved
Steve Hayes at Notes from the Underground
Fall Festivals and Scary Masks at The Assembling of the Church
Why Christians don't like Zombies at Hollow Again
Peering through the negatives of mission Paul Walker
Sea Raven at Gaia Rising
Halloween: My experiences by Lew A
Timothy Victor at Tim Victor's Musings
Making Space for Halloween by Nic Paton


cern said...

Yep, you've got my vote there Steve. A good Christian friend of mine called upon a few of us Pagans to help her write a sane commentary on Halloween for Christians a number of years ago. Perhaps we could work on developing that further. :)



Steve said...

that was quick of you mike! and yes let's do not immediately..but very worthwhile.

Sally said...

Interesting Steve- I also picked up on the fear of death problem but have not I think thought through the whole subject as thoroughly as you.

cern said...

Yep, not immediately as I'm having my leg op tomorrow. I've some other things to chat with you about once I'm back home too. :)



GFS3 said...

Hi Steve:
Halloween is a very difficult holiday for Christians. As a pastor I recommend to avoid it. It's clearly a pagan ritual with devil worshipping (and even homosexual) undertones.

Here are five great alternatives to celebrating Halloween:

Great blog, Steve. Keep up the Lord's work!

Steve said...

well after that intruiging post i just had to check out your own blog. it got a big grin from me ;o)
too clever for some perhaps?
keep it up!

David said...

A place to face fear. Very well said.

Yvonne said...

This is a lovely post, and I like your attitude, but I think you'll find that the modern Pagan way of celebrating Samhain was actually based on the older Christian All Hallows Eve :)

See this article on the wheel of the year.

Steve said...

thanks for the link to the article, much appreicated and worth following
i am sure you are right about modern Pagan celebrations of Samhain, though i would be surprised if the christian celebration did not build on a Pagan precursor - though on that see Steve Hayes post in the synchroblog. my reading of the small amounts of evidence would be that if you are looking to find a celtic tradition as opposed to a north european hybrid you proabaly won't find it. nor can you with certainty know what Pagan celebration was there. so the 'we're in a line of continutity to ancient celts' approach is not really on. i think Hutton as a practicing Pagan and ancient historian is very useful here. but it strikes me that the only reason for the western church based on what been northern european, primairly germanic i think, to move the date of all Saints was to fit local traditions, and that there is eveidence for some form of start of winter festival suggest a link.
of course none of this means modern Pagans can't devise their own festival drawing on a range of elements.
thanks for the comments

Question of Identity said...

Wouldn't we prefer to see our children celebrating the light of Christ rather than getting involved in practices that celebrate the occult?

Last Halloween, in our first outreach to the community myself and another evangelist led two 'laughter and light parties'. With fun and games and a strong Christian message. The response from the community was fantastic. The local police (who attended), teachers (also represented), elderly in the community as well as the children all gave their thumbs up.

Steve said...

hi question of identity (and have worked out your identity by the way, and thanks for posting, i'll check out your blog soemtime too hope all is going well)
i am all for Christians finding creative ways to celebrate All Hallows Eve as a Chrisitian festival, indeed that's what Chrsitians should be doing. there are also many non-christians who appreciate an alternative to a commercialised and horror movie inspired event. so if that's what you were doing great.

my post however wanted to to get Chrsitians to recognise how much of the witchcraft and devil imagery of Halloween was invented by medieval christians as an attack on other beliefs and was not in fact some lingering Pagan imagery. my disagreeement then is not with what Christians affirm about alternatives at Halloween but criticisms levelled at Pagans based on Halloween imagery that has little if anything to do with Paganism. such criticisms can at times paint Pagans as devil worshippers or evil doers in what amounts to ill informed and dangerous prejudice. as Christians i think we need to promote the truth about those we don;t agree with as well as what we beleive.

there is of course much that Christians and Pagans don't agree on, and this applies to some apsects of Halloween (though actually they also have a lot in common here too) but i also want Pagans free to celebrate their faith just as i want to celebrate mine openly as a Christian. in this i think informed Christians and Pagans may both offer positive alternatives to the present Halloween.

MR. X said...

Great blog; I always thought halloween was harmless though.
I've found a militant atheist if you want to try and help him; he's at:

GBWY, James

Steve said...

thanks for the post..sorry i was so slow responding

as for the blog you mention...i notice it's yours. well i may check it out some time ;o)

atheists, theists, polytheists and any others always welcome here

TonyTheProf said...

A good post Steve.

But it is also important to note it was the Western Roman church which changed the date of All Saints to October/November, while the Eastern Orthodox churches kept the original the Saturday after Pentecost (and still do!).

In Ireland, the feast of All Saints was in line with those, until of course, they fell in line with Rome. It's curious the way the Celtic church seems to have retained the older Eastern customs.

So All Saints may have been moved on the Celtic Samhain, but it cannot be seen as just a feast day created to do so, because its original date was not October/November.

See also

Steve said...

indeed Tony that is true - the date was moved and i think the link was not to the Celtic Samhain but to the Germanic/Saxon equivalent under the strong Germanic/Saxon influence of the emerging Holy Roman Empire - as also the use of the Saxon Oestre for Easter. so the link to the date is not the same as direct link to Samhain - but the nature of the festival is so close I think for the prallel to be drawn