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