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- a collection of essays on Neodruidic Studies
- a journal of Post-Reconstructionist Neopaganism





Saturday, October 26, 2013

HALLOWEEN MYTHS and FACTOIDS

( Rant mode: "on"... )


1.) Fact: HALLOWEEN WAS NEVER  PAGAN
Halloween is a modern festivity that has its origins in the Christian Irish and British Isles folkways of the last several centuries. These Christian folkways arose around this date due to the annual observances in the Roman Catholic church calendar whereupon the Catholics made remembrance of the martyrs and other saints on the feast of All Hallows, and then the souls of all the departed on the feast of All Souls.

HALLOWEEN IS NOT "CELTIC"...
It is “Celtic” only insomuch as the peoples of Ireland have been referred to as “Celtic” for little more than two hundred years. In several forms the word was in use 2000 years ago but the first modern usage of the term was by the Welsh scholar Edward Lhuyd in 1701 and it remained only a scholarly term for a long time afterward. Yes, no one in Ireland in the 1200's, 1400’s, or 1600's referred to themselves, or anybody else, as “Celtic”. So in this sense, Halloween has no Celtic, a.k.a. Iron-Age pagan, roots, it's a Christian folk-observance from Ireland, Scotland, Britain, and parts of the Continent.

On the other hand, Samhain is an old Celtic name from the Gaelic associated with November 1st in Ireland and Scotland. Historically it is not known with certainty that the word Samhain predates Christianity, yet due to linguistic similarities with other Celtic languages found on pre-Christian Romano Celtic artifacts like the Coligny Calendar from Gaul, it's likely to have been in use in some form 2000 years ago.

2.) More "heretical" bitter pills (brace yourself)...

SAMHAIN: 

was not about the Dead,    and...

SAMHAIN: 

was not the "Celtic New Year"

There are virtually NO connections in ancient "Celtic" mythology that show that the feast of SAMHAIN (Nov. 1st or thereabouts) was thematically related or even similar to the death-themes of the Catholic “All Saints / All Souls” feasts. Nothing in the Lore even suggests a seasonal factor at work other than perhaps a readying for winter's arrival with the High Druids' commanding that all the fires in the land be extinguished so that they could all be re kindled from their single new holy Samhain fire.

Nor is there any historical evidence that Samhain was anciently considered the “Celtic New Year”, regardless of what you’ve been told virtually everywhere else. The ubiquitous "Celtic New year" trope only dates back to the 1890's when it was begun solely as a speculation by one Victorian scholar (*Hutton, 1996).

I suppose we should always reserve judgement, both positive and negative when a matter is confounded by a lack of evidence, remembering that the fact remains that "a lack of evidence does not constitute evidence to the contrary"... There's an awful lot we don't know with certainty about the ancient Celts; the Samhain theme and the Celtic New Year factoids may actually be true, but the fact is that, based on the available evidence, we just don't know. They may have had microwave ovens, we don't know that  they didn't...

3.) So, WHAT “IS” HALLOWEEN?
All the Halloweeny thematic elements we associate with Samhain are just that,  from and about Halloween.  Halloween is a folk-reflex of the Roman Catholic observation of All Saints and All Souls Day and it doesn't seem to reach back to pagan times. Pope Gregory IV (827-844) moved their All Saints (“All Hallows”) observance to November 1st for the whole range of the Roman Church back in the 9th Century, and with time, like moths to a flame, it simply attracted to it all the Celtic and other spooky European folkways related to death and the departed.

IMO, as Neopagans we should actually be thankful for the Catholic Church having moved their All Saints / All Souls to the threshold of November. Why? Because it's so darn seasonally appropriate! It's no wonder we want our own Feast of the Dead to be there. If it was originally intentional it was downright brilliant on their part, just like how they fixed their Feast of the Nativity to occur nine months after their March-Equinox fixed Easter. And likewise, it's "OK" for us to arrange our Neopagan calendar mythos to fit the seasons this way as well; we just don't have to lie about it by continually parroting the bad scholarship and bogus references of ill-informed Victorian gentlemen-scholars, renegade Edwardian poets and the last few generations of sloppy Neopagan "authorities".

Halloween today? Although originating in the Irish and British Isles' All Saints, All-Souls church customs, our contemporary Halloween itself is an outcome of the self perpetuating American cultural imperialism that, like our brutish re-imagining of Christmas, has come roaring out of the States, steamrolling its way back around the world like a devastating tsunami. So, as I've said several times elsewhere...

4.) WAS HALLOWEEN ALWAYS THIS NASTY?
Through the self-referential dynamics of the media and marketing, our Halloween imagery is becoming severely culturally “inbred”. These days, the result is frequently so brutal that it’s virtually obscene in its violent, heartless and vulgar content. What began as a time for the honoring of the Spirits of the Departed and an opportunity for children to shuffle through the Autumn leaves in fantastic garb begging for treats at the doors of their neighbors has become a theatre of blood, butchery and inhumanity. Halloween may once have been meant to be atmospheric and “spooky” but never was its true spirit upheld by the horrific and brutal.


5.) IT’S "HALLOW", NOT "HOLLOW" !
Just like everything else about Halloween these days, even the pronunciation of the word has become severely inbred and distorted. At least before the 1960’s and "It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown!" nobody (nobody,) anywhere pronounced it “holloween” and greatest part of the huge shift to the “hollow” pronunciation has happened only over the last 20 years or so as the acceleration of Halloween's commercialization has grown exponentially. As a result there are now generations of Americans who have grown up thinking that the "hol" pronunciation is "normal". Regardless, I don't know about the rest of you over the age of 40 but it really makes me cringe when I hear professional announcers on network television and even on NPR flattening the sound of their "hal" to straddle the two pronunciations.  Aaaarrgh!! - - It's HAL-oh, not hollow!





6.) RAZOR BLADES and POISONED CANDY ?
This is a classic urban myth (*Santino, 1994) with very few if any actual cases ever having occurred that involved malicious intent. On the other hand, there are numerous cases wherein the children (or adults) themselves had modified their own treats for the drama and attention it would incite around them.

RELATED POSTS:

A NEOPAGAN DAY OF THE DEAD?

IT'S HALLOW, NOT HOLLOW!

HALLOWEEN YES, BLOOD AND GUTS NO

ANCESTORS, BEST SONG, BEST IMAGE

SAMHAIN, THE BEGINNING OR THE END?

GRAY NOVEMBER: WELCOME TO THE WASTELAND 

GRAY NOVEMBER: CROSSING THE WASTELAND

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REFERENCES:
* See Ronald Hutton's "Stations of the Sun" (Oxford, 1996) pp. 363. 
* Santino, Jack. Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life.
Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1994 ISBN 0-87049-813-4.

See Snopes: http://www.snopes.com/horrors/mayhem/needles.asp

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