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Halloween - What's It About?
By Kathryn A. Graham
Goblins and Ghosts
Pumpkins and Pie
Won't somebody please
Just tell me why?
Here we are again. It's the silly season. Ghosts and goblins, kids knocking on doors and demanding treats (while threatening lots of dirty tricks). Actually, it's a lot safer these days for parents to take their kids to a Halloween party or haunted house, rather than let them risk razor blades (or far worse!) in their candy.
I guess terrorism really begins at home. After all, the definition of terrorism is attacking the innocent to create a climate of fear.
Despite terrorist horrors, secular Halloween remains big business for merchants. If you check your grocery or drug store, you will find huge displays of costumes and candy everywhere you look around this time of year.
Yes, but what does it mean? And why does it enrage a very few twisted individuals to the point of attacking little children through their candy?
Well, there are always a few curmudgeons about who just don't like kids knocking on their doors, but I think we can all agree that these vicious attacks on children each year are motivated by far more than that.
The name "Halloween" comes from All Hallows, or All Saints Day, traditionally celebrated by Christians on November 1st. The night of Halloween was called Hallows Eve. All Saints Day was dedicated to all of those saints (dead ones, of course) who did not otherwise have a special day of their own. All Saints Day came into existence soon after Pope Gregory I issued his famous edict of 601 A.D. concerning Pagan practices. If non-Christians worship a tree, he told his missionaries, then consecrate the tree to Christ and keep right on worshipping it! It was a brilliant strategy, and it almost worked. That edict is also why so many other Christian holidays also correspond exactly with older Pagan observances.
The original name of Halloween was Samhain (usually pronounced sow'-en), and it was actually the New Year celebration for most of pre-Christian Europe. It was the day which stood "at the crack of time" between the old year and the new, included in neither year.
Pagan traditions say that the walls between the world of the living and the world of the dead are at their thinnest on this day that is not a day, so the dead may walk and feast among the living with ease. Following the papal edict of Gregory I, when 7th Century missionaries started frantically looking for some sort of feast of the dead, they latched onto the All Saints idea. Actually, when you think about it, it's kind of a lame substitute for a feast of the dead (particularly when Samhain usually wound up as one hell of a party, no pun intended). That's undoubtedly why it didn't catch on very well.
Samhain is the major celebration of the Witch's year. On this night, the God of the Pagans, who willingly sacrificed Himself at Lugnasagh (August 1st) to ensure the bounty of the harvest and will be reborn into this world at Yule (winter solstice, on or about December 21st), is crowned King of the Dead.
How did this day of celebration, this time of communing with loved ones long missed, become a festival of fear?
To begin with, despite the Christian naming of November 1st as All Hallows in accordance with papal edict, the Pagans never did give up their feast night. Frustrated missionaries began to label the friendly and welcome ghosts of the Pagans as goblins and demons, anything evil so that they could "teach" Pagans the errors of their ways and keep them within doors during the night hours.
All they managed to do was drive the Old Religion underground.
The Greek word for the Underworld, or realm of the dead, was "Hades." In the New Testament, "Hades" is commonly used to refer to death or the grave. What we know as Biblical "Hell" is actually drawn from the term "gehenna," which is derived from a terrible valley outside the walls of Jerusalem where children were offered as burnt sacrifices to Molech, the King of the Gods, shortly before the Babylonian captivity of the Jews. Somehow, the terms Hades and Hell came to mean the same thing to early Christians, which helped contribute to the confusion between Witchcraft and Satanism.
This confusion, whether deliberate or not, came to an obscene climax with the publication of the disgusting and utterly fictional Malleus Maleficarum (Witch's Hammer) in the 15th Century, and was followed in short order by the horror of the Inquisition. Medieval Christian monks also borrowed depictions of Pan, a Greek variant on the Northern European pre-Christian God, for their illustrations of Satan.
Remember your mythology, please. Pan was merry and mischievous, but never evil.
Pre-Christian Europe had nothing whatever to do with Judeo-Christian tradition and borrowed nothing from it. Logic says that if they did not (and do not) even believe in the existence of Satan, they were and are certainly most unlikely to worship him! Logic, however, was never much of an obstacle to early Christian missionaries.
Furthermore, the word "Witch," which is the correct English term for a follower of
the Old Religion and should be capitalized in the same way you would capitalize "Baptist," is probably a linguistic corruption of Witcraft, or Craft of the Wise. Therefore, it follows that the English word "Witch" was probably completely unknown to the Hebrew authors of the Old Testament, which makes the translation of Exodus 22:18 ("Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.") in the King James version of the Bible more than just a little bit suspect.
In the ancient Greek Septuagint, which is the oldest surviving portion of the Old Testament, dating to the 3rd Century A.D. (the original Hebrew texts were destroyed long ago), the Greek text actually reads "Suffer not a poisoner to live among you." Good advice - and probably very close to the original meaning. And I submit that most Witches, ancient or modern, would agree with it.
I certainly do, and I have been a practicing Witch for 30 years – in the heart of the Bible Belt, no less. And I am still alive! Quite a feat in this fundamentalist paradise.
What does Samhain mean to me, a modern Witch?
It's a welcome opportunity for me to spend a few short hours with much-missed loved ones who have crossed over.
It is also an opportunity to celebrate the essence of my God, who embodies the male virtues of passion and courage. All too often, Witches celebrate the tender love and nurturing wisdom of our Goddess, and ignore our God - Who grants us our strength and our fire.
Like the Christian New Year, Samhain is also a time for resolutions for Pagans. I resolve to weed the cowardice and weakness out of my personality, to become more honorable and truer to my real self – in other words, I seek to acquire more of my God's virtues on His special holiday. I employ ritual magic in much the same way that Christians use faith-healing or prayer to speak to my subconscious mind and make these changes a physical reality.
Finally, and most importantly, it's fun! Cavorting in costumes of goblins and demons - and laughing about it - is the ultimate victory over the early Christians who tried to slander our beliefs all those centuries ago. Just think about it. Medieval missionaries took a happy festival and tried to turn it into something dark and sinister. Now, more than a thousand years later, Christians and Pagans alike dress up in dark and sinister costumes and have a good laugh at their expense. Sweet, sweet revenge in the laughter of the innocent - and somehow oddly appropriate for our God's special day. After all, the most important lesson He teaches us is how to fling laughter in the teeth of terror and despair.
Sadly, there are a few really sick people in the world who spend an awful lot of time and energy looking for people to hate, and Witches seem to make a popular target for irrational hatred, both historically and in modern times.
A very, very few individuals are actually depraved and cowardly enough to attack young children. Maybe they hope that Witches will be blamed for these senseless injuries, or that Christians will become frightened enough to avoid observing the old Pagan holiday. Then again, maybe it has nothing to do with the clash of Pagan and Christian in modern times. To be honest, I can't begin to understand the motivation of someone that sick, nor do I ever want to become so depraved myself that I can understand it.
All the same, whether you are Pagan or Christian, please, please watch your kids carefully this year. If you let them trick or treat, go with them every single step of the way. Check their candy with a fine-toothed comb before you let them touch a single piece.
Don't let the innocent become victims of terrorism.
About the Author: Kathryn A. Graham is a licensed private investigator, pilot, aircraft mechanic and handgun instructor in Texas. Also a prolific author, she has written numerous articles, short stories and a science fiction novel entitled Flight From Eden.
Ms. Graham is the Texas Director for Armed Females of America, and a proud member of the Western Libertarian Alliance.
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