Monday, October 19, 2009

Broadening Horizons from a Wandering Muse

"There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign."
~Robert Louis Stevenson

I apologize for the lack of post on Friday. The day got away from me! I sincerely hope you forgive me and I shall do my best to make up for it by combining today's regular post with Friday's continuing study of Halloween.

Christianity and Halloween
(a brief overview)

As mentioned previously, Halloween stems from ancient pagan rituals of the Celtic lands. Connected to nature in a way we of modern society can not fully grasp, the Celts saw the divine in their everyday life. There was no separation between man and god, only in power. The gods of the Celts walked the earth and one never knew when they may come across a higher power. If you read their mythology, you'll see many instances where an average human was befriended or tempted by a god or goddess without knowing who was doing the tempting. I'm sure their respect for strangers was much higher than ours today! All Hallow's Eve marked the end of the Celtic year. It was the night they believed the spirits walked the earth with them. The Celtic other world is shrouded in myth and mystery. Where the god may have walked with them, the spirits kept to their own lands. But on All Hallow's Eve anything was possible. The veil between this world and the next was parted. The ghosts of those long passed once again took up form and walked the dusty streets and dark forests. The fairy folk (or the Sidhe in Celtic myth) were known for prank playing on humans but were worse on this night than any other.

Samhain (pronounced SOW-wan) was the name for this end of year celebration. The Celts honored their dead ancestors on this night and began offering food and drink to the spirits to keep them appeased and to prevent them from cursing them or doing other nasty deeds to the people and animals of a household.

When Christianity came to Ireland, the church was wise enough to take the Celtic traditions and give them a new twist, instead of immediately rushing in and condeming what they'd been doing for thousands of years. Instead, they were encouraged to honor the saints and to pray for the souls in purgatory. Samhain became All Hallow's Eve, followed by All Saint's Day on November 01, the Celtic New Year. Old traditions die hard and it was still customary to put out food and treats for the departed at the end of Summer. Children discovered they could get free food and would demand it from those who did not put any out, saying what children today say when they rap on your door, "Trick or Treat!". Of course, no one wanted a trick, so they appeased these little ghouls by giving them food and drink and sending them on their way. Costumes came by the need to confuse the evil spirits that the church said walked the land on this night. The Celts believed both benign and evil spirits could be found in nature and there remained a need to confuse them on All Hallow's Eve. Children and adults would dress up to disguise their true nature so the evil spirits would not follow them home and bring them harm.

The following is one of the best overviews of Halloween in light of Christian culture. The entire Halloween article, along with this excerpt, is found here.

In North America, Christian attitudes towards Halloween are quite diverse. In the Anglican Church, some dioceses have chosen to emphasize the Christian traditions of All Saints’ Day, while some other Protestants celebrate the holiday as Reformation Day, a day of remembrance and prayers for unity. Celtic Christians may have Samhain services that focus on the cultural aspects of the holiday, in the belief that many ancient Celtic customs are "incompatible with the new Christian religion. Christianity embraced the Celtic notions of family, community, the bond among all people, and respect for the dead. Throughout the centuries, pagan and Christian beliefs intertwine in a gallimaufry (hodgepodge) of celebrations from October 31 through November 5, all of which appear both to challenge the ascendancy of the dark and to revel in its mystery."

Many Christians ascribe no negative significance to Halloween, treating it as a purely secular holiday devoted to celebrating "imaginary spooks" and handing out candy. Halloween celebrations are common among Roman Catholic parochial schools throughout North America and in Ireland. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church sees Halloween as having a Christian connection. Father Gabriele Amorth, a Vatican-appointed exorcist in Rome, has said, "[I]f English and American children like to dress up as witches and devils on one night of the year that is not a problem. If it is just a game, there is no harm in that." Most Christians hold the view that the tradition is far from being "satanic" in origin or practice and that it holds no threat to the spiritual lives of children: being taught about death and mortality, and the ways of the Celtic ancestors actually being a valuable life lesson and a part of many of their parishioners' heritage.

There are, of course, those who hold Halloween as a harmful holiday and have nothing to do with it. That's fine. I think you should do what you feel is best for your family and yourself. However, I do not advocate people condemning others for participating in festivities they deem unworthy, unfit, or evil. The sooner we all learn to respect each other's personal beliefs and preferences, the better off we'll all be. We're here to love each other, not to judge! I for one enjoy Halloween. I was brought up going trick or treating (at church no less!) and feel it is a wonderful night for imagination and revelry. Besides, it's the one day out of the year I can be anything or anyone I want to be an no one looks at me like I'm a freak :)

Happy Monday and enjoy the season, however you see fit to celebrate!
(image found here)

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