Halloween comes to us from the Christian calendar, and is an abbreviated name for All Hallows Eve. It also used to be called ‘all souls night’ while the all Hallows bit refers to November the first being All Saints Day. As a consequence it always amuses me to find misinformed, anxious Christians talking about the dangers of Halloween, that well known festival of all things evil and occult. Sorry folks, it was your festival all along. Yes, Samhain falls at the same time, but once you start poking the Catholic calendars of old, it’s pretty hard to find a date that isn’t potential cause for celebration. Every saint has their day and people can celebrate the day of the saint they were named after, if they are so inclined.
Once upon a time, the Christian church understood that death was a powerful force and that people need to set aside time and contemplate it, and make peace with it. The Mexican day of the dead festivities are a fine case in point. I don’t know if the rise of visible Paganism has gone alongside the Christian fear associated with this, their festival. The rise in commercial exploitation hasn’t helped.
For the fearful, it’s a slippery slope. You start by letting kids wear pointy hats and carve pumpkins and before you know it, they’ll be worshipping Satan and dabbling in dangerous occult practices. Satan, it is often forgotten, is a figure from Christian mythology. He may parallel certain goat footed Pagan Gods but that’s a whole other story.
When did the Church start trying to be so clean and safe? All Saints day, today, would have honoured the saints. The majority of people ‘blessed’ with the title got it by dying in strange, grotesque, horrible ways. The kind of deaths that modern torture porn films could really get their teeth into. Its odd, really, that this material has never been mined for entertainment. The mentality that would draw a big crowd to watch someone being hung, drawn and quartered is alive and well and sitting in a cinema near you, waiting for the strange catharsis of gore. Mediaeval Christianity was full of the dark and grotesque. Tombs depicting decomposing corpses, horrible faces in the church roof – all the material of fear and reality, right there. The depictions of Hell used to be pretty wild, too, all naked flesh and horrible torment. But again, we have the cinema for that, we don’t go to church expecting to see people having their breasts torn off.
Religions evolve. All Hallows Day has all but vanished, and Hallow ‘een as take over, and been kicked out of the Christian calendar to become a strange, secular rite involving costumes and chocolate. Next time someone tells you that Paganism is somehow invalidated by its youth, or by not being the same as ancient Paganism, hold this thought. The Christianity that decries Halloween today would not make the slightest sense to the people who celebrated as a Christian festival it not so many generations ago.