Tuesday, October 31, 2017

All Hallows Eve

Another Halloween is here and kids are anxious to dress up and receive treats as a reward for performing a simple "trick" or just for not being naughty. Some adults also seem to be very excited by the observance. US Person always wants to know the ulterior reasons for human behaviors: Halloween has its deep roots in the pagan past. Pagan is a broad term encompassing many different belief systems which do not accept the eternal salvation offered to God's "creatures" by Jesus Christ. Most relevant to 'Merica, still a predominately Anglo-Saxon nation, are the Celtic religious traditions of northern Europe that survive in attenuated forms into the 21st century despite almost two millennia of religious repression. As we will see, polytheistic Celtic religion was fundamentally connected to Nature and its changes, so it may be superficially characterized as a type of nature worship. Christianity recognizes Nature as the perfect exemplar of God's divine power and eternal nature, but that suffers corruption from man's faulty dominion. Psalm 19, 104; Romans 8. Nature worship errs in that it worships creation, but not the Creator.☩ 

blue sun energy, red temperature
Samhain, samhainn, sauin depending on which Celtic language you use, dates from the time when the Celtic people were primarily pastoral suggests George Frazier, who wrote The Golden Bough*. The first of the four "quarter days" it marks the beginning of winter, and was generally held on November 1st. Tribal gatherings, feasting, drinking and contests were all part of the celebration at a time when the veil between the spirit world and this world was at its weakest. Supernatural beings and departed souls could enter the living's reality. Beltane, in spring, on the opposite side of the wheel of seasons from Samhain , celebrated fertility and life [chart above]. Samhain can be said to be a celebration of the dead. It occurs at the time herds were moved from summer pastures to their winter paddocks. Because meat could be effectively preserved during the cold months, animals were selected for slaughter. Spirits had to be propitiated to ensure the people and their livestock survived harsh winter. Later developments recorded in the 16th century, mumming¹ and guising², became persistent elements of the Samhain holiday, perhaps evolving from the practice of impersonating the souls of the dead and collecting offerings on their behalf. Wiccans, who are modern pagans, celebrate a version of Samhian as one of the four Great Sabbats (Sabbaths) of the Wheel, also dedicated to the dead.

The Christianization of Europe was achieved through the strenuous efforts of monks and converted rulers to eradicate the 'old ways', in part by replacing them with Christian observances (interpretatio christiana).  So it was with the great pagan holiday of Samhain. Hallowe'en, a contraction of All Hallows (Saints) Eve, began to be observed on October 31st as early as the 6th century, the eve of the feast day of All Saints (Hallows) on November 1st in the church's calendar; it was part of the three day observance dedicated to remembering the dead--saints, martyrs, and the faithful departed. Yet pagan traditions died very hard. Some of them became incorporated into the Christian practice such as wearing costumes and carrying hollowed out turnip lanterns while "souling", or collecting cakes for the beloved departed. This practice dates back to at least the 15th century. In France, the danse macabre took place on Hallowe'en when the dead rose to hold a riotous celebration in graveyards. The living, in costume, could join them if they had the nerve to do so. Huesos de Santos, special pastries, are still laid out for the dead in Spanish churchyards. All over Europe fires were lit to guide souls and ward off demons. In the New World, Anglican and Catholic colonists brought their Hallowe'en practices with them, although the Puritans frowned on these "popish" observances. Their strict disapprobations included celebration of Christmas!  They were the original "Debbie Downer".

So, the commercial event now so popular among children, and those who are still children, has deep roots in religion, and thus our evolutionary past. It is a time to remember loved ones who have gone before us at a time--halfway between the fall equinox and winter solstice--when the sun's life-giving energy fades from view.
1. traditional folk plays by men in costume, called "mummers".
2. from Scotland, children going from door to door in disguise.
Paul wrote to the Romans, "In fact, whatever can be known about God is clear to them [the perversely irreligious]; He himself made it so. Since the creation of the world, invisible realities, God's eternal power and divinity, have become visible, recognized through the things he has made...They claim to be wise, but turned into fools instead; they exchanged the glory of God for images representing mortal man, birds, beasts and snakes...they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator." Romans 1:19-25
*Frazer wrote in his preface to the third edition of his multi-volume work on the relation of magic and religion that, "we [Hegel] both hold that in the mental evolution of humanity an age of magic preceded an age of religion, and that the characteristic difference between magic and religion is that, whereas magic aims at controlling nature directly, religion aims at controlling it indirectly through the mediation of a powerful supernatural being or beings to whom man appeals for help and protection". Of course now science and its application, technology, attempts to do what magic and religion could not do. Needless to say this is a totally agnostic view of man's development. The Crucifixion of the Lamb was placed in context of a discussion of pagan myth about a sacrificial king-god in Frazer's original work. In his third edition he moved the topic to a "speculative" appendix perhaps reflecting the scandal created by his secular treatment of Christianity's central belief.  Notably, Frazer accepted the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth as a great religious and moral reformer, and considered doubts about his existence unworthy of attention.