Saturday, 31 October 2009

Samhain/Hallowe'en

Every year I hope I won't need to do a post about this, but every year I'm annoyed again by the ignorance and lack of understanding about this important Pagan festival. We had a Hallowe'en Party at our Home Ed Group which several families chose not to attend because they don't do Hallowe'en. OK fair enough, but then of course my children come to me and ask "why couldn't x and y come to the party? They say they're not allowed to celebrate Hallowe'en, why?" And what do I say without saying that x and y's parents are ignorant?
So, to reiterate. Samhain (pronounced sow-in or sow-een or varieties thereof depending on the part of the country you live in) is the pre-Christian festival which was around 31st October. It was the new year, which meant it was a liminal time - ie a time which was neither the old year, nor the new year. Liminal times are times between times, neither one thing nor the other, and as such they are sacred and special. Things can happen then which cannot happen at other times. It was seen as a thinning of the barrier between this world and the next world, hence it being a good time to scry into the future and try to find out who you'd marry and so forth.
Due to this thinning of the barrier it was also seen as a time when evil spirits might be around, hence disguising yourself in some kind of costume to escape, and having things around (such as scarily craved pumpkins these days) which would frighten away anything nasty.
The main part of Samhain however is a festival of the dead, common to many cultures and similar to the current one in Mexico which is completely sanctioned by the Catholic Church there. This is a celebration of death as a part of the cycle of life. It reminds us that this is usually the point of the last of the harvest, and the point at which weather deteriorates so much that we have to stay indoors more. It's a time for remembering loved ones who have died, and for honouring our ancestors. It reminds us that it's growing darker, the year is hurtling towards the winter solstice and that it's a time for going inwards, going dormant, planning and assessing rather than action.
It was the Church who added all the most 'nasty' elements to Samhain and made it Hallowe'en - All Hallows Eve. Which is ironic considering it is now the Church who seems to object to these elements. When the Church started taking over, it deliberately placed its important festivals on dates which were already celebrated in order to absorb those festivals into itself and replace them with its own as it demonised the previous festival. So, the Church placed All Saints Day on what had been New Year's Day around 1st November and because you couldn't have anything unholy around on All Saints Day, Samhain became All Hallows Eve - the night when all nasty and evil things came out to play in advance of All Saints Day when they couldn't. This had been a very small part of Samhain before this and now the Church emphasised this part only and blotted out all the other aspects of the festival, which are the most important to Pagans today.
Of course, popular secular celebration of the event focuses on the dressing up and the trick or treating, which grew from the 'trickster' element of the festival - winter festivals quite often have a trickster element, such as the Roman Saturnalia which turns everyday life on its head with masters serving slaves. Trickster gods such as Loki and Pan and Robin Goodfellow are not generally evil, merely mischievous and playful, though they can have a nasty edge. They embody some useful fun during the dark, cold and dangerous months of winter, and also echo reality with their unpredictability and occasional cruel edge.
I don't object to people celebrating the secular aspects of Hallowe'en. It is similar to the way most people celebrate Christmas - not being Christian and with no intention of honouring the deeper, spiritual meaning of the festival. What I do object to though is Christians being all self-righteous about Hallowe'en. They invented it, in its modern form, so it's ironic when they object to it, without even apparently knowing its history. And they are ignorant of its true spiritual meaning for thousands of modern Pagans. I'm sick of apologising for one of the main festivals of my faith and sick of being defensive about it. Christians wouldn't object to Eid or Diwali in this way, so why my festival which their Church had such a hand in trying to destroy?
This is not a post to attack Christians, it is a post to attack ignorance and intolerance. If I have managed to inform just one person, I'll be happy. But I'm not keeping quiet about this any longer.
Happy Samhain everyone!

13 comments:

Cave Mother said...

Excellent article! I found this really interesting - I don't subscribe to any religion, but I do find it amusing the way the Catholic/Christion churches hijack everyone else's festivals and customs and twist them to suit their own needs.

September said...

That's really interesting, i was brought up as a christian and have tried to introduce Hannah to the faith, but we have found so much intolerence that we are now exploring other more natural feeling faiths. I love what you wrote about the real meaning of Samhain and am going to share it with Hannah later.
Enjoy your celebrations today x

Talie said...

Here here!

Samhain Blessings to you and your family Liz xxx

bettywobble said...

well said!

Bright blessings,
Debbie xx

Amanda C said...

Thanks lovely, I was trying to explain this to my children today, not very well I might add. Now I will just get them to read your post.

Happy Samhain. x

arwen_tiw said...

Here here! The Church newsletter last week contained a short piece about the "danger" of Halloween as it celebrates "real evil" and witches practice satanism (etc). We're not there this week precisely in order for me not to go and slap somebody, which would be a less than Christian response to their ignorance and downright rudeness...

This morning it occurs to me also that if a Church newsletter accused any other faith of "practicing real evil" and "venerating Satan" there is not one person there who wouldn't at the least be uncomfortable.

Liz said...

Thank you for that Sarah! I knew there were some intelligent and informed Christians out there!
Did you see the statement that the Pope released this week? He asked that Christian parents stopped their children celebrating death and made Hallowe'en a 'wholesome' festival celebrating 'beauty'. Just how much more divorced from the time of year and natural cycles can you be?
It annoyed me so much I don't know where to start. Death is just as wholemsome as life and is in fact and necessary and natural part of life. We can find the beauty in death when we remember deceased loved ones with love, and also when we acknowledge the natural world dying down for its necessary fallow period in order that things can be reborn in the spring.
This kind of attitude shows just how necessary it is to celebrate this kind of festival. The world is losing its balance and trying to pretend death and decay and dormancy don't exist. I find that not only misguided but positively dangerous.

Laura said...

Great post Liz. Really interesting, and very well said!
xx

Eoforhild said...

Thank you for this. It is wonderful to find someone who is able to write down all the bits about Samhain I have jumbled up in my head, so I have somewhere to refer people to. (If that's ok)

I found your blog last night through another persons and then this evening when I was googling Attatchment Parenting & Paganism your web page came up.

Your piece on Highly Sensative Trait really spoke to me, so thank you for that, it's given me some information that may help me and a very dear friend of mine.

Avril

Talie said...

Liz I'm just writing a blog post about my thoughts and experiences of this Samhain. I'm going to link to your post if this is ok?

funkyhan said...

I am christian (LDS), and I don't like the way halloween is celebrated these days -- but then I don't like the way Christmas is celebrated these days either... by the many at least... the just complete over-indulgence and selfishness in general. I actually love the idea of celebrating some of the pagan festivals simply because they seem so simple and uncumbered and centred around the natural cycles. Did you know Christ wasn't even born in December (April actually) The early Roman catholic church just wanted to take over the pagans Winter festival aparently. Doesn't suprise me.

Thankyou for educating me :) although I don't take issue at those who celebrate it properly rather than use it as an excuse for egging houses and demanding sweets and chocolate!!

I know this is late, but Happy Samhain!

homedible said...

Thanks for this very interesting and informative post.

Eco Yogini said...

Samhain has always been my favourite holiday- pre "pagan" awakenings. I love the feeling of mystery, of life and of new beginnings.

thank you very much for the wonderful reminder :)

Many Blessings on the new Year!