very year, right around Halloween, we are treated to an outpouring of what can only be described as "scare" literature telling us all about how the holiday is 'satanic' and evil, and should not be celebrated by Christians. These opinions are backed up with some rather unusual and very frightening fantasies masquerading as historical facts.
This article is -not- intended to address whether or not Satan exists, nor to show that 'witches' are all nice, grainola-eating vegetarians and tree-huggers who wouldn't harm a fly, nor is it an attack on Fundamentalist Christianity, but rather a discussion concerning some of the so-called 'facts' offered in some of the anti-Halloween publications.
Let's look at four typical tracts circulating around the computer nets:
- "Halloween Oct. 31: What's It All About?" by someone named Sylvan Margadonna
- "Halloween: What It Is From A Christian Perspective" by a Mrs. Gloria Phillips (Bay View Church, P.O. Box 9277, Mobile, AL 36691)
- and two anonymous tracts, identified as "Tract 1" and "Tract 2."
I have not corrected transcription errors in either of these tracts; They are exactly as received.
Halloween (the name) means the evening before All Hallows or All Saints' Day, which is Nov. 1. All Saints' Day is observed by Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and Lutherans, to honor all the saints in Heaven, whether known or unknown. The day also used to be called Hallowmass from Old English word hallow, meaning sanctify. In the Roman Catholic Church, it is, with all solemnity, considered one of the most important observances of the church year. It is a day on which all Catholics are obliged to attend Mass. It is preceded by a vigil of preparation on the evening of Oct.31. And it is this vigil, All Hallows' Eve or Halloween, that is the most widely known feature of the observance.
This is true, though Margadonna's linking the Church vigil to the current American celebration (in the light of what is said later) seems to me to show a possible agenda of anti-Catholicism, (and a mild quibble over the use of the word "Old English," as OE was more the language of "Beowulf" than Chaucer (Middle English) or Shakespeare. Even so, the tracts tend to very quickly degenerate into myth and pseudo-factual statements that cannot be backed up by hard data.
However, Halloween is really of DRUIDIC origin. Most of the customs connected with the day are remnants of ancient "religious" beliefs and celebrations of the New Year, first of the Druids and then of the Romans who conquered them.
For the Celtic tribes who followed the religion of the Druids and lived in Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and Britan, Nov. 1 was New Years Day. It was also a joint festival honoring their Sun "god" and "Samhain", the lord of the dead.
In 834 A.D. Gregory IV extended the feast for all the church and it became known as All Saint's Day, still remembering the dead. Samhain, a Druid god of the dead was honored at Halloween in Britain, France, Germany and the Celtic countries. Samhain called together all wicked souls who died within the past year and that were destined to inhabit animals.
It was the Druid's belief that on the eve of this festival, Saman called together the wicked souls that within the past 12 months had been condemned to inhabit the bodies of animals. They were released in the form of ghosts, spirits, witches or elves.
Halloween is a rite with pagan, demonic roots. The Celtic people who lived over 2,000 years ago, feared the evening of October 31st more than any other day of the year. It was the eve of the Lord of the Dead. To celebrate, the people built bonfires, wore masks and costumes in order to prepare for the arrival of spirits. Fire rituals and divination were part of their celebration. Pagan priests even offered human and animal sacrifices.
The American celebration rests upon Scottish and Irish folk customs which can be traced, in a direct line, from pre-Christian time. Although Halloween has become a night of celebration to many, its beginnings were otherwise. The earliest Halloween celebrations were held by the Druids in honor of Saman, lord of the dead, whose festival fell on November 1.
The Druids were an 'oral' tradition; they didn't write down their teachings. Unfortunately, most of what we have on them from pre-Christian times was written by their mortal enemies: the Roman Empire. To take what the Romans said about the Druids as fact is rather like taking what the Romans said about Christians as fact. (Athenagoras, in 176 CE, writes a whole tome to repudiate the accusations of atheism, cannibalism and lust directed by the Romans at the Christians).
Minicus Felix, a first century Roman writer wrote about the Christian groups:"As for the initiation of new members, the details are as disgusting as they are well known. The novice himself, deceived by the coating of dough (covering a sacrificial infant), thinks the stabs are harmless. Then, it's horrible! They hungrily drink the blood and compete with one another as they divide his limbs. And the fact they all share knowledge of the crime pledges them all to silence. On the feast-day they foregather with all their children, sisters, mothers, people of either sex and all ages. Now, in the dark, so favorable to shameless behavior, they twine the bonds of unnamable passion, as chance decides. Precisely the secrecy of this evil religion proves that all these things, or practically all, are true."
Sounds a lot like what was said about the Jews in the Middle Ages ..... or what some propagandists say about neo-Pagans / Wiccans nowadays.
(The quote comes from the Octavius of Minucius Felix, chapter 9. The Octavius is a lot like Plato's Symposium or Anselm's Cur Deus Homo -- it's a hypothetical, fictional dialogue. Minucius Felix wrote this when he was a Christian, and the quote comes from the heathen character in the dialogue, whose name is Caecilius. Probably, the quote reflects ant-Christian sentiment at the time, but it was not Minucius Felix's own criticism. Minucius is a character in the story, but the dialogue takes place primarily between the Christian Octavius and the heathen Caecilius.)
The attempt to associate Hindu-like reincarnation beliefs with Druidic beliefs has no basis in fact. We know that the Celts believed in an afterlife much like life in the world, as they would do things like promise to pay debts "in the next life," but there is no evidence of a belief in reincarnation (coming back to this world, as an animal, insect or human, not another life in Heaven or wherever) as such.
The link with Irish customs is ephemeral (to say the least!) as the Romans never conquered, nor even invaded, Ireland. There is no Graeco-Roman overlay on Irish folklore and myth before the advent of Christianity. Had Halloween come to America from France (Ancient Gaul), whose Celtic culture was thoroughly Romanized, I might have bought into this connection, but it is a fact that Halloween came from Ireland. There was no Roman occupation in Ireland, therefore (and archaeology bears this out) there was no Roman culture in Ireland, so it follows that there can be no credible Romano-Pagan connection with Irish pagan beliefs.
This is significant for Scotland also, as the inhabitants of Scotland at the time of the Roman occupation of Britain were the Picts (a generic term for a confederation of different tribes.) They were not conquered by the Romans either; Hadrian's and Antonine's Walls mark the limit of Roman conquest in Britain. The people that we know as "Scots" (the word "Scot" originally meant "Irishman") are actually an amalgamation of Norse, Pict and Irish that happened well after the Romans left Britain.
As for "Samhain" or "Saman" being the 'lord of the dead,' this is a gross fallacy that seems to have been perpetuated in the late 18th and 19th centuries CE. I have found it in Higgins (first published in 1827, and trying to prove the Druids emigrated to Ireland from India!) where he quotes a Col. Charles Vallency (later a General, who was trying to prove that the Irish were decended from the inhabitants of Armenia!!!) Higgins also refers to an author named "Pictet," who gives this name as that of a god, associating the word with "sabhan," (which word I cannot find in any Gaelic dictionary at my disposal) and trying for a connection with "Bal-sab," to prove a Sun god and Biblical association.
There may very well be a connection between the Celtic "Belenos" and "Baal," but that would be more likely nothing more than two independent lingual changes from early Indo-European root-word(s) that pre-date the apparent migrations of the proto-Celts from the northern Black Sea area. Bottom line is that you can't equate them as being the same. They're not. A discussion of such cultural evolution, and a lingual "family tree", can be found here, in an article on the swasticka.
Bostwick (originally published in 1894) associates "Samhuin" with the Moon, but translates "Samhain" correctly, though he tries to derive the roots of Gaelic and Erse from Latin. He refers to a book named "Bards" by a person only identified as "Walker" as his reference. I have not been able to locate this work, nor Col. Vallency's ("Collectanaea de Rebus Hibernicis" circa 1770 in 6 volumes.)
With modern research, archaeology and the study of the Indo-European migrations, these conclusions can be seen as the complete errors they were, (though further research into proto-Gaelic is still going on, and may yet hold some surprises.)
All of this may be connected with the "British Israelite" sort of thing so popular then, when British antiquaries were trying to connect the Druids of the British Isles with Biblical nations and races, Freemasonry, the "religion of Noah," "Helio-Arkites," and many other fanciful blind-alleys. Some of the more luminous (?) names of this movement were William Stukeley, Edward Williams (who called himself "Iolo Morganwg" and can be viewed as one of the classic British cranks, forging documents right and left to back up his theories), John Williams ab Ithel, Owen Morgan (who called himself "Morgan O. Morgan"), the epic-forger James MacPherson (he wrote the "Ossian" stuff), Edward Davies, the aforementioned Godfrey Higgins and James Bostwick, and others.
It rather reminds one of the identification of the indigenous populations of North America with the Lost Tribes of Israel, or the identification of the Blacks with the descendants of Cain.
Seumas MacManus, in his book "The Story Of The Irish Race," quotes a source only identified as "O'Halloran" as identifying "Samain" with the Moon, though later he correctly translates the word as "Hallowday," (and includes the three days before and after in the name) in connection with the supposed first Irish Parliament at Tara under Cormac, and as the occasion for fairs at Muiremne. Hardly the appropriate time to hold such festive occasions (these Fairs were held every three years at Tara) if these tracts are to be believed!
I should also quote a well-known Wiccan, "Rowan Moonstone" (pseud.):
"There is no such deity as "Samhain, Druid god of the dead"!!! The word Samhain means summer's end. (Sam + Fuin = Samhain). The "Great God Sam" myth seems to have come from Col. Vallency's books in the 1770s before the reliable translations of the extant Celtic literary works and before the archaeological excavations."
Ms. Moonstone further comments:
"I've spent several years trying to trace the "Great God Samhain" and I have YET to find seminal sources for the same. The first reference seems to be from Col. Vallency in the 1700s and then Lady Wilde in her book "Mystic Charms and Superstitions" advances the "Samhain, lord of the dead" theory. Vallency, of course was before the work done on Celtic religion in either literature or archaeology. Wilde, on the other hand, gives NO references in her book, claiming it to be first-hand field work. (NOT!) I have no problems to Christians being theologically opposed to Samhain. What I absolutely refuse to tolerate is sloppy and improper scholarship!"
In more current books in print I have only found "Samhain" named as the 'lord of the dead' in Claudia DeLys' book on American superstitions (see my bibliography below), and in the "Dictionary of Satanism" (see my bibliography below), and I find it interesting that these tracts seem to reproduce, almost word-for-word, what Ms. DeLys has to say on the subject relating to 'Samhain, lord of the dead' and about Halloween in general.
Looking thru Maclennan, we find that the (Scots) Gaelic "Samhuinn" (pronounced in Scotland as "SAV-im") is translated as "Hallowtide; the Feast of All Souls" and is the same word as Erse (Irish Gaelic) "Samhain" (pronounced "SEW-ain (sort of!)" in Erse), Early Irish "Samfhuin" (also found as "samuin" and "samain") and has the possible Old Celtic root of "samani-."
Herity / Eogan also mention "Bealtaine, Lughnasa and Samhain" as holidays of the Iron Age Irish.
The Celtic Gods of the dead were Gwynn ap Nudd (British) and Arawn (Welsh) though the last-mentioned may be only a god of the dead in modern interpetations of paleo-pagan practice. I have not found any Irish "lord of death" as such, and neither have I located any Gaulish (French Celtic) god's name, if any. Lugh would be the nearest thing to a sun-god of the Celts, and even that association is a bit tenuous.
Bear in mind also that the Celtic "Lord of the Underworld" was -not- considered to be anything similar to the Judeo/Christian/Islamic/Satanist Satan, ( we are, after all, dealing with an entirely different mythos here! ) but rather something different, and -not- the dualistic concept of good God and evil anti-God.
(I will not address the issue of the various Horned Gods (male fertility symbols) of Western European paganism being Satan. The concept of "God and His adversary" seems to have had no place in pre-Christian Celtic mythology.)
"Samhain" is the name of the holiday. There is no evidence of any god or demon named "Samhain," "Samain," "Sam Hane," or however you want to vary the spelling.
The association of "ghosts, spirits, witches (and) elves" in Tract 2 is also interesting, as it betrays the author's lack of knowledge of Irish folklore. Ghosts, spirits and witches were regarded by the post-Christian Irish as evil indeed, but elves had a rather unique position in Irish folklore as being neither of Heaven or of Hell. They were not regarded as evil so much as very different and very dangerous to mess with. There is a differentiation made between "good" and "bad" elves / fairies in the "seelie court" and the "unseelie court," however.
Insofar as the -ancient- Celtic attitude towards the four items mentioned there is no hard evidence.
Margadonna's usage of the phrase "ancient 'religious' beliefs," implying that ancient religions were not really "real" religions, is also interesting. If they weren't "real" religions, what were they? They may not have been Christianity, they may have been wrong, but they were still "real" religions.
It was the Celts who chose the date of October 31 as their New Year's Eve and who originally intended it as a celebration of everything wicked, evil and/or dead. Also during their celebration they would gather around the campfire, and offer their animals, their crops, and sometimes themselves as a sacrifice.
And yet again we see statements being made that are not supported by available hard evidence. I fail to see how a "celebration of everything wicked, evil and/or dead" would be made the occasion for the beginning of a new yearly cycle and for feasting, parliaments and formal games as recorded by MacManus. A culture-wide Celtic celebration or honoring of Evil would certainly be something that cultural anthropologists would jump on, since it would require hundreds of tribes/clans in several separated geographical areas to be doing something that no other major human culture has ever done, that is, to define Evil and Good, and conciously celebrate Evil.
Such a culture would not be expected to adopt Christianity as quickly and easily, not to mention as strongly, as the Celtic peoples did, would it?
Besides, there is some evidence that the Samhain holiday would actually occur (in the modern Gregorian calendar) on November 11 (Martinmas), which is regarded as "Old Samhain" in some Celtic countries. The ballad "The Wife Of Usher's Well" (Child #79) could provide some clues towards this.
This celebration of the dead honored the god of the dead on this particular night.
The Celts believed that the sinful souls of those who had died during the year had been relegated to the bodies of animals. Through gifts and sacrifices their sins could be expiated and their souls freed, to claim a "heavenly" reward. Samhain was the one who did the judging and decreed in what form their existence was to continue, whether in the body of an animal here on earth or in a human body in "heaven".
Once again, we have information on Druidic beliefs that I have seen nowhere else, save in unsupported theories in publications of the 18th and 19th centuries, and no references are given by Margadonna. And the mysterious god 'Samhain' pops up again. The "gifts and sacrifices" bit sounds suspiciously like a dig at the Roman Catholic Purgatory dogma with no justification from extant knowledge of Celtic religion.
Therefore it was common for horses to be sacrificed since they were sacred to the Sun god. There were also human sacrifices. Men, mostly criminals, were put in wicker thatched cages and were set on fire by the Druid priests. The human sacrifices were prohibited by the Roman conquerors. However, horses were still being sacrificed as late as A.D. 400.
The -only- reference to Celtic human sacrifice as described is from Julius Caesar in his wonderful justification of "why we have to conquer these people." Remember that the Romans, with some justification, regarded the Celts as the ultimate enemy. And considering the Celts periodically invaded Italy (and sacked Rome several times) during Roman history there is certainly some justification for their attitude. Caesar was also drumming up popular support for his wars in Gaul against the Gallic tribes and the Germans. Ol' Julius was writing propaganda to make himself look like the bringer of civilization to the benighted savages, and reads rather like the writings of similar American military men in the mid-1800's CE discussing the Indian Wars, or the Boers talking about South African Blacks.
John F. Wright writes, in his "Compilation of Celtic Triads," that
"Many people base their knowledge of the Celts and the Gaels in particular, on their studies of the writings of Roman chroniclers and Caesar. The fault with this is that they fail to recognize that the Romans were in a state of war with the Celts of Gaul, and that Caesar had to justify his war in Gaul. The first justification came by his instigating problems in Gaul, which gave an air of legitimacy to his campaign, once the Romans were invited. Yet the letter of the law did not settle well with the Senators of Rome, and it took a creative pen to give real purpose to Caesar's adventures against the Gallic Celts. It is too difficult to unweave fact from the sheer propaganda."
"Another very excellent reason for not using the writings of Romans is that their experience was with Gallic tribes, not those of the (British) isles. In Gaul there were three main tribal groups, the Aduen, the Cetae, and the Belgae. The last being considered by many academians as actually being a Germanic groups of tribes. In the isles there were the Gaels and the Bretons, primarily; with the Belgae having only recently arrived in the southeast of what is now England, just prior to Roman hostilities against the people of the isles. Any way it goes, there are definite differences between Gallic tribal peoples, and those of the Isles, too many differences to lump them all together."
It also should be mentioned that the oft-repeated statement that the Druids of continental Europe got their teachings from Britain comes from a Roman source, and is therefore suspect. I would give this a bit more credence due to the fact that Northern Europe was Christianized by Celtic missionaries.
Ross/Robins make a good case for Lindow Man being a Druid voluntary sacrifice about 65 CE, but that was not by burning, and was a single man. There is general agreement that the Celts did in fact practice human sacrifice, but then, most cultures at that stage of development did. Even the Romans had, at the time of Julius Caesar, only comparitively recently abandoned human sacrifice ( after 113 BCE? ). Frankly, for the point at hand, it winds up being moot. We still sacrifice humans, 'mostly criminals,' but we call it the "death penalty."
The finds in the peat bogs of apparent human sacrifices ( or judicial killings ) are mostly in Germanic territories, not Celtic.
The culling of animals was a usual practice at this time with rural peoples. Most medieval illuminated calendars show such things; do we then conclude that medieval European peasants 'sacrificed' animals every Fall? Or that the "in kind" offerings to the Church (animals, food and labor rather than money) were 'sacrifices?'
Horses were sacred to the goddesses Rhiannon (Welsh), Epona (Romano-Gaulish), and Macha (Irish) and the last recorded horse sacrifice, as part of the coronation of an Irish petty King in the 12th cent. CE, at Tyrconnell, was recorded by Geraldus Cambrensis in his "Topography of Ireland." Such horse veneration was apparently connected with the sea-god in some way, and -may- be older in the British Isles than the Celtic peoples themselves.
And throughout the Middle Ages, in Europe, black cats were thrown into fires, in wicker cages, because they were thought to be friends of witches or even witches transformed.
The Druids, an order of priests in ancient Gaul and Britain, also believed that the cat was sacred because cats once had been human beings but were changed as a punishment for evil deeds. From these Druidic beliefs come the present-day use of witches, ghosts, and cats in Halloween activities.
The Samhain celebration used nuts, apples, skeletons, witches and black cats. Divination and auguries were practiced as well as magic to seek answers for the future. Black cats were considered to be reincarnated beings with the ability to divine the future. During this festival supernatural beings terrified the populace. Even today witchcraft practitioners declare October 31st as the most conducive time to practice their arts.
(Cat and Witch): Both symbols obviously relate to witchcraft. Druids believed the black cats were reincarnated human beings.
The celebration remained much the same after the Romans conquered the Celts around 43 A.D. The Romans, however, added a ceremony honoring their goddess of fruit and trees, thus the association with apples, and the custom of bobbing for them.
What do the superstious practices of medieval Christians have to do with the ancient Celts? Domestic cats were apparently not introduced to Northern Europe until post-Julius Caesar, and didn't really "catch on" until after 1050 CE. And with (I repeat) no Roman occupation of Ireland, we should not expect cats to figure very much in their pre-Christian myths .... and they don't. There is a marked -lack- of cats, as a matter of fact. We -do- find cats as one of the attributes of the Norse goddess Freya, but that's not a culture that brought us Halloween, and may be a later interpolation by the medieval chroniclers of the myths of the Old Norse. We also find a wild cat in Scotland, but it is not known whether it is a long-feral domestic, or a native breed. What with all this about cats being "demonic," I am surprised that I have not seen tracts calling on people to get rid of their pet cats!
In addition, the throwing of cats into a bonfire was a folk custom of one or two towns in France, not a custom of medieval Europe as a whole, and still less a general custom in Ireland ...... and was done on St. John's Eve in June and on the first Sunday in Lent, not on Halloween!
The custom was abolished by King Louis XIV in 1648, though it continued in the provinces until as late as 1796.
And once more we have a listing of supposed Druidic practices that cannot be backed up by research: the supposition that Romano-Pagan practices were grafted onto a people that Rome never conquered (the Irish), and another attempted link with the Hindu reincarnation belief.
Insofar as "witchcraft practitioners" and Oct. 31 .... I guess that would depend on who you talk to. The books on Wicca that I have read show it as a time to honor and remember the dead, and not any better than any other time to perform "magic," other than perhaps divination of the future. It -is- regarded as a time when the "veil between the worlds" is "thinner" than normal, however.
Satanists might be another story, and it would be well to mark the difference between the two. Most modern Pagans seem to dislike Satanists just as strongly as Christians do, and to equate them as the same will only close the Pagans' ears to the Christian message.
In an effort to suppress and offset this pre-existing paganism, Pope Gregory III, around A.D. 735, made Nov.1 All Saints' Day. About 100 years later Pope Gregory IV, still trying to put an end to the pagan customs associated with the day, decreed that the day was to be a universal church observance of the "highest" rank.
The Christian church tried to eliminate the Druid celebration by offering All Saint's Day as a substitute. As Christianity spread over Europe and the British Isles, it attempted to replace the pre- existing pagan cult worship of Apollo, Diana or Ymir, but to no avail.
Yup. Just like Christmas, and several other customs and traditions of Christianity, many pagan holidays and customs were absorbed and -changed- by the Church. The operative word here is "changed." The customs and traditions are no longer pagan, being "made new" in Jesus. (As one major example, December 25th was the supposed birthday of Mithra, who was supposedly born of a virgin, and visited by Magi! Incidentally, the word "Magus" is the singular of "Magi," it means "Zoroastrian priest," and is the root of our word "Magician.")
All Saint's (Hallows) Day was first introduced in the 7th cent. CE, and was originally on 13 May, and then apparently moved to 21 February. It was changed to 1 November by Pope Gregory in 835. More information here.
"Apollo" and "Diana" were Graeco-Roman deities ( though there was quite a little "ecumenical" movement to identify Diana with the other primary goddesses in the Roman/Greek/Middle Eastern pantheons ) while "Ymir" was in the Norse pantheon, but -not- worshipped like the Aesir and Vanir (Thor, Odin, Frey, ect.) were. These were not Celtic dieties, but Northern European Germanic. Why the implication that these gods continued to be worshipped (Margaret Murray's thesis of the underground survival of Mother Goddess/Horned God paganism is clearly cut from whole cloth) or were worshipped by the Celts at all in the face of all available evidence is unclear to me.
And how in the world do they tie in with Irish Catholics bringing the Halloween holiday to America? Or even Irish paganism? Does Roman Catholicism have "secret rites" that we don't know about? I don't think so.
The custom of Halloween is traced to the Druid festival of the dead. Then the Roman Pantheon was built by Emperor Hadrian in 100 A.D. as a temple to the goddess Cybele and other Roman deities. It became the principle place of worship. Roman pagans prayed for the dead. Rome was captured and the Pantheon fell into disrepair. Emperor Phocas captured Rome and gave the Pantheon to Pope Boniface IV in 609. He reconsecrated it to the Virgin Mary and resumed using the temple to pray for the dead, only now it was "Christianized", as men added the unscriptural teaching of purgatory.
Hadrian became Emperor in 117 CE. In 100 CE Trajan was the Emperor of Rome. The bricks of the Pantheon are stamped and can be dated to 125 CE. Boniface IV reigned from 608- 615 CE. Phocas (of Byzantium) from 602-610 CE. The Church of the Virgin Mary and All Martyrs (it's proper re-naming) was dedicated in 609 CE. Rome was captured by the Byzantine Empire from the Goths in 552 by Emperor Justinian's general Narses and remained under Byzantine control long after the Emperor Phocas' reign.
Guess we have to holler 'Shame!' at those early Christians for taking over available unused space, and saving some of the Roman art treasures into the bargain .... and giving us the example of the Roman basilica for all the coming major Church architecture.
Further, any research at all will show that Cybele was -not- a goddess of the dead!
Better go after St. Peter's in Rome, too. It was built over a graveyard, of all things, located outside ancient Rome.
The juxtaposition of so-called Druidic beliefs and the Bishop of Rome (aka: the Pope) is rather confusing. How does it apply to the matter under discussion? Do we see more of an anti-Catholic agenda?
Another anti-Halloween pamphlet even goes so far as to say that the Temple of Cybele was built to "appease the Druids." I fail to see how a temple to a non-Celtic deity would be built to "appease" the people that Rome regarded as mortal enemies.
A Warning To Witches
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