[The following was taken from an excellent article by Joe Kernan in the Warwick Beacon. – Claire]
In a recent “special report,” Costa Mesa, California’s conservative Citizens for Excellence in Education proclaims Halloween nothing less than anti-Christian, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times.
“When the roots of this holiday are traced,” the report contends, “nothing but deadly evil is unearthed.”
In places all over the country, schools are replacing their Halloween parties with “fall festivals” because of parental concerns about the holiday’s religious roots.
“There is a kind of amazing concern for the demonic world among Christians these days,” says Newton Malony, a psychology professor at the evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena who was quoted in the Times story. “A lot of people believe very strongly that there are demons, and to participate in Halloween is to encourage the demons.”
In Orange County, fundamentalist Christian groups are scaring the wits out of parents who thought the only danger Halloween posed to children was a wicked sugar high, according to the Times. In a popular video called “Halloween: Trick or Treat,” the leader of a 30,000-member congregation contends that Halloween is nothing less than a heyday for bloodthirsty Satanists and claims that when a class of 9-year-olds was asked how they wanted to celebrate, 80 percent said by killing someone.
As is usually the case, the history of Halloween is benign and relatively bloodless. According to Random History’s Web site (www.randomhistory.com), the ritual of Halloween was to put the demons away where they could do no harm.
The Celts, which included tribes from northern France, Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales and Brittany, believed that on Oct. 31 the Lord of Death, Samhain, would call together all the souls that died the previous year to travel to afterlife during the Vigil of Samhain. Ancestral ghosts and demons emerged from their graves and were free to roam, harm crops and cause trouble. The living disguised themselves in ghoulish costumes so the spirits would think they were one of their own and pass by without incident. Masked villagers would form parades and lead the spirits out of town limits. In addition to costumes and, arguably, as a precursor to modern-day trick-or-treating, the Celts would offer food to Samhain to persuade him to more be temperate as he judged their ancestors. They would also leave out food for their ancestors’ spiritual travels, or to appease spirits who were looking for trouble.
Halloween has not only survived, but it has thrived during epic cultural, religious, economic and industrial changes throughout its long history.
When the Romans conquered the Celts, just before the birth of Christ, they both assimilated and added to ancient Celtic symbols and rituals. The use of apples in a previous celebration was transposed into Christian practice of honoring saints on All Souls’ Day.
In many respects, these rituals remained the same as their pagan counterparts with a few important derivations. For example, like the ancient pagans, the Church encouraged their congregation to remember the dead – but with prayers instead of sacrifice. Instead of appeasing spirits through food and wine, members of the congregation would go house to house carrying a hollowed out turnip lantern whose candle “symbolized a soul trapped in purgatory and offering prayers for the dead in exchange for “Soul Cakes.” Poor churches could not afford genuine relics of the saints and instead held processions where parishioners dressed as saints, angels and devils to reflect Christian instead of the old religion, now held to be the ancient and honorable practice of “Wicca.” Men who practiced it were called druids and women were called “wiccans” or “witches.”
Modern feminists have appropriated the religion to honor the goddesses who were part if their earth-based faith and fertility rituals. They are attempting to change the stereotyped image of witches as evil.
“That’s all Hollywood,” said Nancy Iadeluca, the CEO of the Silver Dragon Company, a worldwide leader in the manufacture of “wiccan” symbols and jewelry. She has sold the seven stores she used to run and concentrates on marketing “runes, pentangles and pentagrams” made of sterling silver by local craftspeople.
“One of the first beliefs of Wiccans is ‘To harm no one.’ They don’t put curses on people, because they believe if they did, the curse would come right back to them,” she said.
But there are some people who will persist in seeing this old, earth-based system of faith as evil.
“When I had the store in the Rhode Island Mall, some people would come in with holy water and sprinkle it on our store to save us,” she said, with a smile. Iadeluca, who was brought up as a Catholic, said she has done very well selling talismans to people of a different faith.
“A lot of them are like me,” she said. “I take the best of both of them.”