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Monday, October 6, 2014

Should Pagans Trick or Treat?

Should Pagans Trick-or-Treat? It's a strange question, right? I mean, we all hear how Pagan and "evil" Halloween is and why "good Christians" don't participate. What about Pagans participating in the Christian traditions though? As Pagans, we're usually all to willing to claim the roots of the celebration and enjoy the one day a year when everyone openly enjoys their Pagan side. What about the Christian side of Halloween or "All Hallows Eve"?

And, there are quite a few, both Pagan and Non-Pagan, who happily scream "Halloween is Pagan, and should be kept for Pagans. Christians need not attend." While I find this thinking rather black and white as well as incredibly immature, I understand the emotions behind it. I was raised being told that "true Christians" did not revel in Pagan celebrations and should not allow their life to include Pagan traditions, mythologies or influences. So for me growing up, there was no Halloween, no Christmas, no Easter and no anything else that could have been Pagan in origin. Of course, now I understand just how ridiculous an idea that is giving the Pagan origins of Christian mythology... But none the less, I tend to agree with it. IF you are going to belong to and pledge your allegiance to a religion, and a God, which teach that all others are false, you should be willing to completely immerse yourself in that religion and it's teachings and reject all others, right?

So at least on face value, I understand the belief that Halloween (as well as other disguised Pagan holidays) shouldn't be Christianized...  That said, I also understand that religion is about rules and teachings, faith is about interpretation! So please don't take this to mean that I am angered by the celebration of Halloween by the majority of Non-Pagan faiths, although honestly there are a few with anger me, but that's for another post.

So lets get back to the original question here... Should Pagans, trick-or-treat? It is true that a great many of today's Halloween traditions have their roots deep in Pagan beliefs of old. And for modern day Pagans these roots are all to visable, even if the population at large does their best to deny them. All to often though we Pagans happily forget about the Christian roots which Halloween has as well!

Halloween, as it is known today, is NOT in fact a Pagan Holiday, nor is it Christian though. It is a mash-up, a mosaic of sorts of Ancient Celtic & Roman pagan traditions and of much younger Christian celebrations. For the Celts, this was the time of year when the veil of the underworld lifted and all sorts of spirits, fae and mythical beings roamed freely. This was the time of the Wild Hunt, a time for divination and honoring the past & the Gods. This was a time to be thankful for all the harvest had brought and a time to prepare for the long winter to come!

For the Romans it was a time to celebrate fertility and their Goddess Pomona, who presided over fruits, orchards & gardens. It was a time of ritual, prayer & celebration to honor and thank this goddess for the fertility of their lands. However, this is not the Roman Holiday which most influenced Halloween, that honor is reserved for Feralia, or the last day of the year (Feb 21 by the Roman Calendar). The main purpose of this day was to give rest and peace to those who had departed in the previous year. Again, we see rituals, prayer and gifts for the dead. It was the day when the souls of those who passed were finally able to travel to the underworld.

In many ways we can simply point to these, and similar clearly Pagan celebrations around the world as a clear Pagan basis for Halloween, but that's not where the story ends!

In the fourth century A.D. the then emperor of Rome, Constantine, declared Christianity the only lawful religion, and basically declared war on any and all other beliefs, religions & traditions at the same time. At the time, most Celtic lands were under the rule of Rome as well, so Christianity was not only enforced on Roman peoples, but the Celts and Gauls (now known as French) as well. Overtime, many once Pagan traditions and customs were altered and "Christianized." For the most part this came out of the new Church's need to keep one pagan communities from falling back on their old ways, but it is also generally understood that law or not, Christianity was not able to completely erase the old ways as it had been hoped! And in the seventh century, the then Pope Boniface IV introduced All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows Day (Hallow meaning Holy). This day, celebrated on November first, was set aside to honor God and the Christians who had died for their beliefs. And just as we Christmas Eve has become nearly as important as Christmas Day, All Hallows Day had All Hallows Eve, or Hallowe'en.

Regardless of why the Church supported new holidays the fact is that the Church in fact did contribute to today's celebrations of Halloween. One of their major contributions was the tradition of "Souling" or "Guising." To understand Souling, it's important to understand that at the time there was a strong teaching that when one died they would go in to Limbo to "earn" their way in to heaven. The prayers of others were one way for someone to earn their way to heaven, so families would have a "mourning" period where they would say extra prayers to speed their loved ones to their destination. Souling was a tradition which could not have existed without this highly Christian belief. Soulers or Guisers (depending on where they lived) would go from house to house and beg for food (oatcakes or current bread) called Soul-cakes. In exchange for these cakes the poor would offer prayers for the loved ones of the family who had passed - thus speeding their way to heaven. In areas of Scotland it was customary for guisers - as they are called in that area, to preform a "trick" before receiving their threat. This "trick" could be in the form of a joke or a dance or something similar. In areas of Ireland on the other hand it was more customary for soulers to "trick" those who should refuse them a treat by smashing glass or stopping up their chimneys.

While many of the customs such as costumes & masks, carving gourds & pumpkins, and divining are without a doubt a throw back to more pagan of days, it's very clear that the main origins for our trick-or-treat traditions are, in fact, Christian. Taking all this in to consideration really begs the question... If Halloween is a Pagan holiday, and not appropriate for Christians, is Trick or Treat really appropriate for Pagans?

My answer? Of course it is! Pagan, Christian, or whatever else, if you enjoy Halloween, celebrate it! Halloween as we celebrate it today is NOT Pagan! It's NOT Christian! It's Cultural! It's a mish-mash of altered traditions, practices, stories & beliefs meant to do one thing - Entertain! Simple as that! So enjoy!

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