"As an Orthodox Christian, I do not want to come out as a proponent of Halloween since it is not an Orthodox feast I feel the need to defend. The reason I am trying to bring some awareness of the truth about Halloween is because as an Orthodox Christian I believe it is my duty to speak the truth and expose error in a spirit of love and concern, especially when other Orthodox are spreading these lies out of ignorance. Halloween is a part of our society and especially of our children's lives, and an answer from an Orthodox Christian perspective is needed. It does not help our Christian witness in the world to distort information to make our message sound better. In fact, it does just the opposite and I believe those capable of discovering the truth will be judged for disseminating lies which are unfounded. We have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power and truth to be above propagating errors. It is the proclamation of the truth which brings freedom and respect, and a pure heart which makes all things pure."
~John Sandinopoulos, Mystagogy, Halloween: Separating Fact From Fiction, emphasis mine
So... every single year, the Christian blogosphere comes alive again with blog posts about how Christians shouldn't participate in Halloween because it is "pagan" or because it "celebrates a culture of death".
I confess- this drives me crazy.
Personally, I'm wary of using the genetic fallacy to argue anything...
Normally, I pretty much keep quiet and go on my merry way. Occasionally, I link to awesome articles on Halloween, written by Christians I admire and respect that address some of the issues that the community has with this totally secular, market-driven, non-holiday.
This year, I decided to educate myself a little more by asking some questions of my BFF- a former-Christian-turned-Pagan.
The purpose of this interview is to share information. I am not, in any way, promoting paganism. Obviously, as an Orthodox Christian, I would take issue with that worldview and religious practice, but I still believe in the freedom of all to follow their conscience. My purpose is pretty much summed up in the quote at the top of this blog. Please, please read this post in the spirit of which I intend it.
Some of the links I provide below confirm what Anne says in this interview, so if you're in doubt, check out the links.
And now, the interview:
Genevieve: Do pagans celebrate Halloween?
Anne: No. Pagans celebrate a number of Holidays, depending on what their tradition is. I'm a Celtic Wiccan, and I celebrate Samhain (pronounced Sow-an). Halloween is indeed a version of All Hallows Eve, which was a Christian holiday. Children would go door to door begging for cakes in exchange for prayers. Not very Pagan.
Okay, then what do pagans celebrate on this day?
For my tradition, this is the third Harvest Festival. It is when our ancestors would have slaughtered animals to be prepared for the Winter. It's also when we mark the change of Seasons. We see life as a series of cycles. Winter is the death cycle. Not only is the earth resting, but in the olden days, it was likely that people would die, too. It was cold and people needed to survive. Today we still thank the Gods for the gifts of the harvest, acknowledge that the earth is going into it's rest or death phase and ask for the protection of the Gods through the Winter.
How old is this festival?
Samhain is mentioned in Irish literature from the 10th Century. But it was a Druidic practice that is likely much much older. Considering that most Pagan religions have holidays which are based quite a bit on the Earth and it's changes, I think it's likely that such festivals have gone on as long as people knew to be thankful, and scared.
What are some of the activities that you and other pagans will be engaging in on this day?
My family and I will be having a celebration. This is an example of something we might do:
(Genevieve's Note: If you click on the link, please be aware that the "Dark Mother" and "Dark Father" are symbols for actual darkness, not Satan or demons or anything of the sort.)
Do these rituals have anything to do with Satan or Satanism?
Absolutely not! When Christians look at the world, they see the many gifts given by God, inherent in everything. We see that too. We just see the Powers that give it a bit differently. We believe that everything that was given by the Gods has the mark of the divine upon it, and thus should be treated with respect. We strive to bring ourselves into harmony with the earth in order to bring ourselves closer to Deity.
Are there any similarities between Samhain and the American cultural day called Halloween?
Not really. The only reason they're connected is because they occur close together, and because the idea of the Witch is something that was taken by the Church many many years ago, and changed into something scary. There are so many reasons for that, and they're all basically political. That scary witch idea became associated with Halloween over time, and so people think that real Witches celebrate it. We don't. At least not as a religious holiday.
Where does "trick or treat" come from? Is that pagan?
Nope. Again, Christian. Like I said earlier, Christian children would go door to door begging cakes in exchange for prayers. Demonic, isn't it?
As a pagan, are you troubled by some of the images that society has imposed on your religion? The nasty green witch? The bubbling cauldron? Blood and guts everywhere? This IS a pagan holiday afterall, even if what we think of as Halloween doesn't look much or anything like Samhain. Do you feel that society has hijacked this day and turned it into something commercial and ridiculous?
Halloween doesn't bother me. But I did see a Satan costume accessory pack which included a pentacle and that kind of annoyed me. The pentacle is a symbol of peace often worn and used by Pagans, and has nothing to do with the devil. The image of the witch has been hijacked over time, and that does bother me. At the same time many witches love to sort of take it back. Our sisters from the past were usually either not witches at all, but Christian women who were too knowledgeable for their own good, or they were women who tried to preserve the old traditions and knowledge, and were tortured and murdered for their beliefs. There's a certain power in taking back those ideas.
Why do you think Christians fear Halloween so much?
I think most people don't know the History and/or don't understand it. It's so much easier to fear than to learn.
What would you like to say to any Christians reading this blog who might have an issue with their children participating in some Halloween activities because these activities as having pagan origins?
I would tell them that the origins of Halloween are Christian, not Pagan. But that there's a bigger picture here. Whether one is Pagan or Christian, surely you can see the handiwork of God in the changing seasons. You can use any time to thank him for the gifts of the harvest, and want protection for the coming Winter. There are a limited number of symbols in the world. The symbol matters less than what it symbolizes. So, participating in Halloween won't make your child Pagan anymore than visiting a Cathedral would make me a Christian
Ultimately, I think it is up to each Christian family to determine what they are going to do on this day. Personally, we will be celebrating my birthday and going trick-or-treating. We don't decorate our homes with ghoulish decorations but we don't hand out Bible tracts either. So I guess you would say we are middle of the road. As you can see from Anne's interview, there isn't really anything done by your average kid on Halloween that is part of a pagan religious practice.
A few more thought-provoking blogs on Halloween:
Halloween- An Orthodox Approach
The Truth About Halloween
Forgive me, a sinner.