Every year it seems some organization or church group is on television protesting the observance of Halloween as evil or trying to replace it with some type of non-threatening, innocuous fall festival. These people seem genuinely concerned about all the Satan worship, ghouls, demon activity and the general evil theme of the holiday. While it's true that many modern Halloween practices and activities tend to run on the slightly evil side, the origins of Halloween are much less disturbing. To help sort out the truth from the Hollywood-generated, pseudo-Halloween reality of axe-wielding killers and virgin sacrifices, I've pulled together a brief history lesson and clarification of some common Halloween misconceptions. So lock your doors, light a candle and let's get started.
Satan, Witches, Candy and Other Halloween Misconceptions: Misconception #1
- Halloween is all about worshiping Satan
Dating back more than 2,000 years, long before the influence of Christianity, the Celts observed Samhain (pronounced "Sow-en") during the evening of October 31st. Occurring on the eve of the Celtic New Year, Samhain represented a time when ghosts of the departed were allowed to roam the world harassing relatives, ruining crops and making general mischief. During this evening, Celtic priests (a.k.a the Druids) built great bonfires where people could offer sacrifices of crops or animals to honor the Druid deities. Some sources say that they may have worn animal heads or masks during the ceremony as an additional tribute.
During a four hundred year period of Roman rule, beginning in about 43 C.E., the Celtic holiday of Samhain was merged with two Roman festivals. Feralia was observed in late-October to commemorate the passing of the dead and a second festival was devoted to honoring Pomona, the goddess of fruits and trees. During this period, Samhain was still observed by many Celts.
With the emergence of Christianity in northern Europe during the 7th century, the church decided that the pagan holiday of Samhain could not continue. In an attempt to erase Samhain, Pope Boniface IV declared November 1st as All Saints Day; a time to honor saints and martyrs. The general historical consensus is that the Pope was trying to replace Samhain with a church-approved holiday. This new celebration was referred to as All Hallowmas, taken from its proper Middle English name Alholowmesse. Not quite ready to give up their ancient holiday, the Celts simply continued to observe Samhain on the eve of Alholowmesse, which came to be known as Alholowmesse Eve and much later Halloween.
In a second attempt to eliminate Samhain during the 11th century, the church declared November 2nd as All Souls Day which honored the departed. Celebrated with bonfires and costumes, All Souls Day bore a striking resemblance to the Celtic Samhain and inadvertently created a three-day celebration which was referred to as Hallowmas.
What does all of this history teach us? Halloween seems to have evolved from an ancient Pagan holiday which had nothing to do with Satan.
Satan, Witches, Candy and Other Halloween Misconceptions: Misconception #2
- Pagans worship Satan.
Although there is no generally accepted definition of the word pagan, most people will agree that its origin lays in the Latin word paganus. Unfortunately, to further muddy the water, there is no precise definition of paganus before the 5th century. One theory offers that it was used by early Christians as a slur against uneducated people who held fast to old Roman or Greek polytheistic beliefs and were considered to be "hicks" or "country bumpkins" in today's terms.
In about the 3rd century, the term pagan was used to describe any non-christian, which opened the door for the possibility of Satan worship. This seems like an odd assumption, as most pagans consider Satan to be the dark side of Christianity; a concept that would not likely be included in pagan beliefs.
Satan, Witches, Candy and Other Halloween Misconceptions: Misconception #3
- "Trick or Treating" is all about ghouls, demons and witches.
During the Celtic Samhain celebration, people were sometimes reluctant to leave their home, for fear of being recognized by all the ghosts milling about. To avoid being harassed by these spirits, people wore masks or costumes so they might be mistaken for a fellow ghost. They would also leave food and wine by the road to appease the spirits and keep them from trying to enter the home.
Early English All Souls Day celebrations included parades, dressing up like saints or angels and the practice of giving food to the poor. In return for this handout, the poor promised to pray for the deceased relatives of the giver. This practice was widely encouraged by the church as a way to replace the pagan practice of leaving food for roaming spirits. Over time, this ritual was taken over by children and helped create today's Halloween tradition, as well as a yearly spike in candy sales.
It seems that the present day tradition of "Trick or Treating" seems to be a combination of many ancient pagan and church rituals, rather than some satanic mischief-making activity.