Wednesday, 30 October 2013

All Hallows

With Halloween or All Hallow's Eve almost upon us again, I note with resignation that yet again we have trolls on almost all the social media trying to claim that Christianity is/has "stolen" Samhain. I have today even seen something written by someone claiming it is an "ancient Wiccan" festival. Obviously she is unaware that the whole "Wicca" thing was an invention of Alistair Crowley and the "Golden Dawn" Order of the late 19th and early 20th Century. Actually, even they would be surprised by the claims now accruing to the movement which was actually formed in the 1930s and further developed in the 1950s by an unlikely gentleman who would, today, probably be involved in the investigation currently underway in the UK.

I read some of this with a yawn, simply because it isn't new, it's been known for centuries. Christianity even acknowledges that their calendar was organised to make use of existing celebrations and feasts, just giving them a "Christian" spin and purpose. After all, if people are already marking a season as special, why introduce a whole new calendar? It doesn't make sense to do so and will only alienate (which is what these neo-pagans seem to be trying to do) everyone. It isn't something unique to Christianity either. The Egyptians did it, adopting new gods and feasts each time they were conquered or conquered someone else. So did the Babylonians, the Greeks, Persians and the Romans. So what? If you want to hold a feast of Saturnalia at Christmas time, fine. Go ahead, but don't complain that Christmas is "ruining" your marking of the Saturnalia or demand that everyone send you a 'Happy Saturnalia' card.

Samhain was, in Celtic lore (and can we please stop thinking the only "Celts" are the Welsh, Scots, Cornish and Irish? Just about every people west of a line from Gdansk on the Baltic to the Adriatic are Celtic in origin. The name was wrongly applied by someone in the 18th Century to the Scots, Welsh and Irish. The Irish are actually Gael, and the Western Scots and Northern Irish, Pict), a time to commemorate the dead. It was believed that the realms of the dead and the living met at this season as the winter began in earnest. This has echoes in other cultures and faiths as well. It made sense to the early Christians to keep it as a memorial celebration of all the "Saints" and the day following, all those who 'wait in death for the coming of the Lord.' Like Samhain, it is a two day feast, All Saints on the 1st and All Souls on the 2nd. Somehow the fact that the feast starts at Sunset on the 31st (The monastic church "day" follows the Jewish - it starts at sunset and finishes at the following sunset) and ends on the 2nd November.

To claim it is "exactly" Samhain is also misleading since the Gregorian (and the preceding Julian) calendars differ slightly from the lunar calendar used by the non-Roman world.

I will be keeping the feast in the Christian manner. Remembering the lives of all the Saints who kept the faith alive through persecution, political manipulation and social upheaval. I will also be keeping the second part of the feast with a quiet remembrance of all those who have gone before me into rest, but who made me who and what I have become.


  1. Well said.

    The connection with witchcraft, of course, is explained by Rabbie Burns in "Tam O'Shanter" Where his old mare gains the keystone of the bridge just in time to save him from the carlins but she loses her tail to the young witch wearing the "Cutty Sark".

    It is not surprising that the new age pagans try to claim it.

    The belief in the eighteenth century was that on the eve of all-hallows, the gateway between the worlds of the living and the dead was closer than at any other time and therefore was ripe for tales of the dead arising or the living visiting their departed. Shades of JKR and the veil in the Ministry.

    I shall be celebrating by locking our 5 bar gate and ensuring that there is much holly all around the fastening to deter pseudo Yankie kids tricking or treating...

    I am sure that Slim Jim will fondly remember Guizing at this time of year, but we were usually trying to get pennies to spend on bangers and jumping jacks.

  2. Slim Jim recalls: Yes, Josephus, I well remember guising (note the British spelling) as a child in Scotland. Back in those days, we had to earn our treats (money or sweets), by singing a song, or reciting a poem, and we weren't accompanied by our parents either. Nowadays, there is the annoying habit of adopting the American term for Hallowe'en, 'trick or treat'. Bah, humbug! Like Josephus, I am prepared for the wee horrors - the piranha fish moat is filled, the barbed wire entanglements in place, and my shotguns loaded. Happy Hallowe'en!