Regarding the War on Halloween

I’ve been joking about writing a piece on “the War on Halloween” for a few weeks now, because from a Pagan perspective it’s such an absurd topic. Yet the more I joked the more it seemed a good idea.

You see, the truth is, Halloween is a secular holiday. It doesn’t belong to any religion. What we know as Halloween today began as an excuse for bored Edwardians to party and scare the crap out of each other. It kept going because it was fun, and after two World Wars the West needed an excuse for some guilt-free fun. Going door to door for sweets in costume has no religious purpose but can be a fun community building exercise. Trying to scare each other isn’t anything religious or occult but a purely mischievous and very human instinct, as any kid who’s been camping or had a sleepover can tell you.

So do Pagans celebrate Halloween? Sure, just like everyone else. We carve Jack O’ Lanterns, take our kids trick-or-treating, decorate our homes and hand out Snickers and Starburst to neighborhood kids. Yet that’s not really religious. It’s community building and family-friendly fun. Along with Thanksgiving and the 4th of July, it’s a holiday we can share with our family and neighbors without having to compromise our beliefs. For many of us, such secular holidays are extremely important ways to spend time with our families.

Yet only a very small minority of us actually claims to celebrate Halloween as a religious holiday, and generally if they do it’s either to use a common term that’s easily understood or for promotional reasons. The majority of Pagans don’t claim Halloween as a holy day, though we do celebrate on October 31st. Most of us celebrate Samhain, the Celtic New Year and time for the remembrance of the dead. Some honor the death of Arthur, the Once and Future King. Vodou, Santeria, Catholicism and many other faiths see this as a holy time of the year. Though my tradition celebrates Samhain, I’ve become fond of the term Hallowmas, mainly because I’m currently fascinated by Old English and Anglo-Saxon.

My beloved dead: my grandparents looked pretty snazzy for being raised on farms. Wish I still had the original pic, rather than this badly photoshopped one.

If there is one continuing thread through all the religious traditions who hold this time of year holy, it’s reverence for the beloved dead, for the Mighty Ones who have gone before. For the grandmothers, the grandfathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, bothers, sisters, friends and for the children who left this world far too soon. We honor their memory, we tell their stories and we thank them for the love they gave us in their lives. It feels good to remember the dead, even when it makes us cry. It’s right and it’s holy and there is nothing sinister about it.

The people who feel that there needs to be a war, or the perception of a war, on celebrations both holy and secular are the really scary things haunting the holiday season. I’ve read malicious vitriol claiming some ex-Pagan, now born-again Christian, witnessed dire rites involving all sorts of illegal and immoral activities. I’m completely amazed at how willingly some people swallow such lies without even considering that the person they place their trust in is a criminal who has not been brought to justice, or at least never reported crimes they witnessed to the police. When people try to malign a bit of secular, albeit mischievous and slightly morbid, fun they do so not out of any real concern but out of the sick imaginings of their own minds.

Halloween is secular. Unfortunately this year I have no nieces and nephews to take trick-or-treating, and I live too far off the beaten path to be able to hand out candy. So I won’t be celebrating Halloween this year. However, this weekend I will gather with my religious community, we will create sacred space, we will speak the names of our beloved dead, we will let them know we remember them and then afterwards we will have a potluck and celebrate our living community. In a world where we are quick to forget the past and far more isolated than is good for us, why would anyone be against remembrance and community? It’s just absurd.

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

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  • Seymourd7596

    Agreed, and I like Hallowmas very good way to put it. Blessed be!

  • Seymourd7596

    Agreed, and I like Hallowmas very good way to put it. Blessed be!

  • kenneth

    Actually, on this count, I have to side with the hysterical anti-Hallowen Christians in a backhanded sort of way. (Hear me out on this one before calling me an Uncle Tom).  I think they’re feeling rightly threatened by Halloween because it is, in fact, a pagan celebration. It’s secular, yes, and not devotional in the same way as we self-identifying pagans practice Samhain.

     At the same time, I see paganism as something deeper and more fundamental than the formal religions that draw on it. It is the natural default religion of humanity.  Stripped of all of its trappings and trads, it is nothing more (or less) than a connection with the gods and cycles of creation via ritual celebration of all parts of the cycles of life and death.

      I maintain that all the “non-pagan”, secular kids and adults who do Halloween even with the most tongue in cheek irreverance, are nonetheless connecting with some of the same sources we do in our deepest Samhain reverences.  People evidence a deeper love of this festival than can be accounted for even with the marketing hype and candy binge. Something about the energy of this season and the turning of the wheel CALLS to the human spirit.  Deep or shallow, people draw meaning from it. They engage in these rituals completely unbidden, out of joy. They do so without missionaries or cajoling or badgering from parents or priests.

     This very fact scares the hell out of the religious right, and well it should.  They have spent 15 centuries plus telling themselves that paganism was just pure roadapples and superstition. Something ignorant folk and modern libertines just made up to suit their own ends.  They figured the right mix of carrots and sticks and cultural amnesia would kill it off once and for all. They had many, many centuries of every conceivable advantage: The means and will to torture and kill en masse. The power of bribery and political persuasion. Total control of publishing and institutions of learning. 

    They destroyed the formal institutions of paganism, but that link to the old ways and gods just kept spontaneously reforming itself. Sadly, for them, they made the validity of their own beliefs contingent on their system having a total monopoly of the human spirit. Halloween is a galling reminder that will never happen. They see that the pagan dimension of humanity is organic and as utterly beyond their control to crush or silence any longer. They lash out because rage and appeals to fear are the only arrow left in their quiver. 

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      I think joy can’t be quashed. I see the element that seeks to stop Halloween as the same one that tried to stop Christmas. The truth is, people love to celebrate and express joy. Anytime you set yourself against an expression of human joy and merriment you end up fighting an uphill battle.

      I think you make a good point about the season calling to people. I will ponder that today. Thanks!

  • kenneth

    Actually, on this count, I have to side with the hysterical anti-Hallowen Christians in a backhanded sort of way. (Hear me out on this one before calling me an Uncle Tom).  I think they’re feeling rightly threatened by Halloween because it is, in fact, a pagan celebration. It’s secular, yes, and not devotional in the same way as we self-identifying pagans practice Samhain.

     At the same time, I see paganism as something deeper and more fundamental than the formal religions that draw on it. It is the natural default religion of humanity.  Stripped of all of its trappings and trads, it is nothing more (or less) than a connection with the gods and cycles of creation via ritual celebration of all parts of the cycles of life and death.

      I maintain that all the “non-pagan”, secular kids and adults who do Halloween even with the most tongue in cheek irreverance, are nonetheless connecting with some of the same sources we do in our deepest Samhain reverences.  People evidence a deeper love of this festival than can be accounted for even with the marketing hype and candy binge. Something about the energy of this season and the turning of the wheel CALLS to the human spirit.  Deep or shallow, people draw meaning from it. They engage in these rituals completely unbidden, out of joy. They do so without missionaries or cajoling or badgering from parents or priests.

     This very fact scares the hell out of the religious right, and well it should.  They have spent 15 centuries plus telling themselves that paganism was just pure roadapples and superstition. Something ignorant folk and modern libertines just made up to suit their own ends.  They figured the right mix of carrots and sticks and cultural amnesia would kill it off once and for all. They had many, many centuries of every conceivable advantage: The means and will to torture and kill en masse. The power of bribery and political persuasion. Total control of publishing and institutions of learning. 

    They destroyed the formal institutions of paganism, but that link to the old ways and gods just kept spontaneously reforming itself. Sadly, for them, they made the validity of their own beliefs contingent on their system having a total monopoly of the human spirit. Halloween is a galling reminder that will never happen. They see that the pagan dimension of humanity is organic and as utterly beyond their control to crush or silence any longer. They lash out because rage and appeals to fear are the only arrow left in their quiver. 

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      I think joy can’t be quashed. I see the element that seeks to stop Halloween as the same one that tried to stop Christmas. The truth is, people love to celebrate and express joy. Anytime you set yourself against an expression of human joy and merriment you end up fighting an uphill battle.

      I think you make a good point about the season calling to people. I will ponder that today. Thanks!

  • Bethgimel

    thanks, star, for your thoughts…that pic of your grandparents is great!

  • Bethgimel

    thanks, star, for your thoughts…that pic of your grandparents is great!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jimbaker87 Jim Baker

    This is not much of an argument, just my simple feelings.

    For me, Samhain is a most important time of year, remembering the dead and heralding what for me is the new year.It of course has nothing to do with dressing up as witches (scary?) and begging from door to door. So halloween offends me, quite badly really, and spoils what for me is a special and powerful time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jimbaker87 Jim Baker

    This is not much of an argument, just my simple feelings.

    For me, Samhain is a most important time of year, remembering the dead and heralding what for me is the new year.It of course has nothing to do with dressing up as witches (scary?) and begging from door to door. So halloween offends me, quite badly really, and spoils what for me is a special and powerful time.

  • Debbie_fb

    Thanks for the article, Star, and the fab photo.  And thank you, Kenneth, for your lovely summation of the celebration of Halloween.   The “pagan” in all of us *will* out because it is intrinsically connected to what it means to be human – nearly no matter how it ultimately is expressed.

  • Debbie_fb

    Thanks for the article, Star, and the fab photo.  And thank you, Kenneth, for your lovely summation of the celebration of Halloween.   The “pagan” in all of us *will* out because it is intrinsically connected to what it means to be human – nearly no matter how it ultimately is expressed.

  • Zevenster

    In tne Netherlands Samhain is called Samhain by most pagans, which I find a shame; we have perfect dutch words for it and they are : allerheiligen en allerzielen: all saints and all souls.
    I don’t see the point in using english terms in our own language too much, and use allerzielen for samhain, because it gives perfect outing to the concept; the barriers between worlds are open, and all souls can touch and reunite. But when I use it amongs pagans they look at me confused, say: what? oooooh, you meen Samhain!!
    oh, well
    education is all, even in paganism…
    of maybe: especially there…
    I wish all a good Samhain/allerzielen!

  • Zevenster

    In tne Netherlands Samhain is called Samhain by most pagans, which I find a shame; we have perfect dutch words for it and they are : allerheiligen en allerzielen: all saints and all souls.
    I don’t see the point in using english terms in our own language too much, and use allerzielen for samhain, because it gives perfect outing to the concept; the barriers between worlds are open, and all souls can touch and reunite. But when I use it amongs pagans they look at me confused, say: what? oooooh, you meen Samhain!!
    oh, well
    education is all, even in paganism…
    of maybe: especially there…
    I wish all a good Samhain/allerzielen!

  • http://omo.peacockfairy.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

    Going door to door for sweets in costume has no religious purpose but can be a fun community building exercise.

    I’d beg to differ.  In Hellenic traditions, the virtue of xenia was often maintained on the logic that a stranger could be a deity in disguise, and so while this isn’t explicitly a Hellenic thing, Hellenists in the U$ and UK might have a reason to extend the same logic to the tradition of guising.

  • http://www.peacockfairy.com Ruadhán J McElroy

    Going door to door for sweets in costume has no religious purpose but can be a fun community building exercise.

    I’d beg to differ.  In Hellenic traditions, the virtue of xenia was often maintained on the logic that a stranger could be a deity in disguise, and so while this isn’t explicitly a Hellenic thing, Hellenists in the U$ and UK might have a reason to extend the same logic to the tradition of guising.

  • Ywen DragonEye

    On Samhain, many of us put out a place setting with food and drink for those who have passed before us as an invitation to join in our harvest feast. I see trick-or-treaters as representatives of the ancestors, going door to door and collecting their due harvest. Many Evangelicals choose to “change” Halloween into a Harvest Festival – well, that is what it has always been, the celebration of last harvest and honoring the ancestors. The more they try to change it, the more it stays the same….

  • Ywen DragonEye

    On Samhain, many of us put out a place setting with food and drink for those who have passed before us as an invitation to join in our harvest feast. I see trick-or-treaters as representatives of the ancestors, going door to door and collecting their due harvest. Many Evangelicals choose to “change” Halloween into a Harvest Festival – well, that is what it has always been, the celebration of last harvest and honoring the ancestors. The more they try to change it, the more it stays the same….

  • http://www.mrsteepot.co.uk Mrs TeePot

    Fabulous post! I celebrate Samhain and it does irritate me somewhat that people assume it’s Halloween, it also irritates me that people *still* insist on believing that it involved devil worship! grrr!

  • http://twitter.com/TeePotTweets Mrs TeePot

    Fabulous post! I celebrate Samhain and it does irritate me somewhat that people assume it’s Halloween, it also irritates me that people *still* insist on believing that it involved devil worship! grrr!


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