Witches (and Ghosts and Demons from the Past…) Oh my!

I’ve been reading the diary of a witch.

Well, technically, a wiccan’s blog, but “diary of a witch” is so much more melodramatic-sounding. I can never resist melodrama.

I’m not talking about one of those disenfranchised goth youths who decide to make their difficulties in relating to the rest of the human race their religion; for whom “being a wiccan” is as much fashion statement as anything else. I’m talking about a real, fairly normal person, who appears to have made her choice of religion with a great deal of thought and seriousness. A person who, like me, takes her faith and spirituality seriously, and is a bit tired of people getting a distorted picture of the basis of that faith from some of its less-thoughtful adherents. This woman gets as tired of hearing “wiccans are cat-sacrificing Satan worshippers” as I get of hearing “Christians are closed-minded hypocrites.” Which of course, isn’t to say that some wiccans aren’t cat-sacrificing Satan worshippers, or some Christians aren’t bigoted hypocrites. But that’s a whole other discussion.

At any rate, without getting into a big philosophical/religious debate, I read an interesting document she posted about the difference between Samhain and Halloween. Here is an excerpt:

“When I use the word “honour” I do not mean “celebrate”. Samhain is a time for thinking about the people who have died in the past year and honouring their passing. It’s also a time for thinking about the things that have happened, people, places, jobs, whatever has gone out of our life. Things that have passed. It’s a time to say goodbye to things in our life that we don’t need anymore. We’re not singing and dancing here; it’s a somber (and often emotionally intense) holiday.

Hallowe’en also happens on October 31. On Hallowe’en in North America, kids dress up in costumes as soon as it gets dark and wander from house to house knocking on doors and yelling “Trick or treat!”. People give these kids candy and compliment them on their great costumes and send them on their merry way… It’s a lot of fun. But there’s no mention of Gods or Goddesses or any kind of spiritual growth here.” (c) Ceri Young

Her main point being, Halloween is a secular holiday stripped of religious context, much the same way that “Christmas” is celebrated in Japan without any mention of Jesus Christ’s birth.

Now, first let me say, in a purely selfish way, I love Halloween. It has always been, embarrassingly, my favorite holiday, if I’m very honest. I love dressing up. I love play-acting. I could give a rip less about the occult or the candy. For me, it was just an annual excuse to play dress-up.

That being said, when you look at the Christian origins of Halloween, essentially, they added a pagan Celtic holiday to their religious calendar. If all the spirits of those who didn’t make the cut for heaven walk the earth on October 31, then we better bring out the big guns of those who did make it the next day. Hence, “All Hallows Day” or “The Feast of All Saints.”

The church was saying, in effect, “Okay, the devil can trot out all his demons and the unsaved dead October 31st, we’ll send out the saints the next day and it’ll even it all out.” Except nobody got all that excited about all the saints who didn’t have a feast day of their own. Sort of like why the Justice League never really took off as a comic book. A whole bunch of second-string heros is still…a whole bunch of second-string heros. But I digress.

Just because something isn’t popular doesn’t mean it’s without worth. (In fact, usually the really popular ideas are the most uniformly worthless.) And just because something is someone else’s idea doesn’t make it a bad one.

It’s probably a very good idea to set aside one day a year to “think about the people who have died in the past year and honor their passing… think about the things that have happened, people, places, jobs, whatever has gone out of our life. Things that have passed…to say goodbye to things in our life that we don’t need anymore.” Basically, to honor and remember the endings in our life from the last year. And even, perhaps, to consciously let go of some things that should have ended. I don’t think that is, or should be, an exclusively “pagan” idea.

In fact, it’s certainly more compatible with the Christian faith than worshipping at the altar of Popular Culture and Materialism in a “traditional” Halloween (or Christmas, for that matter) celebration. Celebrating a special day to pretend to be that which you are not, and to encourage children to beg for that which they don’t need and which isn’t good for their bodies is probably not a “holy” or healthy thing to do, regardless of your religion.

And just because it didn’t catch on, doesn’t mean the idea of a “Feast of All Saints” isn’t a good one. In the original context, the saved are all saints, with or without an official canonization from the Pope. Taking a day to honor those who have kept their faith alive from generation to generation, who have struggled to bring their relationship with their Creator and Savior and Comforter into their everyday lives and reality. It’s a good idea to remember those countless anonymous (in this world) people who have worked to be “Jesus with skin on” to others, the “hands and feet of the body of Christ.”

I’m not going to take the joy of dress-up away from my son this year. And frankly, he doesn’t even bother with eating the candy most years. He just likes getting to wander around in the dark with me or his dad, dressed like Spiderman and hollering at his similarly camouflaged school pals. But I think I will take some time October 31st to reflect on this last year (and it’s been a doozy, for those who know me.) On all the endings that have come or should come. And I think I can do that without fearing for my mortal soul because I’m “celebrating a pagan holiday.” I’m just following up on a good idea. What’s more, I think I will take some time November 1st to remember those who came before me in my faith. The unknown Christian who was chewed up in ancient Rome as entertainment. The anonymous pioneer Mom who passed on her deep faith to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Revelation’s “great cloud of witnesses” dressed in white, who may be watching me even now, just as my God does.
Heck, I may even light a candle. And hope nobody is tempted to burn me at the stake with it

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