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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Hallowe'en 2015

To be honest, the whole post is just an excuse for this gif.  Again.

I could just link to this; the comments there are certainly worth preserving.  But be honest, who follows my links anymore? (Indeed, who reads this blog anymore?  I've been combing spam out of comments, and it's nostalgia or wistful thinking, but things used to be more interesting around her once upon a time.  I blame the host!)  I'll re-post it anyway, even though some of the links may be dead after a year, and the controversy of children crossing invisible neighborhood borders to ask for free candy is not quite as heated as it was in 2014.

I consider this something of a public duty now, trying to untangle the skeins of nonsense surrounding the winter European holidays.  Hallowe'en probably has nothing to do with Samhain so much as Samhain has to do with All Hallow's Even, and Christmas has bugger all to do with Mithra or the winter solstice or Saturnalia.  But that's putting Christmas ahead of Hallowe'en, and we have retail stores to do that every year.  Repeating this information in my little corner of the internet, where it basically disturbs the dust and mice in the corners, is my job.

Maybe if somebody would declare a "War on Hallowe'en" I could get in on that action......

Oh, and before we commence the re-post, there's a nice discussion of Hallowe'en and All Souls here (although my stats tell me most of you come here from Thought Criminal, so odds are you already know that.  Either way, it's enjoyable listening).



This apparently, is what Halloween is becoming:

"I have noticed that on Halloween, what seems like 75 percent of the trick-or-treaters are clearly not from this neighborhood. Kids arrive in overflowing cars from less fortunate areas. I feel this is inappropriate. Halloween isn’t a social service or a charity in which I have to buy candy for less fortunate children," the anonymous homeowner whined.

"99 Percent" felt a little bad about wanting to cancel Halloween, but worse about taxes.

"Obviously this makes me feel like a terrible person, because what’s the big deal about making less fortunate kids happy on a holiday? But it just bugs me, because we already pay more than enough taxes toward actual social services," "99 Percent" wrote.
Well, I'm being unfair; that's probably NOT what Halloween's becoming; but the international back fence that is now the internet has made available to us all the small-mindedness of some, and it's no surprise we assume it is the attitude of the many.

Or we fear it is, anyway.

But isn't fear what Halloween is all about?

I don't honestly know where Halloween came from.  Various on-line sources connect it to Samhain, the Irish harvest (except it probably had nothing to do with a harvest; see below) festival, and to celebrations that came to this country from Ireland and other European countries in the 19th century.  Seems reasonable enough, if Samhain is connected to All Saint's Day.  But New Advent is my preferred on-line source for these matters, and it doesn't connect the day to the festival.  Pope Boniface did indeed establish an anniversary on March 13 for the dedication of the Pantheon in Rome to the Virgin and all the martyrs.  Pope Gregory III consecrated a chapel in St. Peters to the saints on November 1, about a century later.  Then Pope Gregory IV extended anniversary on November 1 to all of the church sometime in the early 9th century.

Which is not quite the story you get at other internet sites, viz:

On May 13, 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome in honor of all Christian martyrs, and the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day was established in the Western church. Pope Gregory III (731–741) later expanded the festival to include all saints as well as all martyrs, and moved the observance from May 13 to November 1. By the 9th century the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands, where it gradually blended with and supplanted the older Celtic rites.
I throw that in because, first:  why not?, and second, because close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.  Sir James Frazer seems to have started the idea that All Saint's was connected to Samhain, but the only evidence he offers is that the former is a thin overlay on the latter.  (Frazer also sold us on the connection between Mithraism and Christianity, a connection no one sees anymore.  His scholarship didn't prove to last very long, in other words.)  History indicates it seems to have been more of a coincidence than not, and that in the 7th and 8th centuries the Irish church was celebrating All Saint's on April 20.  And when Gregory moved the festival, why was he concerned with practices in Ireland?  Especially since the Irish church was fine with a date in April?  And that's all long before the 9th century, so I'm left wondering whose dates are these anyway?

The history gets more interesting when you throw in All Souls:

In the early days of Christianity the names of the departed brethren were entered in the diptychs. Later, in the sixth century, it was customary in Benedictine monasteries to hold a commemoration of the deceased members at Whitsuntide. In Spain there was such a day on Saturday before Sexagesima or before Pentecost, at the time of St. Isidore (d. 636). In Germany there existed (according to the testimony of Widukind, Abbot of Corvey, c. 980) a time-honoured ceremony of praying to the dead on 1 October. This was accepted and sanctified by the Church. St. Odilo of Cluny (d. 1048) ordered the commemoration of all the faithful departed to be held annually in the monasteries of his congregation. Thence it spread among the other congregations of the Benedictines and among the Carthusians.

Of the dioceses, Liège was the first to adopt it under Bishop Notger (d. 1008). It is then found in the martyrology of St. Protadius of Besançon (1053-66). Bishop Otricus (1120-25) introduced it into Milan for the 15 October.
No apparent connection to Samhain there, especially since October seems to have been the preferred date.  I imagine it was moved to November 2 to line up against November 1, and not to "paper over" some connection to pagan practices, which can't have been all that widespread and in need of adoption by the church in the 10th and 11th centuries.  (I highlighted the line about the German observance because it seems an obvious root for the German E&R Totenfest.  It transferred from the German Catholics to the German Protestants, probably with a strong connection through the Lutherans.  These things to persist in cultures, but it isn't always a Christian overlay on a pagan ceremony.)

While we're on the subject, Samhain is usually referred to as a "Harvest" Festival.  However, as Frazer points out (on this I find him reliable),  by November 1 the harvest is already long in from the fields.  Urban dwellers miss this point, but I remember my two years in a southern Illinois country church, and the fields were bare long before October 31.  So it's no significant date for farmers, but Frazer points out it is significant for herdsman.  November 1 (or thereabouts) would mark the time to drive the flocks in from the field for the winter.  It would be a very significant date indeed for shepherds in Ireland (and it was).  Frazer goes on to note, with no real particularity, that the time of transition from autumn to winter (i.e., time to bring the flocks in from the fields) was celebrated across Europe as a time when the departed returned to earth (probably to seek warmth, too, Frazer conjectures, as winter winds began to blow) and when witches and demons wandered free, seeking to do mischief (again, because winter in northern Europe is hard).  Frazer tends to speak in these sweeping generalizations, which makes his work less than reliable over all; but it makes sense in a Northern European climate to connect winter with death, and the coming of winter with the return, briefly, of the dead (who are, in sense, never lost to the living, so long as memory remains).  So while the connection between Halloween and Ireland is a bit obscure, except for the jack o'lanterns, which I'll accept were Irish (though probably originally made from turnips, pumpkins being an American plant).

You can get all kinds of bad information on this topic.  Here's an excerpt from "American Catholic," calling Samhain "the Lord of the Dead" and attributing the date of November 1 to Gregory III about 100 years after his papacy ended.  I haven't found that designation anywhere else.  The link to Roman rituals involving Pomona and apples is another common thread, but knowing what little I do about the Romans, the idea a festival from an obscure backwater like Ireland would become a major festival of the empire is a bit ludicrous.  After all, the Romans never became Jews, and only because Christians in the 4th century because the Emperor became one.  The Romans were syncretistic to some degree, but mostly they left local cultures alone. They certainly didn't regularly re-write their own cultures to adopt all the practices of lands they had conquered (any more than the Roman Catholic church actually absorbed lots of pagan practices.  That's more likely a bit of anti-Papist slander from 19th century Anglicans like Frazer, akin to the 15th century designation of the "Dark Ages.")

The point is, it brings me back to the "Peace Sign," which in my callow youth was identified as a Satanic symbol.  I had a pair of leather sandals with leather peace signs attached to them, and still remember the conversation with a very scared mother of an acquaintance, that my sandals were going to invite demons into my life and, more importantly, into the soul of her daughter.

You can't make this stuff up.

Turns out, of course, it was invented as a peace sign by a British anti-nukes group in the '50's (you can look it up, I can't do everything for you).  As far as I'm concerned, Halloween was invented in America in the '50's, too (I've read that's when candy makers decided to tame the holiday.  The History Channel apparently said it started in the 30's, though.  I dunno; everybody's got their version, and even scholars can't agree on how Christmas came to be what it is.  So who can say about Halloween?)  The one Ray Bradbury eulogized was as real to me as a Dickensian Christmas would be:  a product of the author's experiences, nothing more.  Do we do it "right" now?  Compared to what?  It's an excuse to wear costumes and roam the streets freely (not so freely as in my youth) and gather treats from friendly strangers (but, alas, no more the homemade kind!) and generally have a nationwide block party when you aren't yet old enough to go to a party without your parents at all.

What could be wrong with that?

It's barely that anymore, I know.  We took my daughter to other neighborhoods when she was young, because we didn't live in a neighborhood at all (we lived in a parsonage on the church grounds on what was now a very busy urban street, lined with businesses and apartment complexes as friendly and inviting as prisons).  It doesn't matter where Halloween came from; what matters is what we do with it.

I think we need to keep it for the children.  And maybe find a way to make homemade treats acceptable again.  They were always the prize in the bag of candy at the end of the night.



8 Comments:

Blogger rick allen said...

Halloween was created as a conspiracy between Charles Schultz and the Mars Candy Company, rooted in Schultz's secret devotion to the Great Mother under the aspect of the Great Pumpkin.

I thought everybody knew that.....

5:48 PM  
Blogger Heidi aka Mom said...

For the first time in decades, there are hardly halloween decorations up in our little corner of Sugar Land. I've been too lazy as well to put out my really cool huge spider.

5:55 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

I've seen a few decorated yards; but the stores went straight to Xmas.

6:02 PM  
Blogger ntodd said...

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10:06 PM  
Blogger The Thought Criminal said...

Someone once told me that when her parents moved from Massachusetts to New Hampshire in the late 1920s that they were surprised by trick o' treaters at the door. Though of Irish descent, they'd never heard of trick or treat till they moved to NH.

I've been exposed to most of that authoritative fiction since encountering whiny anti-Christians online in the new millennium, just to show how evidence-based they are and the quality of the evidence they promote. The quality that that needs to have is that it pushes a narrative they like, not that it be based in anything else. And they're "the reality community" don't you know.

Some of them do like to go around in costume, or at least with a puppet on their hand. And not just at the end of October.

We don't get many here, too remote, too spooky, too obviously not good pickings. I'd rather give them something other than candy they probably really don't need more of. I wonder if a quarter is too little these days.

3:33 AM  
Blogger The Thought Criminal said...

Someone once told me that when her parents moved from Massachusetts to New Hampshire in the late 1920s that they were surprised by trick o' treaters at the door. Though of Irish descent, they'd never heard of trick or treat till they moved to NH.

I've been exposed to most of that authoritative fiction since encountering whiny anti-Christians online in the new millennium, just to show how evidence-based they are and the quality of the evidence they promote. The quality that that needs to have is that it pushes a narrative they like, not that it be based in anything else. And they're "the reality community" don't you know.

Some of them do like to go around in costume, or at least with a puppet on their hand. And not just at the end of October.

We don't get many here, too remote, too spooky, too obviously not good pickings. I'd rather give them something other than candy they probably really don't need more of. I wonder if a quarter is too little these days.

3:34 AM  
Blogger Rmj said...

"Halloween was created as a conspiracy between Charles Schultz and the Mars Candy Company, rooted in Schultz's secret devotion to the Great Mother under the aspect of the Great Pumpkin.

I thought everybody knew that...."

It's run by a big Eastern syndicate, you know....

7:51 AM  
Blogger ntodd said...

It's run by a big Eastern syndicate, you know....

*golf clap*

10:05 AM  

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