Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Long Post!

Recently Bob MacKinnon, a faithful reader of our Ocracoke Journal, posted a comment (see journal entry for Monday, November 28) about a letter I wrote to the editor of one of our island newspapers. Because most of our readers have probably not read the article I was responding to, or my reply to it,I will include them both in today's post. (And perhaps you will be reminded that the Ocracoke community is diverse and has no shortage of folks who think about things.)

From the November 4, 2005 issue of "The Ocracoker" ("A Pastor's Perspective" by Sam Garris, pastor of the Ocracoke Assembly of God):

"Hello once again. This is Pastor Sam. Just wanted to share a few thoughts this week about Halloween. Now before you go judging me and saying oh here he goes condemming Halloween, just hear me out. I want to share some background with you, then let you make up your mind concerning this once-a-year event. Halloween is deeply imbedded in the Celtic feast of Samhain (saw-wee). The Druids believed that during this event there was a releasing of evil spirits, witches, and demons that would go throughout the country-side terrorizing and picking on innocent people. In order to prevent such attacks, those individuals would wear costumes in hopes that the evil spirits would pass them by. Sound crazy? Well, in our culture, we send our children out to strangers' homes dressed in costumes representing ghosts, Harry Potter, monsters and superheros....Early Christions had a response for this pagan event and on Oct. 31 they proclaimed it 'All Hallows Eve,' from which we get our word 'Halloween.' Then, on the following day, Nov. 1,it was named 'All Hallow's Day,' which was a celebration of all 'The Hollies' -- those people who had died faithfully honoring the name of Jesus Christ. I did not grow up on Ocracoke as a child where families knew one another and could trust each other enough to allow their children to go throughout the neighborhood. We were watched vary closely and our candy was scrupulously analyzed for razor blades or other objects that could harm us. Just be careful not to allow this night to cloud your judgment, and remember that this is a pagan holiday when satanic oppression is at its hightest peak...."

My letter to the editor follows:

"In the November 4, 2005 issue of the "Ocracoker" Sam Garris, pastor of the Ocracoke Assembly of God, shares several comments about the origins of Halloween. I have no reason to doubt that he is correct that this holiday is 'deeply imbedded in the Celtic feast of Samhain,' and that ancient pagans such as the Druids were instrumental in popularizing this festival.

"However, I submit that this is no good reason to shy away from our present-day Halloween celebrations. I know of nothing to suggest that islanders decked out in colorful costumes are reenacting pagan rituals or succumbing to 'satanic oppression.'

"Mr. Garris wisely acknowledges that Ocracokers know one another and trust one another, and seems to recognize that trick-or-treating itself is a harmless late-October activity.

"Were we to abandon the contemporary and wholesome practices of trick-or-treating, our Halloween Carnival, or our spook walk, we would seem logically bound to abandon Christmas and other popular celebrations as well. Many are also deeply imbedded in ancient pagan practices.

"Robert M. Price, in his book _The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man_ points out that December 25 'coincides with a major holiday celebrated throughout the Roman Empire, Brumalia, the eighth and greatest day of the Feast of Saturnalia. It was the (re-)birthday of the sun god Mithras...,a very ancient deity....'

"There is little doubt that December 25 was chosen as the date to celebrate the Nativity, not because there was any reliable history to link it to Jesus' birth date, but because it was already recognized as the sun god's birthday in many places, including Egypt, Persia, Phoenicia, Greece, and Germany.

"As Price comments, 'So might December 25 have been the birthday of Jesus? There's about one chance in 365.'

"Let's not fall victim to alarmist statements about the connection between our contemporary celebrations and ancient pagan festivals. We make of these practices what we will. I see no reason to be alarmed that Halloween, Christmas, Easter, or any other festival is evil just because it may have an historical connection to an ancient non-Christian feast day.

"It's time to just enjoy our holidays, using them as touchstones to celebrate our faith, our commitment to family and friends, and our love of our unique and special community."

I might point out that most, if not all, reports of random poisonings and razor blades in Halloween candy are urban legends.

One of the best sources for information about urban legends is Specific information about purported Halloween mischief can be viewed here:

Our current monthly Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of Ocracoke's Street Names, published November 19, 2005. You can read it here:


1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:02 PM

    I read your journal all the time I am also wiccan please everyone is not evil there is dark and white good and bad in all walks of life there are some misbelifs when its comes to us I hope that you take the time to read the following to gain a better understanding of Samhain and please also let it be known we do visit your peaceful island every year many of us we harm nobody we are really very peaceful people.
    Samhain marks one of the two great doorways of the Celtic year, for the Celts divided the year into two seasons: the light and the dark, at Beltane on May 1st and Samhain on November 1st. Some believe that Samhain was the more important festival, marking the beginning of a whole new cycle, just as the Celtic day began at night. For it was understood that in dark silence comes whisperings of new beginnings, the stirring of the seed below the ground. Whereas Beltane welcomes in the summer with joyous celebrations at dawn, the most magically potent time of this festival is November Eve, the night of October 31st, known today of course, as Halloween.

    Samhain (Scots Gaelic: Samhuinn) literally means “summer's end.” In Scotland and Ireland, Halloween is known as Oíche Shamhna, while in Wales it is Nos Calan Gaeaf, the eve of the winter's calend, or first. With the rise of Christianity, Samhain was changed to Hallowmas, or All Saints' Day, to commemorate the souls of the blessed dead who had been canonized that year, so the night before became popularly known as Halloween, All Hallows Eve, or Hollantide. November 2nd became All Souls Day, when prayers were to be offered to the souls of all who the departed and those who were waiting in Purgatory for entry into Heaven. Throughout the centuries, pagan and Christian beliefs intertwine in a gallimaufry of celebrations from Oct 31st through November 5th, all of which appear both to challenge the ascendancy of the dark and to revel in its mystery.

    In the country year, Samhain marked the first day of winter, when the herders led the cattle and sheep down from their summer hillside pastures to the shelter of stable and byre. The hay that would feed them during the winter must be stored in sturdy thatched ricks, tied down securely against storms. Those destined for the table were slaughtered, after being ritually devoted to the gods in pagan times. All the harvest must be gathered in -- barley, oats, wheat, turnips, and apples -- for come November, the faeries would blast every growing plant with their breath, blighting any nuts and berries remaining on the hedgerows. Peat and wood for winter fires were stacked high by the hearth. It was a joyous time of family reunion, when all members of the household worked together baking, salting meat, and making preserves for the winter feasts to come. The endless horizons of summer gave way to a warm, dim and often smoky room; the symphony of summer sounds was replaced by a counterpoint of voices, young and old, human and animal.

    In early Ireland, people gathered at the ritual centers of the tribes, for Samhain was the principal calendar feast of the year. The greatest assembly was the 'Feast of Tara,' focusing on the royal seat of the High King as the heart of the sacred land, the point of conception for the new year. In every household throughout the country, hearth-fires were extinguished. All waited for the Druids to light the new fire of the year -- not at Tara, but at Tlachtga, a hill twelve miles to the north-west. It marked the burial-place of Tlachtga, daughter of the great druid Mogh Ruith, who may once have been a goddess in her own right in a former age.

    At at all the turning points of the Celtic year, the gods drew near to Earth at Samhain, so many sacrifices and gifts were offered up in thanksgiving for the harvest. Personal prayers in the form of objects symbolizing the wishes of supplicants or ailments to be healed were cast into the fire, and at the end of the ceremonies, brands were lit from the great fire of Tara to re-kindle all the home fires of the tribe, as at Beltane. As they received the flame that marked this time of beginnings, people surely felt a sense of the kindling of new dreams, projects and hopes for the year to come.

    The Samhain fires continued to blaze down the centuries. In the 1860s the Halloween bonfires were still so popular in Scotland that one traveler reported seeing thirty fires lighting up the hillsides all on one night, each surrounded by rings of dancing figures, a practice which continued up to the first World War. Young people and servants lit brands from the fire and ran around the fields and hedges of house and farm, while community leaders surrounded parish boundaries with a magic circle of light. Afterwards, ashes from the fires were sprinkled over the fields to protect them during the winter months -- and of course, they also improved the soil. The bonfire provided an island of light within the oncoming tide of winter darkness, keeping away cold, discomfort, and evil spirits long before electricity illumined our nights. When the last flame sank down, it was time to run as fast as you could for home, raising the cry, “The black sow without a tail take the hindmost!”

    Even today, bonfires light up the skies in many parts of the British Isles and Ireland at this season, although in many areas of Britain their significance has been co-opted by Guy Fawkes Day, which falls on November 5th, and commemorates an unsuccessful attempt to blow up the English Houses of Parliament in the 17th century. In one Devonshire village, the extraordinary sight of both men and women running through the streets with blazing tar barrels on their backs can still be seen! Whatever the reason, there will probably always be a human need to make fires against the winter’s dark.