Thursday, October 28, 2010

Origin of Halloween (Part 4)

So, this is my fourth addition to a seven part origin series on Halloween. We've gone over Halloween's most ancient direct ancestor (Samhein), how it became popular in Roman culture, how it affected Christianity, and how it blended with the festivals of Lemuria and Pomona to create 'All Saint's Day'. Well... let's continue!

In the 10th Century C.E, the Catholic Church went even further into allowing pagan traditions to permeate through the seams of Christianity, and created 'All Souls' Day' on November 2. The idea behind it was that All Souls' Day would be a day to remember everyone who had died within the past year, good OR bad, Saint or not. If you remember from Part I, this is a direct appropriation of Samhain tradition. The Celtics were also venerating the dead who had died within the past year.

Overall, the Church was very accepting of most of these pagan traditions by the 10th century. This is, except for one aspect of the Halloween tradition. Witches (from the Old English word 'WICCA' meaning "wise one" and were usually women). Witches and their practices during or around the Halloween time scared the Catholic church the most. They were a symbol of the very worst type of pagan worship (especially during Samhain): direct devil worship. Witches were seen as unruly women who threatened the male/female hierarchy, often known for tapping into the darkest aspects of Halloween.

By the 15th century C.E., Church zealots hunted down many witches and punishments were cruel. But it wasn't until the year 1486 that they were officially outlawed. The Pope at the time, Innocent VIII published a book that produced evidence of the direct link between witchcraft and the devil. He also outlawed all forms of Celtic worship and other Pagans altogether, because of their links to Witchcraft. Witches became hunted all over Europe and if they were found guilty they were hanged or burned at the stake. In fact in 1431, even Joan of Ark was burned at stake.

Witches were portrayed as violent old hags, bent on evil thoughts. Witches were such a symbol of an embodiment of evil, that even some animals became associated with demonic reputations. The black cat, for example, which is highly decorated during Halloween time, came from the belief that the cat was actually the witch's spirit in animal form. If you remember, as was tradition during Samhain, they created bonfires and those bonfires drew mosquitoes. Well, mosquitoes draw bats, and bats draw owls. Thus the bats and owls also became associated with witchcraft and Halloween.

Every culture that celebrates Halloween ends up stamping it's own culture on top of it. A great example of this is is Mexico's Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Unlike the European churches, Mexico's churches encourage the celebration of the dead. Popular customs during the Day of the Dead are the dressing of skeleton dolls and telling ghost stories and picnicking at grave sights. The reason this tradition took off so well was because of pre-existing native-American traditions or ancestor veneration (surprisingly) around the same date as Samhain.

Back to Europe, as the "Holy" Revolution to conquer paganism reached it's peek, the Catholic church would be soon torn from within. On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther posted his famous thesis attacking church doctrines, which launched the Protestant Reformation. This changed the face of Christianity and Halloween forever, rejecting all those symbols that were "against worship of God" including Popes, priests and Saints. Suddenly Halloween, All Hallow's Eve and All Souls' Day became increasingly unpopular.

In November 5, 1605, Guy Fawkes (I LOVE THAT NAME) who was a Catholic militant was arrested for attempting to blow up a Protestant dominated House of Lords in the famous Gunpowder Plot. This day, November 5th, is now called Guy Fawkes day and is popularly celebrated as an English holiday. Since it is so close to Halloween, many today celebrate the two together. Some popular traditions during this festival are to burn his effigy (a sculpture or model of the person), and shoot up fireworks.


Next stop, America.

No comments:

Post a Comment