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Switch to Forum Live View Samhain and Pagans in the Media...
5 years ago  ::  Oct 23, 2008 - 10:24PM #1
gorm_sionnach
Posts: 237
For those of you who (like me) follow Pagan centered news sites (I use Wren's nest, through Witchvox) its the time of year when Pagan's are front and center in media coverage, because Halloween is upon us. Generally articles can be summed up as:
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Intro: A cheesy pun, "Halloween brewing up trouble"

Body1: Origins of Halloween as Samhain, a Celtic holiday/festival centered around either harvest or ghosts. Better researched articles will replace ghosts with ancestors.

Body2: Halloween is fun, but some concerned [parents, groups, organizations] warn that there is a "dark side" to the holiday. Quote along the lines of "Halloween is a Pagan Holiday, and against [religion x]. So we [don't celebrate it], [have alternative events] to protect our children. Insert quote about evil/ satanic forces.

Body3: Could also be part of body 1 or rebuttal to Body2, interview with [local Pagan (typically a Wiccan) or [Pagan community leader] trying to say its an important day for Pagans, oh and by the way we're not evil. More frequent in large newspapers than local ones.
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Once again, while legitimate info is more frequently being disseminated to the public, quite often the 'evil' side or some representation of Pagans as kooky flakes usually accompanies at least 50% of the articles. Its an annual thing now.

Just wondered what everyone else thought about it?
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5 years ago  ::  Oct 23, 2008 - 10:24PM #2
gorm_sionnach
Posts: 237
For those of you who (like me) follow Pagan centered news sites (I use Wren's nest, through Witchvox) its the time of year when Pagan's are front and center in media coverage, because Halloween is upon us. Generally articles can be summed up as:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Intro: A cheesy pun, "Halloween brewing up trouble"

Body1: Origins of Halloween as Samhain, a Celtic holiday/festival centered around either harvest or ghosts. Better researched articles will replace ghosts with ancestors.

Body2: Halloween is fun, but some concerned [parents, groups, organizations] warn that there is a "dark side" to the holiday. Quote along the lines of "Halloween is a Pagan Holiday, and against [religion x]. So we [don't celebrate it], [have alternative events] to protect our children. Insert quote about evil/ satanic forces.

Body3: Could also be part of body 1 or rebuttal to Body2, interview with [local Pagan (typically a Wiccan) or [Pagan community leader] trying to say its an important day for Pagans, oh and by the way we're not evil. More frequent in large newspapers than local ones.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Once again, while legitimate info is more frequently being disseminated to the public, quite often the 'evil' side or some representation of Pagans as kooky flakes usually accompanies at least 50% of the articles. Its an annual thing now.

Just wondered what everyone else thought about it?
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5 years ago  ::  Oct 25, 2008 - 9:52AM #3
CreakyHedgewitch
Posts: 1,244
I regard the secular Halloween, the Celtic Samhain and the modern Pagan Samhain as three separate entities though interconnected. You will excuse me if I do a mini-article here in return but that is how I usually respond. As a Celtic Pagan you may of course  already be familiar with much of this.

Historically the term Samhain refers not to October 31st but to November 1st and to a major festival that marked the opening of winter in early medieval Ireland, sometimes spelt Samain or Samuin. Samhain in this context is therefore properly regarded as an indigenous Celtic festival and based on what is known about it found in medieval texts. However the activities described in these fragmentary sources seem to be games and entertainment’s, eating and feasting rather than anything obviously religious. The theory has been presented that as these accounts were written long after Ireland was Christianised, details of what Samhain actually meant or entailed were mostly guesswork. There is a tradition of regarding Samhain as a time of supernatural activities as well as a high number of tales of legendary kings who were slain around this time. The Anglo-Saxon monk Bede, though not always considered reliable in his claims ascribed the time of the annual fall slaughter of livestock to the month of November to reduce the number of those kept over the winter. He also claimed they were sacrificed to the gods. So both chaos and the supernatural were characteristics of what Samhain was considered to represent. Irish immigration into Scotland in the Middle Ages brought Samhain there where it flourished in local variations. However there is no record that it was ever a major pan-Celtic festival (there are six Celtic peoples not one) or that religious significance was ever ascribed to it.

At the end of the 19th century, two scholars made contributions to the myths surrounding Samhain. Sir John Rhys suggested it was the Celtic New Year deriving this from contemporary folklore in Ireland and Wales but having no real evidence. Then Sir James Frazer took Rhys' theory and popularised it in his writings. He claimed it was the Celtic feast of the dead. He argued that as the Christians had dedicated November 1 and 2 to that purpose, it meant there was a pre-Christian festival before that. He admitted there was no evidence of such but inferred that (his belief) the Church had taken over other pagan holy days, many cultures had similar ceremonies to honor the dead, commonly at the new year and (of course) November 1st had been the Celtic New Year. All of which made sense to Frazer as the reflection of Beltane half the year before. He further confused matters by using the term Hallowe'en alternately with Samhain. Frazer's theories wee popular and widely read but not backed by documented evidence. With various writers from the 18th and 19th centuries building on these theories from localised customs throughout the British Isles and ascribing the names Hallowe'en and Samhain to various local customs, the myths grew. Many of these had to do with fires and bonfires as Frazer had called Samhain one of the Celtic fire festivals but there was a lack of evidence of any localised rituals or solemnity attached to these customs. Or any evidence of such any fire festivals being celebrated by all six of the Celtic peoples. While there does seem to be a connection between the use of bonfires due to Oct 31st and Nov 1st being considered a dangerous time in Ireland, Scotland and Wales, many people used a woven cross of sticks over the doorway for protection or other localised customs. Examples of local customs include in the 19th century Shetland Islands that were Norse in culture, a custom called Hallowmas where the trolls were said to emerge and wreck havoc. While in Lancashire, there was a custom called 'hindering the witches' where people would walk the hillsides between 11 p.m and midnight with lighted candles. If one went out, one knew a witch (as defined in this Christian context) was going to attack. In 1845 on the Isle of Man, fires called Sauin were kindles on Oct 31st to fend off the evil of fairies and witches.  In 1874, Queen Victoria was noted to pay homage to the traditions of Scotland where she had an immense bonfire built on the grounds of Balmoral Castle upon which the effigy of a witch was burned by people dressed as fairies.  However, the customs outside of the Scottish Highlands were already waning by that time.  In the Lowlands for example, the custom of extinguishing the household fire and re-lighting it in the morning was done in connection with All Saints but again this was not a universal custom.
So while there is evidence there was a Celtic festival at this time though not a pan-Celtic festival, no evidence has come to light to connect it with the celebration of the dead or that it was the New Year but it was a time of supernatural events that had to be guarded against.

continued...
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5 years ago  ::  Oct 25, 2008 - 9:53AM #4
CreakyHedgewitch
Posts: 1,244
Now we get to All Saints or All Hallows, the Christian festival. In the mid 4th century, there was a festival celebrated in the Mediterranean region to honor all those who had been martyred under the pagan emperors on May 13th. In the 5th century, it was held on different dates but in England and Germany, they chose to celebrate this on November 1st. Despite Sir James Frazer's claims to the contrary, Bede's records do not include this as taking place before the end of the 9th century while the Church instituted the feast of All Saint's or All Hallows across most of north-west Europe in 835. So this was founded not on an Irish practice that which had begun within the Christian ideology. In 998 is the first record of a mass performed for all souls of Christians who had died that previous year in February but over the next two centuries this came to be celebrated on November 2nd as All Souls. This linked it to All Saints as the intercessors of the departed souls.  By the end of the Middle Ages, Hallowmas or Hallowtide or Hollontide or Allantide had become a spectacular event for everyone from royalty to commoners in England. It had as much to do with purgatory as with addressing the fear of death. Ringing of the bells for the dead after dark in church courts was one custom that was purged several times as Protestant (no ringing) succeeded Catholicism (ringing). One Catholic version under the rule of Elizabeth I to replace the thwarted custom was to gather on a hillside at midnight bringing burning hay on the end of a pitchfork and everyone kneeling in a circle to pray for the souls of the departed until the flames burned out. It was called Teen'lay or Teanla fires or Purgatory Field. The custom still survived in some parts as tindles or small fires on common land on All Saints Day. Another custom was Soul Mass cakes or All Hallowen Day bake bread that was recorded from the 16th century. From this the custom of souling or soul-caking evolved where groups of poor people often children would go from door to door on All Saints or All Souls Day to receive these cakes. It was called collecting the food of the messenger of the dead or food of the letting loose of the dead. However by the 19th century the purpose of this ritual had mostly disappeared. It because simply one of the series of holy days from early winter when the poor could go and ask for food or money. The opportunity was reduced by educational reform that demanded that all but small children be in school during the day when such was usually carried out.  However in the 19th century, groups of young men would go costumed and perform entertainment’s in return for their soul cakes and beer. While it died out, it was revived as a local seasonal custom in some parts of England.

Combining the legacy of the mythical pagan festival and a Christian feast for the dead ushered in what we call Halloween today. All Hallows' Eve had become a time of socialised and feasting. In Ireland where most had remained Catholic, families had a feast on the evening, the poor going around to collect money, bread or cake or other foods. Candles were then lit and prayers offered for the dead. Another common practice was the use of divination to foretell death or marriage for those attending. While associated with other Celtic feast days, it was Hallowe'en that was particularly associated with this practice. Another common custom was mummers or guisers, figures also found in winter festivals but appropriate to a night when the supernatural was said to be abroad. People dressed in costume to go collect their feasts or went singing and entertaining to collect rewards. Some of the disguises were the White Lady, a ghostly spectre or the gwrachod, 'hags' which were ancient figures of fear and usually men dressed in sheep’s skin, old ragged clothes with their faces masked. Playing pranks evolved in some areas earning Hallowe'en the name Mischief Night and this at least was a custom also found in the Highlands of Scotland. Usually however, in the Highlands, it was a night for family celebrations and household parties were common.  The common illumination for guisers and the pranksters was turnips or mangel murzels, hollowed out as lanterns and often carved in faces to represent the spirits or as warnings of death. They were known in England as spunkies or punkies, that being the Somerset name for marsh gas that sometimes caught fire. Competitions took place for the best carvings for a variety of vegetables and not just carvings of faces. In eastern England they became known as Jack o'Lanterns, another name for marsh flames. However these are not mentioned in English folklore before 1900 or in connection with Hallowe'en.
In England and the Lowlands of Scotland, it wasn't until the 20th century that there was any merrymaking or costuming associated with this but there was still the association of spiritual or supernatural events. So most customs were to appease the spirits or protect households from witches like putting salt in keyholes for example.  But the memory of a former (Catholic) feast of the dead and local folk customs left a vacuum at this time of the year.

What altered all this from localised customs throughout the British Isles was the immigration of the Irish to America in the 19th century. Halloween became a national festivity for Americans, guising became dressing up in costumes, pumpkins replaced the vegetables from the British Isles and mischief making and soul-caking became trick or treating. This also happened in Victorian Britain but mostly because of American influences. Some localized customs or different emphasis lingered in parts of Britain even so. Despite the attacks of the Protestant denominations on Halloween as the 'glorification of evil powers' and being unchristian, the Christianized history of this part of the year, All Saints and All Soul's Day still continues for Catholicism.

Finally, we come to the Wiccan and/or Pagan Samhain which should not be confused with the Celtic historical festival of the same name. The Wiccan Samhain or whatever other names it has come to be called in place of that is a vibrant and powerful marker of the turning of the Wheel of the Year for Wiccans, many Witches and some Pagans. Thus it deserves to be considered in its own right but continues to resonate to the history behind its conception and imagery. That imagery is due in part to the mythology that grew up around this festival from those such as Sir James Frazer and in part that Gardner listed Samhain as one of the festivals of the Wheel of the Year. The so-called Celtic Fire Festivals were combined with the Equinoxes and the Solstices to form the eight festivals of the Wiccan Wheel.  Historical claims aside, Samhain is celebrated usually as the Witches New Year, the point at which summer ends and winter begins, the "sunset of the year", the night when the veil between the living and the dead is the thinnest and when divination is most effective. It is a time to honor the dead who had passed the year before. Some Witches and perhaps also Wiccans have a Feast of the Dead, setting places for those loved ones who had departed or ancestors they wish to honor. Another ritual is to honor those in one's family or friends who have died since the last Samhain and to send them on their way with ritual and love, grief and remembrance. Sometimes these are silent, others are done with keening and chanting. Most Wiccans, Witches and Pagans who celebrate Samhain also celebrate using the secular customs of Halloween such as Trick and Treating, costumes and pumpkins though not all appreciate the stereotypical imagery of the elderly witch with the pointed hat. This particular legacy comes down from Wales where an elderly Welsh widow was accused of witchcraft by an over zealous preacher and her local costume of a tall pointed felt hat with a wide brim, many petticoats and shawls was carved into a wood block. From there it went on to print leaflets that were extremely popular and ultimately led to the familiar witch with the long nose and warts. No doubt the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz helped that along some centuries later as well.

In all, Samhain and Halloween have a long and convoluted history, not always factual but fascinating. Thus depending on what one knows, believes in and has studied, one is going to find all three types of articles represented, tending to appear around time of year (though Halloween is not Pagan) and with interconnections between due to intertwined history.

C.H.
No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
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