Let’s face it, that’s absolutely true. But when it comes to Christian holidays, the precise date doesn’t matter. We don’t know when the historical Jesus was born, and even if we did, it doesn’t matter. Christianity doesn’t get it’s power from nature, but rather from a complicated relationship between an omnipotent deity and his son, who acts as a go between to keep the almighty from once more saying “screw it” and obliterating the human race, if not all of creation as well. When does all this take place? Nobody knows, the Bible doesn’t tell, and it really doesn’t matter. Keeps you on your toes.
Pagan religions on the other hand are an entirely different matter. For example, do you really think that the ancient Brits spent a thousand years or so building and perfecting Stonehenge so that they could isolate the exact moment of the summer solstice, only then to decide “hey! let’s hold the celebration on Monday instead so we can have a three day holiday?”
Of course not. These holidays, as are all pagan holidays, celebrated according to nature’s schedule. Because of this, many pagan cultures throughout time and from around the world quite often developed similar celebrations, held on the same days.
Which brings us to All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween. Or even Hallow’een to be precise in our brevity. It’s generally agreed that Halloween stems from the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain, which is one of the quarter holidays, meaning it’s celebrated halfway between two other holidays, in this case the fall equinox and the winter solstice.
Is it really necessary that pagans celebrate Samhain on the correct date? To determine that, we need to understand what Halloween, or Samhain all about. According to Wikipedia, which waxes somewhat poetic on this,Â “Samhain (likeÂ Beltane) was seen as a time when the ‘door’ to theÂ OtherworldÂ opened enough for the souls of theÂ dead,Â and other beings such asÂ fairies, to come into our world.”
I don’t consider myself to be an authority on all things pagan, wiccan or any of the ancient mystery cults. But I can’t help but think if you’re looking for a portal to the Otherworld to open, allowing dead souls and fairies to pour through, then timing could be everything.
To believe that such an opening between the worlds even exists, is to believe in magic. The problem I’ve always had with Wicca for example, is that it lacks any ancient pedigree. You’re in essence celebrating a belief system that was developed from dubious sources in the 1950s.
I was browsing the occult and new age section at Barnes and Noble the other day, and found myself thumbing through a paperback version of a Book of Shadows, full of a wide variety of spells. I mean, can you really put a lot of faith in a spell you got out of a paperback? Isn’t that like pulp witchcraft or something? Can you imagine being bewitched from a witch brandishing a book she picked up for $9.99 with free shipping from Amazon?
Like Christians dully mumbling their call and response prayers on Sunday, with about half as much enthusiasm as they put into the Pledge of Allegiance, paganism seems to be lacking in energy, in soul, in short – in magic. And how can it be otherwise, when people reschedule their Samhain rituals for the preceding Saturday night because it’s more convenient for the coven. “I know Auntie Flo wants to come through from the other side, but darn it, Wednesday night the kid has violin lessons and I’ve got to be up and out by 5 a.m. for my spin class. Maybe she can come through on Saturday instead, if I write her a note?”
So yes, the date is important. Which is what totally boggles the mind when it comes to Halloween. It was so obvious, that I feel incredibly stupid that it took me till this week to notice it. Halloween can’t fall on the same day each year, because the equinox and solstice fall on different days each year.
By the time of the first written references to Samhain come into being in the early middle ages, it was already being celebrated on October 31 or November 1. But by this point, the holiday had in some ways at least, been Christianized. At any rate, the date stuck and the Christian All Souls Day Eve and Samhain became contracted into Halloween, with both sides laying claim to most of the traditions associated with the modern holiday. It took a break in the era of the Puritans, who saw the references to Purgatory inherent in the celebration as Popish poppycock. But Halloween came roaring back in the twentieth century, albeit in a tamer, more child-friendly format. Today it’s pretty safe to say, that Halloween as it’s now practiced, is superstition and magic free. And in that, the blame lays equally with the Wiccans and pagans, as it does with the Christians.
There are those who argue that Samhain is actually a practice far older than we know from its earliest accounts, and relate to the days when Ireland was more dependent on the pasturing of animals. It’s been written that the actual time could even be based on the first frost, rather than some celestial event. Which of course widens even more the range of dates in which it could fall. But the fact remains, there has to be a specific time in which that door between the worlds open, and it could very well be that it takes more than a calendar to recognize it.
Others say that Samhain came from “summers end,” but that seems far-fetched as summer in Ireland and the Gaelic countries ends much sooner than October 31. Others say it was a harvest festival, but there are already plenty of those, even closer to the actual time of the harvest. And finally, you have those that say Samhain actually just means a gathering, and if that’s the case, Halloween night is as good as any.
But that means the magic, if any, stems from the gathering of the people, not necessarily with any connection to nature. And that to me, seems to somehow miss the point. What kind of nature worshippers are we if we exclude nature from the party? In that sense, without intervention from this side, the door never opens to the other side, and then there certainly is no reason for Christians to attack Halloween as Â a holiday for worshiping devils, pagan gods or even starting down that slippery slope which leads to witchcraft, and eventually orgiastic sex and heroin. Halloween is a mood, a frame of mind, and the modern celebration certainly doesn’t require any more than that – whether your taste is for the macabre or the kitsch. But if it’s Samhain you’re after, then authenticity counts.