I found myself annoyed this past Hallowe’en, not for the first time, by the folks who felt it necessary to make a statement by arranging “alternate” celebrations so that their kids (and, presumably, themselves) wouldn’t be tainted by association with the “pagan” holiday.
In the first place, hallowe’en — originally All-hallows Eve — is, in most of the Christian world, celebrated as an important religious holiday, the purpose of which is to honor the souls of the departed. It precedes the feast of All Saints and was for hundreds of years one of the more important unofficial holidays of the church year. (The official All Souls Day is November 2nd.)
Like so many Christian holidays, All Saints Day was superimposed over a pagan festival that was celebrated at the same time of year. Other examples of this practice are Christmas, Candlemas, Easter and the Feast of the Ascension on August 8th. The nature of those pagan rites is too long to go into here, but these are well-documented assertions that can easily be confirmed by those with open minds.
The pagan Autumn festival, called in Gaelic Samhain (SOW-en, more or less) was a festival honoring the ancestors. On that day the worlds were thought to be closest together, and the ancestors were supposed to be able to cross the “veil” and sometimes communicate with their descendants. These beliefs combined with the Christian concept of the devil — originally a pagan god of the forest who was conveniently drafted into the minor pantheon of ex-celestial beings — to produce the associations of ghosts and demons that have populated the Christian celebration since it began.
Witches, of course, are primarily a Christian construct that served a political and economic purpose during the Restoration. Since they had already been imbued with evil connotations, they fit in very well, and were thus incorporated into the tradition. So we have, in Hallowe’en, a holiday that for hundreds of years was celebrated happily by everyone in the (apparently mistaken) belief that God didn’t mind.
What fools we mortals be!