Thursday, October 15, 2009

Satan is after your chocolate.

Halloween approaches again. I haven't decided on a good place to take my cameras yet but I'll be trying somewhere. The only nearby location that claims a Halloween-specific ghost is a hotel, and I'm extra-sceptical about hotel ghosts because perpetuating the story is good for business.

Nonetheless, it is an important time of year, paranormally speaking, and has been for a very long time. It really has nothing at all to do with Satanism, but one thing is for sure, Halloween always brings out the fruitcakes.

A local church magazine in the UK has warned parents that their children will be 'siding with the Devil' if they go trick or treating. Beware, people, Satan wants your chocolate!

It is true, as the article states, that if you go to someone's house on any other day of the year and demand a reward for not tricking them, it would be seen as extortion. However, these are children under ten years old we are talking about here, who have dressed up for a bit of fun and hope to fill a small bucket with sweets. In the UK, they usually tell a terrible joke for their treat rather than threaten a trick (and if they really want to go the trick route, I reserve the right to retaliate). Shops are full of plastic severed body parts and polystyrene gravestones and other junk, which serves to occupy space that would otherwise be filled with the tat and tinsel of Commercial Christmas anyway. Yes, the mince pies are on sale already. I find the toy spiders and bats and chocolates shaped like eyeballs and brains much funnier than yet another laughing fat fool in a red suit.

These children are not being indoctrinated into Satanic practices. They are not going to go home and think 'You know, that witch costume really suits me. I think I'll start collecting newt's eyes and mandrake root'. They are not going to wake up the next day with a sudden urge to draw pentagrams. Don't worry, parents. Your children are not going to grow horns and hooves. The worst they will experience is sickness from too many sweets.

Halloween is an ancient Celtic new year festival called Samheim. There were no devils when it began. There was no Satan until the arrival of Christianity. There were lots of different gods, which were not so much worshipped as appeased. Celtic gods didn't like people very much and were prone to make their lives a misery unless the people did things to calm them down. They sound a distinctly unpleasant bunch, although none of them flooded the world or sent angels to kill all the first-born. No, they were much more personal and local gods, much more inclined to one-on-one vendettas and one-on-one rewards.

Christianity ousted the old gods with tales of bringing down city walls by blowing horns, tales of the Ark of the Covenant, the old-time equivalent of the Ultimate Weapon, tales of one God who does everything and can wipe out cities at a stroke. The Christians co-opted the ancient festivals and overwrote them with their own, so that Easter took over the Spring fertility rites, Christmas took over the Winter Solstice, and so on. The bonfires traditional to Halloween were allowed for a while, then banned, then shifted to November Fifth to coincide with Guy Fawkes' gunpowder plot. The tradition of burning the Guy (a stuffed life-size dummy) on the bonfire has nothing to do with the real execution of Guy Fawkes. It's just so the masses can have their bonfires without the Pagan festival associated with it.

The real dates of Easter, the birth of Christ, and so on, are nothing to do with the dates we celebrate them now. Those dates were chosen so that the old Pagan celebrations could be erased by giving the locals something else to do. The eggs and the rabbits remain but the significance of the original Spring fertility rites are lost. If they knew what they were imitating by draping tinsel on a Christmas tre, they might think twice...

Halloween was more difficult. No specific festival existed to take it over so it was eventually simply banned. A few made-up festivals were tried such as All Saint's Day or All Hallows Eve but there's no serious Christian festival to replace it. Halloween came back but because they couldn't kill it, the Christians called it Satanic.

It's not. It never was. It's the time of the change of year, the time of the start of winter, the time when everything is dying. It's the time when death was always foremost in people's minds - did they have enough food for the winter? How cold would it be this time? Would the snow be enough to make travel impossible? Did they have enough fuel for their fires? How many would freeze to death or starve to death this winter? Would the wolves get hungry enough to attack the villages? And so on.

Now, it's not so powerful. When everyone was thinking about death, the dead found it easier to communicate. These days, while there are still far too many people worried about the same things people worried about thousands of years ago, most people just go inside their insulated homes and turn up the central heating. They wait for the snow ploughs to come through so they can drive to the supermarket. Winter is an inconvenience these days, where it used to be a deadly foe that killed many, every year.

There is still an increase in ghostly activity at this time of year but the pressure of doom-laden thought is far less than it was. Where most people accepted spiritual contact as normal, now most people scoff at the very notion. The ghosts can't get through as easily.

Still, it has nothing to do with Satan. Those children in costumes will not attract demons or ghosts because they are just wearing costumes. They are not casting spells. They are not concerned about the looming cold. They are playing and laughing and joking.

Fear not, parents. I was kidding. Satan won't get your chocolate this Halloween.

He won't get your children either.

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