In this blog post I shall present an overview of Hallowe’en, as well as a list of top five places to go and celebrate this special day.
Hallowe’en means so much to many people. For the Hollywood film industry it is the traditional time to release new horror movies. For children it is a time to dress in scary costumes and go trick or treating. For householders it is a time to insert razor-blades into apples. For a large number of adults in America it appears to be a time to dress up in bizarre costumes which seemingly do not have anything to do with the traditional theme of the day. For fundamentalist Christian ministers it is a time to complain about Satanism, black magic etc. For Pagans it means something else entirely, which I shall explain presently.
For me personally I usually spend the day doing Enochian work which is not really connected with the theme of the day except in a very recondite manner. I explain this fully elsewhere.
The Pagan view of Hallowe’en is that it is an ancient feast called “Samhain” (pronouned sa-ven or sa-wen). This is traditionally the time that the spirits of the dead are able to return to the land of the living to visit their descendants. It is really the reflection of the fact that it occurs around the time when the Sun enters Scorpio, which in astrology is associated with the House of Death (the eighth house).
The way people react to their deceased ancestors coming back to visit them is somewhat bemusing, to say the least.
My personal inclination would be that if I knew that the ancestral spirits were coming back to the land of the living on a certain day each year, I would set aside that day to honour them. And in fact, this is generally what Christians do. Yes you read correctly – Christians celebrate Samhain without knowing it! Only they don’t call it Samhain and they don’t celebrate it on October 31st. They call it “All Souls’ Day” and celebrate it two days later on November 2nd. “All Soul’s Day” is when Christians have masses to honour the souls of all deceased beings. It is thus a Christian form of a festival of the dead, like Samhain.
However the secular celebration of Hallowe’en derives from some traditional folk customs. These also acknowledge that the spirits of deceased people are coming back to the land of the living: however instead of conducting rituals to honour them, they dress up in masks and costumes so that the spirits do not recognise the pre-mortem beings and thus do not bother them. This incidentally explains the American practice of fancy dress on Hallowe’en – it is not necessary to dress up in horror-themed costumes, but it is necessary – in order to be strictly authentic – to have a costume which is some attempt at a disguise.
The actual practice of young children dressing up as goblins etc going out trick or treating is itself an old folk practice, which I believe can be traced to the Isle of Mann in the British Isles. There are in fact a number of folk practices associated with Hallowe’en which do not necessarily have anything to do with the idea of honouring the dead spirits but are just about having a good life-affirming community building merry-old time. Some sources allege that it was in fact the beginning of the Celtic New Year, which may explain a lot.
At this point I would like to say something to Christians reading this blog. I do not want to disrespect yer typical mild-mannered Christian who goes to church regularly and practices his or her faith in a modest manner. However, I shall not pull my punches with regards to the raving, bigoted, fundamentalist type of person who makes ordinary Christians embarassed to be associated with them. Dig this:
Christians invented “Hallowe’en.”
Yep, you read it correctly – Christians invented Hallowe’en. The word “Hallowe’en” refers to the fact that October 31st is the eve of All Hallows Day, i.e. All Saints Day on November 1st. October 31st was thus given the name Hallowe’en because it was the Church’s practice to assimilate old pagan feast days, not to alienate the pagans of old, but to get them on side.
What’s more: I hear fundamentalists saying that Hallowe’en glorifies the occult, to which I would respond with two things: firstly – what’s wrong with that? Secondly, and less flippantly – why do you suppose that the practices of dressing up in scary costumes and going trick or treating, and all the rest were allowed to flourish? Do you think it was because some sinister satanic conspiracy has been promoting them? No! It is because Christians themselves have been actively promoting the celebration of Hallowe’en all along, and encouraging the continuance of traditional folk practices, in order to demonstrate that they have nothing to fear from these old customs, and more importantly, any excuse for a party!
Fundamentalists by condemning Hallowe’en are therefore denying the tradition of two thousand years – which is just as much a Christian tradition as it is a pagan one.
My rant being over, I shall now present -
Alex’ Top Five Hallowe’en Destinations for 2009.
Canton, NC, USA
Apparently some sick Satanic cult are going to be celebrating Halloween by burning Bibles that night and then having a barbecue (over the embers of the burning bibles?). Oh wait – it’s not a Satanic cult, it is actually a fundamentalist Christian sect!!! Apparently they believe that all other versions of the Good Book apart from the King James Version are the work of Satan, on the grounds that if the KJV was good enough for Jesus and His disciples, it is good enough for them (!). Also they will be burning books by other authors as well.
This has set the Alex Sumner Astral Cash-Registers going.
It occurs to me that the Beatles’ record sales went up in the Deep South – because they were buying them before before burning them. Now, given that I am the author of an occult novel which is available on Amazon, maybe if I write to this crazy Pastor, he will burn my books as well? Unfortunately, this guy only has a congregation of just fourteen, so I won’t increase my sales that much.
NB: this town was put on my list just for the comedy value. I would not actually recommend going here on Hallowe’en or any other day if you look remotely pagan / gothy / black / jewish / asian / or even just like an ordinary Christian.
New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.
I have put this in the list firstly because there is an excellent supernatural tradition (e.g. Anne Rice’s novels) associated with this town, and secondly, because the local tourist board quite cheerfully says “why not set the mood for your Halloween party by visiting one of our historic cemetaries?” Top geezers!
People, I hate to contra-illusion you to the subject, but in real life no Vampire would ever go near New Orleans: and that is not because they do not like Jazz or Cajun food. As everyone knows, Vampires like darkness and hate sunlight. The places on this planet which have the most sunlight (longest days and shortest nights) are those nearest the Equator, whilst those nearest the Poles have the least sunlight (longest nights and shortest days). Therefore, if a Vampire would choose to live anywhere it would not be in the American South, but somewhere further north like Canada or New England. Note that HP Lovecraft long ago made the connection between cold places and horror by setting his stories either in New England or the Antarctic (At the Mountains of Madness) – he knew the score alright!
The Banks of the Foyle Hallowe’en Carnival, Derry, Northern Ireland.
According to press reports, this is “widely regarded as the biggest festival of its kind in Europe and a massive generator of revenue for the local economy.” Moreover, it is claimed that “We have heard reports of people having sex openly in the streets during and after the parade.” In case you are wondering, Derry has its own airport which has regular services to and from London Stansted and Luton, as well as some other places in Britain and Europe. Obviously I am not encouraging any licentious behaviour (i.e. because people who want to indulge in licentious behaviour generally need no encouragement whatsoever!), but because this got onto my radar from having a Methodist minister go on about Hallowe’en encouraging the triumph of evil, etc etc etc.
Whitby, North Yorkshire, England.
In the novel “Dracula” by Bram Stoker, the Count’s ship makes landfall in England at Whitby in North Yorkshire. Ever since then, the town has exercised a fascination for real-life Dracula fans. It is nowadays a mecca for the Goth crowd. This Hallowe’en sees the celebration of the Whitby Goth Weekend 2009.
A Cemetery Where Your Own Deceased Relatives Are Buried
But the one truly authentic way to celebrate Hallowe’en is to go and honour your deceased loved ones, for then you will be cutting through all the commercialism and really recognising the spirit of Samhain.