Was doing some research to prove a few of my points for my Halloween articles. Here’s one of the worst offenders for the demonization of all things entertaining and fun. Good old Jack Chick. I used to love this guy’s stuff, but it’s so full of misinformation, fabrication and outright lies you can’t really see the truth when it’s there anymore. The Muslim stuff is so bad that even when missionaries and Christian scholars on Islam gave him stuff that actually agree with, and proved the stance he wanted to take, he still went with the “Allah is a moon god” nonsense just because it was more dramatic. Continue reading “Examples of Halloween Nonsense From Jack Chick” »
The Real Depaganization – Lemuria
So if in all likelihood the moving of All Saints Day to November wasn’t to Christianize Samhain, what was it for? Well it might have been to Christianize a different festival from Rome called “Lemuria”.
According to Ovid the festival was instituted by Romulus himself to appease the spirit of his dead brother Remus. You were supposed to walk around barefoot and throw black beans over your shoulder and chant “haec ego mitto; his redimo meque meosque fabis” nine times. This would exorcise the vengeful spirits or “lemures”. It apparently turned into a huge three or four day party from May 11th to May 13th on the Julian calendar.
Supposedly Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon on the 13th of May to get rid of the holiday and replace it with All Saint’s Day. Though some link the date with St. Ephrem. I can’t find any sources in English to confirm or deny this. They’re all in Latin and I don’t read enough Latin to really tell what it’s saying one way or another. It does seem likely that the festival had at least something to do with it.
I find it odd that it took so long to do so. Constantine made Christianity the state religion of Rome in 313 and it was almost three hundred years later before Boniface did his thing in 609. Typically when Christianity takes over, pagan festivals and stuff go out the window fairly quickly, or at very least get a fairly thick coat of crosses, bread and wine painted over them. Usually doesn’t take three to five hundred years and three Popes to get rid of something not Christian. Heck, many times, the converted volunteer to abandon the old ways almost immediately. That’s the sort of thing you tend to expect when communities convert.
However, I find that there’s more to this idea than the Pope trying to supplant Samhain. The festival of Lemuria did take place in Rome, he was definitely trying to ‘cleanse’ a non-Christian temple to pagan Gods. Boniface was basically saying that instead of the Pantheon being dedicated to Jupiter, Venus, Mercury and Neptune it is now dedicated to Mary, Peter, Paul, Joseph and Andrew, thus “de-paganizing” it and making a sort of holiday to all the saints and memorializing all the dead that have gone before.
Likely as not the idea of a holiday commemorating the dead saints or martyrs was a bit older than 609, but the timely gift of the Pantheon to Boniface IV and the festival of Lemuria fit very well with the idea. The idea took hold, spread and it was celebrated in May for almost three centuries until Gregory III changed it to November.
Samhain – The Myth, The Truth and the Bullcrap
So one of the big things we’re all told about Halloween is that it’s just a thinly veiled pagan holiday called “Samhain” that takes place on October 31st. The thought is that’s because that’s when the pagan Celts who did all kinds of horrible things thought the veil between this world and the next was the thinnest and all the Halloween traditions stem from the horrific things they did to each other on the 31st of October.
There are a few things I’ve found out about the Celts and their calendar that I feel need to be pointed out before getting too deeply into the traditions surrounding Samhain and which ones are actually ancient since there’s a lot of confusion surrounding the whole thing that need some clarification.
- The Celts were a vast group of more or less tribal people that inhabited a huge area that consisted of Spain, France, the British Islands, and a vast strip of land as far East as Romania. There were also some Celtic peoples in modern day Turkey. I believe the “Galatians” that Paul wrote to in the Bible were displaced Celts. They were not any sort of unified group like say the Romans, or even a semi-unified group of city states like the Greeks as far as I can tell. There are a few Celtic ethno-linguistic groups left today.
- The Celtic Calendar was a lunisolar calendar that attempted to synchronize the lunar and solar calendars. There is a bronze tablet called the “Coligny Calendar” preserved in the Gallo-Roman Museum in Lyon France that preserves how the Celts kept time.
- The Calendar starts with the month of “Samonios”. This is where the controversy starts with the whole thing. It’s always been assumed that Samonios has corresponded with the Old Irish “Samhain” but “Samon” is apparently Gaulish for “Summer”. So many scholars assumed the Celtic year started in Autumn, whereas it probably (and honestly more logically) started in the Summer. The Wikipedia entry gives the translation for “Samonios” in various Celtic languages as “midsummer” and only in Old Irish does the Samhain mean “Summer’s End” or “November”. So we might be looking down the barrel of a false cognate. In fact as you’ll see from the pronunciation of “Samhain” that’s likely the problem.
My point above is that I believe the Samhain connection to the Halloween festivals were somewhat coincidental now. It could be exactly as tradition says, that Pope wanted to supplant those festivals, but considering most Samhain traditions as we are familiar with were from Ireland and Scotland at the time, not the already extremely Catholic Holy Roman Empire, Spain (or whatever it was called in 600-900AD), Frankish Empire and England (the other formerly Celtic countries Rome stomped the crap out of before the Church came around) I somehow doubt the two Gregories moved the date to screw with a couple of minor islands. They had bigger fish to fry. So I think we can probably discount the evil Catholic Church trying to stomp out pagan traditions in Ireland by moving a holiday around at least for the time being.
Also considering “Samhain” and “Samonios” look like they were two different things to two different peoples. I tend to wonder if it was politically motivated at all, or if either Gregory even knew of the Irish/Scot traditions.
When Did Samhain Occur?
To throw another monkey wrench into some of the neo-pagan claims about the holiday I’d like to point out a few things about the calendars. The Celtic calendars were apparently not uniform. The Coligny calendar as I pointed out was a solar-lunar calendar that tried to make the lunar and solar calendars match. This is for all practical purposes, impossible. There are a lot of reasons why, which I won’t go into. If you want to find out why, a good place to start is just some basic astronomy, specifically lunar and solar cycles.
The Irish/Gaelic Calendars didn’t seem to match too heavily with the Coligny Calendar and borrows from the Julian calendar for month names. It’s generally known that the month of Samhain is the month of November and most neo-pagans celebrate Samhain on All Saints Day. This, however is a bit of a mistake. The Celts seemed to place importance on dates falling in the middle of certain solar or lunar events. That’s why we have phrases like “Midsummer’s Eve”. You might have even heard the phrase associated with Halloween even. Samhain the day was one of these days. Why you would call November 1st , “Midsummer’s Day” is probably the first thing one should thing very hard about, since it is actually “Mid-Autumn day” according to every reasonable northern hemisphere reckoning, but that’s a different debate entirely.
So if you want to calculate when Samhain falls you need to find the Fall Equinox and the Winter Solstice and find the date right in the center of the two. So here’s the dates for 2013:
Fall Equinox – September 22nd
Winter Solstice – December 21st
This is exactly 90 days. So 45 days from September 22nd is November 6th. Samhain, as far as the Solar calendar is concerned is on November 6th this year, and practically every year before and since, it only changes a little due to leap years, and only by a day or two.
Now, since the Celts wanted a lunisolar calendar, this might not be particularly true with all the Celtic tribes. From what I could gather they placed some importance on full and new moons. November 3rd is a New Moon, and just three days off from the numerically correct day. The alternative date might be November 17th, but that’s probably too far off to be right most of the time. Since most lunisolar calendars had different methods of adjustments they probably had ways to account for this as the lunar got out of sync with the solar. So by whatever addition or subtraction of a week or so that they did to make this work, Samhain would have fallen anywhere between the 3rd and the 17th of November this year.
There seems to be a lot of debate as to whether the new moon or the full moon was more important to the Celts, and likely as not it depended more on the particular tribe as there wasn’t any sort of unified “Celtic Tradition” among any of them. It just so happens the Irish Celts have survived the longest so their culture is the one that is looked too when trying to decipher the rest. Likely as not they either added a week or a month every so often to make things match up to adjust for this problem. If you want to know more just check the wikipedia page. They wouldn’t be the only culture to have come up with such a calendar.
If we were still using the Julian Calendar it would have been shifted over about 13 days, though it would have fallen during the same time of year as far as the seasons are concerned. If we were still using the Julian calender the correct date for Samhain this year would be something like October 24th as far as I can figure because of the 13 day shift. Keep in mind that it’s the same day, just that the calendar is shifted in relation to Catholic Easter somewhat. It just throws the “November 1st is Samhain” into question. Hilariously, if the British Empire hadn’t converted to the Gregorian Calender right before the U.S. gained independence, it’s likely the U.S. wouldn’t use the same calender much less the same measuring system as the rest of the world. Can you imagine convincing Americans to change their calender just because come Pope said so? Heck, the Russians and Greeks didn’t until the 20th century.
So first off you need to know how to pronounce Samhain. The best pronunciation I’ve heard is “Sow-ahn”. It’s old Irish so just ignore all the letters and listen to how someone pronounces it. The ‘mh’ makes a ‘w’ sound. Why? I have no idea. British translators probably. If it were American or French translators it would be written “Sowan” or “Souin”. The word itself means “Summer’s End” or it could also mean something like “Assembly”.
The other thing is that, as any farmer can tell you, harvest is well done and over by the end of October so it’s not a harvest festival. It was a bigger deal to herdsmen by the first part of November. It was basically when you moved your livestock to the winter pastures, figured out which ones needed to be graduated to hamburgers, and take stock of your food supplies for the onset of winter.
So your churches doing some stupid “Harvest Festival” instead of Halloween or All Saints party are ignorant at best, and stupid at worst.
The familiar dressing up in costume on Halloween may come from the Samhain tradition of “guising”. People would dress up in costumes or just masks as a way to befuddle the spirits that were supposed to be about on Samhain. This was fairly common in the Scottish highlands, parts of Ireland, Wales, and Mann (according to Wikipedia). Sometimes this was done in Ireland when they went around to collect for the Samhain feast and for a white mare procession after the 19th century.
We have stuff written about the Celts that date back to 40 BC (or so) written by such people as Julius Caesar, Pliny the Elder, Lucan, and their contemporaries. Their festivals and traditions are well documented with varying degrees of reliability and none of the truly ancient stuff talks about the costumes that I can find. One would think Julius Caesar would have mentioned the odd tradition of running around dressed like a demon for no clear reason. So this “ancient” Samhain tradition might only be about five or six hundred years old.
What I can find an ancient reference to is fire. On Samhan night in the Scottish Highlands they’d make a ring of stones, one stone for each man involved, I don’t know, and light a humongous bonfire. This is where some of the anti-Halloween propaganda comes from. The thought is that if a stone were mislaid that person wouldn’t live through the year, and might recall an earlier tradition where people were actually sacrificed on Samhain night. One interesting part of this would be that boys in some places would go to different houses collecting donations for the bonfires.
This is where we get into some very skeptical territory. See, the accounts we have of druidic/celtic human sacrifice don’t actually come from the Catholic church like some neo-pagan people claim. See, the Church didn’t wipe the druids out, Rome did a fine job of that. We don’t really know much about them at all. Most of our documentation on them comes from Julius Caesar himself (funny how he keeps coming up in my research on this). He needed a way to justify his war with the Gauls to the Roman Senate so he did what a lot of people do to horrify people, he claimed the druidic religious leaders of the Celts practiced human sacrifice, which was something that horrified the Romans. We don’t actually have any real evidence that they did this, and he conveniently doesn’t mention them ever again. Julius got his war, and human sacrifice has been attributed to Samhain tradition, probably mistakenly, ever since. Some of them might have been head hunters, but practitioners of extensive ritual human sacrifice they were not.
One thing you read about in American history class in school is the old Halloween parties. People would gather at houses and play games. Bobbing for apples and things like that. The other thing they would do was play divination games. Women would drop egg whites in water and the shapes that formed would show children or their future husband. This very practice was what was shown getting some of the women in trouble during the Salem witch trials of the 1600’s. Other divination games included mirrors, tossing apple cores over the shoulder, and reading tea leaves in the bottom of cups I’m sure. This sort of thing does go back to ancient times.
This is one of those traditions that may or may not actually be pagan. I was always told jack-o-lanterns were set out or carried around to ward off evil spirits or fairies but some people seem to think that this, like trick or treating, might actually be an entirely christian tradition. The original jack-o-lanterns were made from turnips and might have represented the souls of the dead in purgatory (remember a big part of the Hallowmas traditions was praying for the Church Penitent).
This might not be an ancient Samhain tradition either. Apparently part of the All Saints traditions from the Church was the concept of giving children “Soul Cakes” or sending them out souling to gather said “soul cakes”. Apparently they’d go door to door and collect them. This could have also come from the boys being sent door to door gathering firewood donations for the bonfires. I don’t see why this has to be a pagan or christian tradition at all. Seems like most every culture’s holidays involve either giving children candy or some kind or sending children out to gather stuff for the celebration.
It’s not entirely certain whether much of the demonizing of Halloween is anti-Catholic propaganda or not. I tend to think it’s a bit of both. Current tradition has it that the various Popes instituted Hallowmas when they did to get rid of or supplant Samhain. This has morphed into the holiday being absorbed, and then outright ‘devil worship’ by the Catholic Church, probably to covert people away from Catholicism to Protestantism. This was done with Easter, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the same tactic wasn’t used with Hallowmas.
As you can see with Samhain the celebrations weren’t really about the same thing. Hallowmas is a Christian celebration of the dead, and those who have gone before. Some other religions have some analogous traditions. Most of those are New World traditions. The Celtic traditions have a lot more to do with end of Fall festivals. From what I can tell the American Thanksgiving celebration has a bit more in common with Samhain than the Christian Hallowmas at least in intent.
A Brief History of The Origins of Halloween, or more properly Hallowmas
Hallowmas as the more or less Christian tradition is definitively traced to May 13th, 609 A.D. when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon in Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs. According to Wikipedia there is evidence that May 13th was celebrated as such back to the fifth century but it isn’t certain.
The date was moved to November 1st some time later between 731 and 741 A.D. by Pope Gregory III, or some time between 827 and 844 by Gregory IV. The sources are a bit confusing, probably because it was two Gregories. From what I can gather Gregory III changed the date of the celebration in Rome itself. Gregory IV actually made the change official for the entire church during his Papacy. Either way it seems most people were already celebrating Hallowmas in November by the time Gregory IV took over, he just made it official. This is an important distinction for reasons I’ll bring up in the following articles.
This is where things get a bit fuzzy in the details. I was pretty sure I had the basic idea right, just as I was pretty sure I know about the pagan origins of Easter too. The traditional view of Halloween is that it arose to replace or give Christians a substitute for pagan harvest and death festivals, most notably a replacement for the Celtic Samhain. The idea being that as these Celtic peoples were converted, a lot of their traditions were absorbed and assimilated, which invariably helped ease their conversion.
I was surprised to find that there is some scholarship that points out that this might not be the case, and that All Saints Day traditions might have arisen independently of Celtic/pagan traditions. The other view is that there might not have been any sort of universal Celtic religious festival at all. This is interesting to say the least.
So there are three days of Hallowmas, and if you are a practicing Catholic you probably already know all this, if you are a Protestant like you probably know just about Halloween and that it comes before All Saints Day. So I’ll try to break down what the three days mean, and add the fourth more modern-day that’s been added just for fun.
Halloween/All Hallow’s Eve/Witch’s Night – This is the night before All Saints Day. It is October 31st and the holiday most everyone is familiar with. If you live in the U.S. you probably went Trick or Treating as a kid, dress up in costumes, and go to parties. You might have been taught that the pagans believed that the veil between the world of the living and the dead was thinnest on this night. This is actually traditional Christian belief. In many Catholic countries there would be a vigil for the dead in preparation for All Saints Day, often including a fast. In the U.S. this was a night for parties, feasting and divination games.
All Saints Day – This is November 1st. For Catholics the idea is to memorialize those saints who are being purified in Purgatory or who have already gone on to heaven. They call this the ‘church penitent’ and the ‘church triumphant’ respectively. Various traditionally Catholic countries have different traditions surrounding the day. One typical tradition many cultures share is to go to the graves of relatives and refresh the flowers, light candles and re-paint anything that needs painting at the cemetery. There’s also a Mass and feast that is held on the Sunday of November 1st, or the one following it. It’s a holy day of obligation and a national holiday in most traditional Catholic countries.
All Souls Day – In the U.S. we probably are more familiar with the Dia De Los Muertos celebrations which take place on November 1st and 2nd due to our neighbors to the south. It’s not exactly the same thing. The day is when those dead in purgatory are commemorated especially. The tradition goes back to St. Odilo of Cluny in roughly 998 as a special day of intercession for those souls in purgatory so they could go on to heaven quicker. In some countries you go to church on this day and pray for the dead souls and others this is the day you go to the cemetery.
A Few Notable Variations
Dia De Los Muertos – As I mentioned Dia De Los Muertos is what we in the US are more properly familiar with. Some places say “Dia De Muertos”, I’m not sure what the proper way to say it is, but the former is how I’ve always heard it said. This is a primarily Mexican Holiday celebrated in place of Hallowmas. It’s properly the 1st and 2nd of November. The 1st is remembering dead children specifically, and is called something like “Day of the Little Angels” or “Day of the Innocents”, and the 2nd of November is properly “The Day of the Dead” which is when remembering your adult ancestors takes place. If you’ve seen the candy skulls, parades with skeletons, and sometimes literal moving ancestors through the streets, that’s November 2nd in Mexico. This is an Aztec celebration that was absorbed and Christianized when the Spanish colonized North America. Honestly, I don’t know why Halloween/Dia De Los Muertos isn’t a three-day celebration that puts Carnivale and Mardi Gras to shame in the southwestern U.S and Mexico. Make it happen people!
Devil’s Night – This is the night before Halloween and is specifically called this in Detroit, although it’s called that here too. In Detroit it’s called that because on October 30th all the inner city youth go out and burn the city to the ground every year for some reason. I thought this was made up for the movie “The Crow” but apparently not. Anyway, in the U.S, Canada, and UK this is when older kids, teenagers and adults who are still basically kids go out and egg your house, throw toilet paper in your trees and generally do random acts of petty vandalism and practical jokes.
[podcast]http://aaronsarea.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/10-2-12-Urban-Fantasy-Genre-Explanaion.mp3[/podcast]Urban fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy that is defined as, “Fantasy narrative taking place inside a city”. Urban fantasy is often confused with contemporary fantasy which is a fantasy story taking place in a contemporary time setting. They are not at all the same, though many urban fantasy stories are also contemporary and vice-versa, they are not mutually inclusive.
The easiest way to distinguish between urban and contemporary fantasy is that urban fantasy is defined by place, where contemporary fantasy is defined by time. To be classified as urban fantasy, the story must take place mostly within the confines of a city. A story set in a rural Alabama small town could conceivably be considered urban fantasy. The implication though, is that the story would take place in a larger city like Mobile or Birmingham, not in say, Stapleton.
There are urban fantasy stories set in the distant past. They could take place in ancient Rome, Athens, Babylon, Alexandria, or Sparta to name a few. The movie “The Scorpion King” is a fair (but not great) example of this as a large part of the movie takes place in ancient Gomorrah. The movie “Troy” might also technically be considered urban fantasy as it took place in and around the city of the same name. The Iliad, on which the movie was based might also sort of fall into this category. If you look at the graphic novel and movie “300”, you’ll see that it is not in fact urban fantasy as most of the story takes place at the pass of Thermopylae, not in Sparta. There are a lot of short stories written in these and other ancient cities.
There are also plenty of books, movies and other stories set in the not so far past. A large number of vampire stories take place in the Victorian era, in various European, and American cities. London, Paris, New York, Budapest, and various other well known cities are popular settings for supernatural stories set in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. “A Christmas Carol” could be considered urban fantasy of this sort.
It seems to me though that the bulk of urban fantasy is set in more modern times. The Anita Blake Series (St. Louis) by Laurell K Hamilton, The Mercy Thompson Series (Tri-Cities area in Washington State) by Patricia Briggs, the Marla Mason Series (Fictional? city of Felport, and San Francisco)by T A Pratt, The Dresden Files Series (mostly Chicago) by Jim Butcher and too many more to list are all urban fantasy series. The Anita Blake series seems to be especially influential on the genre.
I have not encountered a lot of futuristic urban fantasy that couldn’t be classified better as science fiction. There is a fair bit of anime that could be considered this way too. The Star Wars prequels heavily featured cities and you could sort of classify Star Wars as “Science Fantasy”. The problem is that it’s hard to say where the science fiction ends and the fantasy begins. A lot of stories like this are a melding of the two. You could look at the Matrix like this as it was definitely not hard sci-fi, and had many fantastical elements. The story took place in what I’m assuming was virtual New York in 1998 (Times Square blew up in Revolutions), and the city of Zion in 20X6 (said “Twenty Exty Six”, my way of saying sometime in the unknown future. I think I stole it from Strongbad, who probably stole it from old anime).
Another urban setting is the “fantastical city”. This is when you have a made up city on a made up world that is the setting for a narrative. My absolute favorite would have to be China Mieville’s “Perdido Street Station”. “Elantris” by Brandon Sanderson is another good example. There are countless others and may or may not all be outright classified as urban fantasy by the publishers.
There are a few types of urban fantasy that are better classified as something else, if you are going to bother classifying them as “urban” to begin with. Many vampire stories these days are urban fantasy in the technical sense, but are marketed as “vampire”. Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” is an example I will be using a lot of fantasy with many classifications. It is a vampire novel, but most of the action takes place in the town of Whitby, and parts of it are set in Budapest.
Lots of paranormal romance is in fact urban fantasy. The difference in these sort of genre classifications is a bit arbitrary. Paranormal romance is usually a story where the main focus is the romance of two or more characters. So I guess you could say if the romance is the main focus of the plot, it’s paranormal romance. If the city, the action, and everything else is the focus, even if there is a romance, it would be better to call it urban fantasy.
So in summary urban fantasy is a genre defined by place. An urban fantasy story can fit under many other categories, but need not be contemporary. Nor does contemporary necessarily have to be urban. If you pick up a book that says “urban fantasy” on the back, you’re likely as not looking at a story where the characters do everything they do inside a city, and not a grand sweeping quest over mountain and desert to save the princess.