Halloween 3: The True Connection (Or Disconnection, Rather) of Halloween with All Saints Day & Some More Primary Sources Regarding Samhain
This is my last in a series of three articles on Halloween and its true origins. My purpose is to cite the primary sources that are behind my research and information, as well as to re-emphasize the importance of the truth being spoken about this holiday, especially by our churches and pastors. When we participate in the spreading of false information, we do ourselves, our Church, and Christianity as a whole a great disservice. We make ourselves appear to the world as people who are preaching a message of ignorance and intolerance, instead of people who have the precious Pearl Without Price, the holy faith as witnessed and passed down by the apostles. Many people in the world struggle with accepting Christianity anyway. When clergy, bishops and even saints of the Orthodox Church preach against a certain thing based on faulty historical information, they just give those who doubt or disbelieve the faith one more reason to dismiss Christ.
Faith is as much about free will and choices as about inner daily conversion and sanctification. But how can human beings exercise their free will and make intelligent choices without getting all the facts? Any Christian confession—be it Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, non-denominational, etc.—that distorts information and doesn’t give out correct facts to those who have questions about the Way, is hampering the free will of people to choose Christianity or not.
Last night, I received a link via e-mail from a monastic father who sends out spiritual teachings to various people, his own spiritual children and people like my husband and me who are on his mailing list. While I have the greatest respect for this monastic father, I was very disappointed to see that he is propagating the same misinformation about Halloween that many others of my fellow Orthodox Christians have bought into and spread about. The most dismaying aspect of this is the source he used: he quoted the writing of one of our 20th-century saints in the Orthodox Church, St. Nikolai Velimirovic. St. Nikolai wrote a small letter to his flock on Halloween, and in the letter, alas, our revered father in the saints puts forth objections to Halloween using the same false sources of information that have been perennially promoted by certain fundamentalist Christian groups. These groups in turn got their false information from Renaissance and Victorian historians, and this information was also promoted and spread widely from the 1960s to the 1990’s by members of the Wiccan and Neo-pagan movement.
The text of St. Nikolai of Velimirovic’s letter can be found on this web link, which was sent to me via e-mail last night. Here is the link for all who wish to read it, and it unfortunately represents the perception that many Orthodox Christians have about Halloween: http://www.stgeorgehermitage.org/stnikolajvelimirovicionhalloween.html
I want to emphasize to everyone reading this article that I have great love and veneration for our saints, from the saints of the early Church to those who have been recognised in our present time. But since the whole point of recognising saints is that they are regular human beings who have been transformed by Christ’s grace into His living vessels, I would remind my readers that all saints lived on earth as ordinary people with as much of a tendency to make mistakes as any of us. Even saints can write letters and books based on faulty information. Our father in the saints, St. Nikolai Velimirovic, got his information on Halloween and the Celtic feast of Samhain from erroneous sources. At the time in which he wrote his pastoral letter against Halloween, these sources were commonly accepted, even by historians from respected universities such as Oxford. But the fact is that these sources were nothing more than folklore and speculation. Most significantly, those sources are still widely accepted today, to the point that some of the information they contain is considered common knowledge.
The primary sources (sources written from the actual time periods in question) from the ancient world and literary sources from Ireland prove the following:
(1) There was no Lord of Death named Samhain (again, pronounced “Sow-when,” not “Sam Hane”). Samhain was a harvest festival.
(2) There is no historical evidence that Samhain was ever a festival of the dead. We know very little about how it was actually celebrated by the Irish.
(3) The Coligny calendar that mentions Samhain as “Samonios” was lunar, which means that the very day of Samhain did not even always fall on October 31.
(4) The Druids left no written records, so anyone, saint or scholar, who claims that the Druids celebrated Samhain has no archaeological records or historical writings on which to base this idea. The only ancient sources we have on Druids come from the Greco-Roman classical world. The picture painted of druids from Roman sources is very unflattering. Romans also make no mention of a celebration of the dead called Samhain, and Romans did not even occupy Ireland in the first place.
But, guess what, folks: we also have Christian primary sources from the early Church. Our Christian sources from the early Church prove to us, by their very dates, that the celebration of All Saints Day predates the mention and celebration of Samhain. The first mention of days commemorating the saints and martyrs of the Church is the account of the martyrdom of St. Polycarp, from 150 A.D. Other historical accounts about the observance of All Saints day can be found in writings ranging from the second century to the eighth century. In Ireland, the earliest historical account of the celebration of All Saints Day occurs in the Martyrology of Oenghus the Culdee, which dates from the 8th or 9th century. The Irish were commemorating the martyrs on the seventeenth of April, and the saints of Europe on the twentieth of April. I would ask my fellow Orthodox Christians reading this article, does that sound familiar? Did not the Eastern Church always celebrate All Saints Day after Pascha (Easter)? Do we not still do so today?
So, when was the Celtic celebration of Samhain mentioned? It was mentioned in early Irish medieval sources of the tenth century---200 years later, folks! If the Celtic celebration of Samhain isn’t even mentioned in Irish literature until 200 years after the documented Irish celebration of All Saints Day, then how can Samhain be connected with the eve of All Saints, All Hallow’s Eve? A little logic goes a long way here.
I have a list of the primary sources that prove all of this, but thankfully, I did not have to compile the list myself. It was already compiled in a couple of brilliant articles written by a Lutheran pastor, Joseph Abrahamson. Pastor Abrahamson puts his own Lutheran spin on one of his articles, but the primary sources he has provided are the very ones we need to prove that there is no actual connection between Samhain and All Saints Day. His articles also help very much with proving that there is little connection between our American Halloween and the original Catholic feast of All Hallow’s Eve. Here are his two articles, with his list of primary sources and the direct quotes he has provided from those:
http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=33364 This article contains a list of the following primary sources: (1) documentation from the 2nd to 9th centuries of All Saints Day, celebrated in the East and in Western Europe; (2) the documentation showing the shift of the date from spring to November 1st in the Western Church; (3) a list of folklorists, mostly Victorian, who fabricated a lot of nonsense about Samhain, beginning with the name of the first historian to mention what he believed to be actual Samhain practices, a late 16th/early 17th century Irish priest named Geoffrey Keating; please note that his work has been discounted now, but many Victorians based their ideas on his writing; (4) medieval Celtic references to Samhain: Mr. Abrahamson came up with some of the same medieval Celtic references as I did.
http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=33326 In this article, Mr. Abrahamson addresses the false claims about Samhain and Halloween made by Wiccans and Neo-pagans. He lists primary sources for his refutation of their claims. Then, he briefly touches on the history of customs such as the Jack-O-Lantern and trick-or-treating, using one or two more primary sources. At the end, he puts his unique Lutheran spin on the whole issue, pointing out something I didn’t know: Halloween was the date that Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenburg. Apparently, some people view Halloween as Reformation Day! I find that very amusing.
How does All Saints Day relate to Halloween? I believe, based on my research, that the connection is speculative at best. The reason I believe this is that the Western European medieval practice of going “souling” on All Hallow’s Eve, going from house to house to beg for and share soul cakes in honour of departed family members, is far removed from the practice of trick-or-treating, which was started in America during the 1930’s. There is also no mention that I’ve found in early American sources about people going souling on All Hallow’s Eve. The medieval European practice is too far removed from the American practice, by a few centuries and by the Atlantic Ocean.
Here are some primary sources on American Halloween:
(1) Various American historical images collected by the Library of Congress: http://www.loc.gov/search/?q=halloween&fa=original-format%3Aphoto%2C+print%2C+drawing&st=gallery
(2) Here is a link to a newspaper article from the National Republican, October 31, 1861. It mentions folklore associated with All Hallow’s Eve, mainly from England, and has a somewhat negative slant on the Roman Catholic practices of All Saints Day. But it also mentions that the major American custom on All Hallow’s Eve is to go from house to house, knock on the door, and pelt whoever answers the door with turnips and cabbages! What was that about trick-or-treating originating in the Middle Ages and spreading to America? If that claim is true, why is there no mention of it in this article written in our nation’s capital just seven months into the Civil War?
(3) For more nineteenth and early twentieth-century articles on Halloween in America, see this link: http://www.loc.gov/rr/news/topics/halloween.html These are more sources collected by the Library of Congress.
(4) This website has a list of primary sources, and some historical music. But it also has a lot of nonsensical blog articles that repeat the same false information against which I’m making my case. The primary source list, however, is good: http://primarysourcenexus.org/2011/10/today-in-history-halloween/
(5) Ruth Edna Kelley, The Book of Hallowe'en, Boston: Lothrop, Lee and Shepard Co., 1919, chapter 15, p.127. "Hallowe'en in America."
The chapter listed in this entry can be found online here: http://www.sacred-texts.com/pag/boh/boh17.htm
Ruth Edna Kelley wrote the first history of Halloween in America. In this chapter from her book, she references various folk customs in different parts of America. Sometimes she mentions certain folk customs as having their root in Ireland or Scotland. The customs she mentions appear to be mostly from her own time. A lot of them sound very superstitious and silly, and some of them involve divination, which I as an Orthodox Christian don’t condone. None of them are “druidic,” nor would I define them as satanic, per say. I would just call a lot of them stupid and foolish, interesting but absurd.
(6) The first reference to trick-or-treating as we know it is mentioned in this 1927 article entitled “Trick or Treat Is Demand” from Blackie, Alberta, in the November 3 issue of the Herald, on page 5: “Hallowe’en provided an opportunity for real strenuous fun. No real damage was done except to the temper of some who had to hunt for wagon wheels, gates, wagons, barrels, etc., much of which decorated the front street. The youthful tormentors were at back door and front demanding edible plunder by the word “trick or treat” to which the inmates gladly responded and sent the robbers away rejoicing.”
(7) There are many more references to newspaper articles from the 1930’s and 1940’s in a Wikipedia article on trick-or-treating that actually has a bibliography with some primary sources. Wikipedia articles are suspect as resources because of a general lack of proper citing of sources. However, this article not only has the names of the newspapers and the dates in the bibliography, but also the quotes themselves. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trick-or-treating
I could go on and list many more sources, but I think that my point is made. There may be some things about Halloween that are very incompatible with Christian practice, such as the folk practices of divination mentioned by Ruth Edna Kelley. There can be spiritual problems for Christians if too much emphasis is placed on the dark and macabre. Actually, I think that too much gore and horror can be bad for anyone, Christian or not. But overall, the evidence I’ve found points to the fact that Halloween is nothing more than a secular holiday with most of its practices rooted in the United States. When we trick-or-treat, we’re not imitating the dead in some so-called “druidic” celebration of wandering spirits. When we watch movies about ghosts, werewolves and vampires, we’re not glorifying demons, because the fact is that most ghost-sightings are caused by deception and delusion, and the traditional monsters of Halloween are products of the human imagination and writers such as Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker.
Halloween is what we make of it. As Christians, we can make it into a big, bad bogey-filled holiday that we shouldn’t celebrate, or we can make it a fun, fall holiday celebrating mythology, the harvest and the fun of dressing up. I, for one, am enjoying this holiday as a celebration of the harvest and the human ability to tell stories. Even the Irish myth of Samhain might just be considered yet another story that has been passed down.
In Orthodox Christian terms, this is the feast of St. Luke the Evangelist on the Julian Calendar. This is also the pre-schism Western feast of All Saints. For those celebrating Halloween, I say “Happy Halloween!”. For those not doing so, I say, “Happy Saint Luke’s Day!” or “Happy Western All Saints Day!”.
With love in Christ,