• Is Halloween Pagan? (1/2)

    From Steve Hayes@21:1/5 to All on Mon Oct 18 06:55:11 2021
    XPost: alt.history, alt.atheism, alt.pagan
    XPost: alt.christian.religion, alt.religion.christianity

    History for Atheists
    New Atheists Getting History Wrong!

    Halloween: Is Halloween Pagan?

    October 17, 2021 Tim O'Neill


    The idea that all the traditional holidays and festivals of the year
    are “pagan” in origin and were simply “stolen by the Church” is one that has permeated popular culture and is repeated without question in newspaper, magazine and online articles. It is perhaps not surprising
    that harried journalists and underpaid online content writers are
    uncritical about these claims, but it is more strange that prominent
    atheists are as well, given they are meant to be sceptics who check
    their facts and “question everything”. Unfortunately, many
    anti-theistic polemicists cannot resist a chance to get in a jab at
    any aspect of Christianity being “really pagan”, so every October we
    see supposed rationalists parroting pseudo history about the “pagan
    origins of Halloween”, with no sign of any fact-checking, let alone engagement with scholarship. In fact, the claim that Halloween is
    “pagan” is largely a nineteenth century myth.
    Is Halloween pagan?

    We see it every year in the lead up to Easter, to Christmas and to
    Halloween: articles assuring us that these festivals are “pagan” in
    origin. Easter, we are told, was really a pagan fertility festival of
    a goddess (Eostre, or maybe Ishtar) whose feast day and symbols of
    bunnies and eggs were co-opted by Christianity, despite this being
    almost complete nonsense. Similarly, we are told annually that
    Christmas is actually the ancient pagan festival of Saturnalia, which
    also had feasting, gift-giving and decorations, despite this also
    being almost entirely wrong. It is hardly surprising, therfore, that
    the most obviously pagan-seeming festival of the year – Halloween – is
    also presented as a wholly “pagan” enterprise, which had once again
    been stolen by Christians and given a superficial make-over. After
    all, what could a festival that focuses on spirits and spooks, demons
    and the dark and tricks and pranks have to do with Christianity? All
    those supernatural elements, spooky costumes and trick and treating
    must surely have a pre-Christian origin.

    So every October we see a plethora of articles with titles like
    “What’s the Real History of Halloween—and Why Do We Celebrate It on October 31?” or “The Pagan Origins of Halloween” all telling us much
    the same thing: Halloween may be the evening before All Saints Day,
    but it falls on this date because it was originally the pagan Celtic
    festival of Samhain, and all the spooky associations that it has come
    from this pagan festival of the dead. Trick or treating,
    Jack-o’-lanterns, dressing in costumes associated with the
    supernatural – all these things, we are assured, are pagan in origin
    and date back to pre-Christian times.

    So it is not surprising that this commonly held idea, one that is
    reinforced every year, is accepted without question by many atheists.
    And, therefore, some of them use this “fact” to taunt Christians for celebrating what is actually a “pagan” festival. Unfortunately some of these atheists are the same ones who preach to others about checking
    their facts, paying attention to scholarship and researching evidence
    for claims. But when it comes to the alleged “pagan” origins of
    various festival days, they do not manage to do any of these things.
    They simply accept the standard claims because … it suits them to do
    so. So the Christian radio host who turned atheist activist, Seth
    Andrews, assured his 328,000 YouTube followers last December that
    Christmas is originally “pagan”, stumbling from one historical howler
    to the next in the process. Andrews also mentioned Halloween in
    passing during this extended mangling of history. Writing of this
    imaginary co-opting of Saturnalia by Christians, Andrews tells his

    Now, this is a lot like what the Catholic Church did with
    Halloween. Halloween was essentially a Celtic tradition involving the
    druid priests and the people dressing up in masks and tricks and
    treats – very pagan. And the Church was coming in going “Well, we
    can’t have all this paganism, but people sure like the holiday’, so
    the Catholic Church sort of redressed it and made it All Saints Day,
    All Saints Eve or Halloween, changed the date, stamped a brand of
    ownership on it and said “Aha! Now we, the Catholic Church, own the holiday!’ Christianity did much of the same thing with the festival of Saturnalia in the month of December.
    Seth Andrews, “What Christians (Probably) Don’t Know About Christmas”, 35.20 – 36.02 mins)

    These ideas are far from exclusive to atheist activists like Andrews.
    Modern neo-pagans propagate them with gusto as well, “reclaiming”
    their supposedly pagan holiday from any association with Christianity.
    In 1993 the British Pagan Federation for Halloween issued a pamphlet
    making a series of emphatic claims about the origins and significance
    of the festival:

    Hallowe’en developed from the Celtic feast of Samhain (pronounced ‘sow-in’), which marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter.
    For the Celts, Samhain was the beginning of the year and the cycle of
    the seasons. …. Samhain was a time of change and transformation where
    both the past and the present met with the uncertain tides of the
    future yet to come. It was a time for magic and divination, when
    Druids and Soothsayers would forecast the events of the coming year.
    …. When Christianity became established in Britain, the Pagan
    Goddesses and Gods were said to have fallen under the rule of all the
    saints. All Hallows Day (November 1st), now known as ‘All Saints Day’, celebrates this take over. The old Pagan traditions, however, were not eradicated and lived on in the guise of Hallowe’en—the eve of All
    Hallows Day or All Saints Day.
    (quoted in Ronald Hutton, Stations of the Sun: A History of the
    Ritual Year in Britain, Oxford, 1996, Ch. 35)

    And here the neo-pagans in turn were responding to evangelical
    Christians, who have long attacked any celebration of Halloween as
    “pagan” and “Satanic”. Most moderate Christians generally regard Halloween as a bit of harmless fun, but the less fun end of
    Christianity regards it with great suspicion, precisely because of its
    supposed “pagan” origins and articles aimed at fundamentalist
    audiences like “What is Halloween and Should Christians Celebrate It?” answer the question with a firm “no”. Though few take this to the gloriously bonkers heights of the late Jack T. Chick‘s cartoon tracts
    on the subject, which Christians were encouraged to leave out for (no
    doubt disappointed) trick or treaters.

    So atheist activists, neo-pagans and evangelical Christians are all,
    oddly, in complete agreement: Halloween is pagan in origin and both
    the date and the traditions around it derive from a druidic, Celtic
    festival. This strange consensus is made even more ironic by the fact
    that these ideas are almost entirely wrong.
    Is Halloween pagan? - All Saints

    The Christian Origins of Halloween

    The name “Halloween” (or “Hallowe’en”) is a traditional contracted form of “All Hallows Eve”. This in turn is a reference to the feast of
    All Saints Day, traditionally called All Hallows Day, or simply All
    Hallows (or sometimes Hallowmas) in English. In the Catholic
    liturgical year All Saints Day falls on November 1 each year and, as a
    first rank feast day, was always celebrated with a vigil and, later,
    with an octave. This means that it was not only celebrated on the day
    itself, but also, like Easter Sunday and Christmas Day, with
    preparatory prayers and a mass the night before. The octave – an
    extended eight day sequence of liturgy following the feast day – was
    added by Pope Sixtus IV in 1480, though it was removed in the
    twentieth century. The vigil held the evening before, however, seems
    as old as the feast itself. So Halloween refers to this vigil and its associated traditions.

    All Saints Day, as the name would suggest, is a commemoration held in
    several Christian denominations of all of those deceased believers who
    have attained heaven. In the Western tradition, it is followed by All
    Souls Day on November 2, for remembrance of the dead generally. The
    veneration of the triumphant dead is a very old tradition in
    Christianity and seems to have its origin in the cults of martyrs in
    the first centuries of the religion’s history. Annual commemoration of martyred Christians appears in the sources very early on, with The
    Martyrdom of Polycarp (c. 150- 200 AD) referring to this practice:

    Accordingly, we afterwards took up his bones, as being more
    precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more purified than gold,
    and deposited them in a fitting place, whither, being gathered
    together, as opportunity is allowed us, with joy and rejoicing, the
    Lord shall grant us to celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom,
    both in memory of those who have already finished their course, and
    for the exercising and preparation of those yet to walk in their
    (Ch. XVIII)

    The same text places Polycarp’s death and therefore this commemorative
    day on April 25th, though the exact year is not certain. From the
    fourth century onward we find references to annual commemorations of
    all martyrs and saints on various days depending on location; so the
    Orthodox tradition celebrated All Saints on the Sunday after Pentecost
    (as it still does), while Syrian tradition held it on the Friday after
    Easter. On 13th May 609 AD (or perhaps 610 AD) Pope Boniface IV
    consecrated the Pantheon in Rome as a Catholic church dedicated to all
    saints and ordered an annual celebration of the saints in that church
    on this date, which is held to this day. At some point in his
    pontificate (731-41 AD), Pope Gregory III dedicated a chapel in St
    Peters to all saints and martyrs and some accounts say this was on
    November 1, making this the potential origin for the western date for
    All Saints Day. Sometime later in the eighth century the English
    Martyrologium Poeticum – a poetic calendar of saints days and other
    feast days celebrated at York – makes a clear reference to a feast of
    All Saints on November 1:

    Multiplici rutilet gemma ceu in fronte Nouember
    Cunctorum fulget sanctorum laude decorus.

    (As a jewel worn on the brow sparkles time and again, so November
    at its beginning is resplendent with the praise given to all the

    Given this was a practice at York, it is not surprising to find the
    great scholar, Alcuin of York, writing to his friend Arno, Bishop of
    Salzburg, urging him to celebrate All Saints Day on November 1:

    Kalendis Novembris solemnitas omnium sanctorum. Ecce, venerande
    pater Arne, habes designatam solemnitatem omnium sanctorum, sicut
    diximus. Quam continue in mente retineas et semper anniversario
    tempore colere non desistas

    On the kalends of November is the solemnity of all the saints.
    See, venerable father Arno, you have marked the solemnity of all the
    saints, just as we said. Keep that ever in mind and never cease to
    celebrate it on that annual date
    (Alcuin, Letter 193, 800 AD)

    This urging suggests that All Saints Day was perhaps celebrated on
    other dates and Alcuin, by this stage back at the court of the
    Frankish ruler Charlemagne at Aachen, preferred the tradition he knew
    from England. Or it could be that he is urging the importance of the
    feast rather than the date of the celebration per se. What we do know
    is the November 1 date caught on in Frankia, with Pope Gregory IV
    promulgating it as the date for All Saints Day for both East and West
    Frankia, and this was reinforced by an edict by Louis the Pious in 835
    AD. With the date established across the Frankish Empire, it became
    more widely adopted and over the next two centuries became standard
    Catholic liturgical practice across Europe.

    What is obviously missing from all this is any hint of an influence by
    anything “pagan”, let alone some Irish or “Celtic” festival presided over by druids. Even if the dedication of the chapel in St Peters by
    Gregory III was not the origin of the November 1 date and the practice
    arose independently in England and spread to Frankia via the influence
    of English scholars like Alcuin, there is a serious problem with the
    idea that this was due to Irish “Celtic” influence on England. This is because the earliest Irish reference to an All Saints Day does not
    have it celebrated there on November 1, but on April 20.

    The Félire Óengusso or “Martyrology of Óengus” is another martyrology, attributed to Saint Óengus of Tallaght. It seems to date to the ninth
    century and is based on earlier English martyrologies (like that of
    Bede), but with significant local Irish additions. It mentions a feast
    of All Saints in its listing for April 20:

    Day of the suffering of Herodius,
    priest who crucified desire;
    Feast in Rome – that noble town –
    of the whole of the saints of Europe.

    Under November 1, on the other hand, we do find – finally – a
    reference to “Samhain”. But it is not associated with commemorating
    All Saints, but rather with three Irish saints only:

    Lonan, Colman, Cronan
    with their bright sunny followers —
    the hosts of Hilary, many, sure,
    ennoble stormy Samain.

    So while the English were already celebrating All Saints Day on
    November 1 in the eighth century and that date became predominant in
    Frankia by the mid ninth century, the Irish were doing so on April 20,
    with “stormy Samain” the feast of three local holy men only. As
    esteemed historian of folklore, Ronald Hutton, summarises it in his
    Stations Of The Sun (Oxford, 1996):

    Charlemagne’s favourite churchman Alcuin was keeping it by [800
    AD], as were also his friend Arno, bishop of Salzburg, and a church in
    Bavaria. Pope Gregory [IV], therefore, was endorsing and adopting a
    practice which had begun in northern Europe. It had not, however,
    started in Ireland, where the Felire of Oengus and the Martyrology of
    Tallaght prove that the early medieval churches celebrated the feast
    of All Saints upon 20 April. This makes nonsense of [the] notion that
    the November date was chosen because of ‘Celtic’ influence.
    (Ch. 35)

    Hutton favours a “Germanic” origin for the date – either the practice
    of the English church which influenced Frankia or perhaps the other
    way around. Or it could be that the Roman celebration on that day
    deriving from Gregory III spread to both. But since the Irish in the
    same period seem to have used April 20 for their date and paid little
    regard to November 1 at this stage, the claim the whole thing began in
    Ireland as an originally pagan festival makes no sense.
    Is Halloween pagan? - Samhain Fire

    Samhain in the Sources

    The claims about the origins of Halloween lying with Samhain tend to
    be very detailed about this “Celtic” festival, with references to all
    the key elements of it that thus made their way into Halloween
    traditions: trick or treating, Jack-o’-lanterns, dressing in costumes
    and masks and a general association with the dead. But when we turn to
    what we know about this pre-Christian feast day, we find few to none
    of these elements.
    Is Halloween pagan? - Coligny CalendarThe Coligny Calendar

    There is certainly some evidence that November 1 was a key date for
    several cultures across the Celtic language group, marking the end of
    summer. The Irish word “Samhain” (also found as “Samain” or “Samuin”
    and pronounced “Sow-win”) seems derived from an ancient word meaning “summer”. A key piece of evidence here is the Coligny Calendar: a
    inscribed bronze tablet discovered in south-east France in 1897. This represents a lunisolar calendar, which reconciles moon phases with the
    solar year over a cycle of five years via the insertion of an
    occasional intercalary “leap” month, and it dates to the first century
    BC. The inscriptions on the Calendar use Roman script and numerals,
    but the names of months on it are in the Celtic language of the
    ancient Gauls. These include a month called “Samonios” at the
    beginning of the year, derived from the Gaulish root “Samo-” meaning “summer”. This is almost certainly a cognate with the Irish “Samhain”, but “Samonios” began in May and did not fall in November (called
    Giamonios on the Coligny Calendar). This means “Samhain” is a compound
    word meaning something like “summer’s end”.

    As already mentioned, the ninth century Félire Óengusso refers to
    November 1 as “stormy Samain”, and the early tenth century Welsh text,
    The Laws of Hywel Dda, repeatedly uses “the calends of winter” (i.e. November 1) as a key annual demarcation for various laws, again
    indicating the end of summer on this day as an important date. What we
    do not find in early references to either Samhain or the calendrical significance of November 1 as the end of summer is reference to
    rituals or religious practices. The early Irish glossary Sanas
    Cormaic, which dates to the tenth century, is a word list with
    etymologies and explanations of over 1,400 words and it mentions the
    spring festival of Beltane on May 1 and refers to druids driving
    cattle between two ritual fires to protect them for the coming year on
    that date, but does not mention Samhain at all, let alone any rituals associated with it. The Ulster Cycle epics, possibly dating to the
    tenth century or earlier, make a couple of mentions of Samhain.
    Tochmarc Emire (“The Wooing of Emer”) lists Samhain as one of the
    year’s “quarter days”, along with Imbolc (1 February), Beltane (1
    May), and Lughnasadh (1 August) and Serglige Con Culainn (“The
    Sick-Bed of Cú Chulainn”) gives us some more details about what
    marking Samhain may have traditionally entailed:

    Every year the men of Ulster were accustomed to hold festival
    together; and the time when they held it was for three days before
    Samhain, the Summer-End, and for three days after that day, and upon
    Samhain itself. And the time that is spoken of is that when the men of
    Ulster were in the Plain of Murthemne, and there they used to keep
    that festival every year; nor was there an thing in the world that
    they would do at that time except sports, and marketings, and
    splendours, and pomps, and feasting and eating; and it is from that
    custom of theirs that the Festival of the Samhain has descended, that
    is now held throughout the whole of Ireland.
    (trans,. A.H. Leahy, Heroic Romances of Ireland. Vol I., London,
    1905, p. 57)

    Here we get a lot of feasting “and splendours and pomps”, but no
    rituals or any indication of overtly religious significance. It seems
    more of a chance to get together and have a good time before the
    weather turns too wintery. It is not until the twelfth century
    Macgnímartha Finn (“The Boyhood Deeds of Finn mac Cumhaill”) that we
    find something supernatural associated with the references to Samhain:

    However, Finn went to Cethern, the son of Fintan, further to learn
    poetry with him. At that time there was a very beautiful maiden in Bri
    Ele, that is to say, in the fairy-knoll of Bri Ele, and the name of
    that maiden was Ele. The men of Ireland were at feud about that
    maiden. One man after another went to woo her. Every year on Samain
    the wooing used to take place; for the fairy-mounds of Ireland were
    always open about Samain; for on Samain nothing could ever be hidden
    in the fairy-mounds. To each man that went to woo her this used to
    happen: one of his people was slain. This was done to mark the
    occasion, nor was it ever found out who did it.
    (Tom P. Cross & Clark Harris Slover, ed.s, Ancient Irish Tales,
    New York, 1936)

    The idea that the world of the Sídhe, the fairy folk of Irish legend,
    is open to the mundane world at certain times of year is also found
    associated with Beltane. But even here we do not find any indication
    of ritual or religious observance. Perhaps the closest we get to that
    is in the Dindshenchas (“The Lore of Places”), also from the twelfth century, which tells a story of Saint Patrick throwing down an idol of
    the pagan god Cromm Crúaich at Magh Slécht (“the plain of
    prostration”). The Dindshenchas says “the firstlings of every issue
    and the chief scions of every clan” were sacrificed to this idol. It
    also details how each year at Samhain the High King would lead the
    people in prostrating themselves before the idol of Cromm Crúaich and
    how they would fling themselves on the ground so violently that three
    quarters of them died each time. Other, later, versions of how Patrick
    ended the worship of this god also mention sacrifices of children to
    his idol, but make no mention of Samhain. Hutton is sceptical of
    whether these stories reflect anything historical and concludes “the
    Magh Slécht story sounds … like a medieval Christian fantasy,
    developing over time and growing more lurid with each retelling”
    (Hutton, Blood & Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain,
    Yale, 2009, p. 41). It should be noted here that even in these stories
    the references to child sacrifice to this this idol are not associated
    with Samhain.

    All this means that, despite some rather strained attempts to make
    these and other references conform to the idea of Samhain as some
    ancient Irish festival of the dead, we really do not have any clear
    evidence of Samhain as a religious festival at all. And we definitely
    do not have so much as a hint of the alleged “pagan” practices that
    are the origin of modern Halloween traditions of trick or treating and Jack-o’-lanterns etc. So what is the origin of the claims these things
    come from Samhain?
    Is Halloween pagan? - Frazer

    The Construction of a Modern Myth

    The earliest reference to Samhain as a time of ritual, sacrifice and
    druidic ceremony comes in 1634, in an account by Seathrún Céitinn or
    Jeffrey Keating; a priest, poet and antiquarian from Tipperary who
    Hutton describes as “the thoroughly unreliable seventeenth-century
    Irish antiquary”. Keating’s account mingles a few elements from the medieval sources with a lot of lurid fantasy:

    It was there the Fire of Tlachtgha was instituted, at which it was
    their custom to assemble and bring together the druids of Ireland on
    the eve of Samhain to offer sacrifice to all the gods. It was at that
    fire they used to burn their victims; and it was of obligation under
    penalty of fine to quench the fires of Ireland on that night, and the
    men of Ireland were forbidden to kindle fires except from that fire;
    and for each fire that was kindled from it in Ireland the king of
    Munster received a tax of a screaball, or three-pence, since the land
    on which Tlachtgha is belongs to the part of Munster given to Meath.
    (Keating, Foras Feasa ar Éirinn: The History of Ireland, Book 1.

    Like Hutton, all other modern scholars reject this account as largely
    lurid fantasy on Keating’s part, cobbled together out of references to
    fire rituals associated with other times of year, with a heavy layer
    of Keating’s imagination (see Binchy, D. A. “The Fair of Tailtiu and
    the Feast of Tara.” Ériu 18 (1958): 113–38; specifically pp. 129-30). Unfortunately, as one of the few early and seemingly scholarly books
    on early Ireland, Keating’s work was highly influential on later
    claims about Halloween’s “pagan” origins. Here we find the druids and
    the human sacrifice found repeatedly in later claims about the
    pre-Christian Halloween, along with a garbled origin story for the
    traditions around fires which did feature as part of many Halloween

    Partially thanks to Keating, the association of the supposed rituals
    of “the druids” as the origin of various traditional practices and
    ancient sites became a mainstay of antiquarian speculation from the
    seventeenth to the early nineteenth century, with John Aubrey’s
    Monumenta Britannica (1693) fixing the still persistent association of
    druids and Stonehenge in the popular imagination. Protestant
    polemicists took this idea up to blame the druids for all manner of
    residual Catholic traditions, which they condemned not just as
    “Popery” but traced to bloodthirsty pagan origins – a line of argument that also persists to this day and leads directly to fervid
    evangelical fantasies like the Jack T. Chick tracts noted earlier.

    By the nineteenth century better researchers began to examine the
    evidence more carefully, though the “pagan origins” idea established
    since Keating’s time continued to be their key assumption. In 1886 the Welsh-born Oxford philologist Sir John Rhys argued in his Lectures on
    the origin and growth of religion as illustrated by Celtic heathendom
    (1886) that November 1 had been the “Celtic new year”, largely based
    on Welsh folklore associating Halloween with new beginnings. This idea
    was greatly expanded by Sir James Frazer in his heavily influential
    The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion: originally
    published in two volumes in 1890 and eventually expanded to twelve
    volumes in its third edition, published 1906–1915. Frazer’s book
    caused something of a scandal for treating Christianity like any other
    form of ancient mythology, but effectively established the discipline
    of comparative religion in the English-speaking world. It was and
    remains culturally significant in that it influenced everyone from
    Sigmund Freud to Joseph Campbell and writers and artists from Robert
    Graves to Jim Morrison. This is despite the fact modern scholars find
    much of Frazer’s arguments unconvincing.

    For Frazer, Samhain had been nothing less than the pagan Celtic feast
    of the dead. Like Rhys, he saw it as marking the death of the old year
    and also as a numinous time when the supernatural was abroad. But he
    argued that it was common for many cultures to honour their dead at
    the close of the year and so argued that the Christian feasts of All
    Saints and All Souls on November 1 and 2 had to have their origins in
    this posited earlier Celtic festival. Of course, this is based on the
    idea that All Saints began in Ireland and the Celtic tradition and
    transferred to the rest of Europe. But, as discussed above, this does
    not seem to be the case, with the earlier Irish celebration of All
    Saints (April 20) giving way to the date established in Frankia in the
    ninth century (November 1). Frazer got the influence completely the
    wrong way around.

    But thanks to the influence of The Golden Bough on popular culture,
    the idea that there was a “Celtic” day of the dead as the origin of
    both the date of Halloween and its traditions involving ghosts and the supernatural persists. This is mixed with the anti-Papist claims in
    the Protestant tradition that links this supposed pagan origin to
    druids and human sacrifice that also persists in some versions of the
    Halloween origin story. So, we are assured, the practices of wearing
    costumes and masks, trick or treating, Halloween games and Jack
    o’Lanterns are also firmly “pagan”.
    Is Halloween pagan? - Jack

    Halloween – Past and Present

    The problem with the claim that the key traditions of Halloween are
    all “pagan” in origin is the same as that with all such arguments.
    They assume that no new traditions could possibly have arisen in the
    centuries since the conversion to Christianity and so all traditions
    which are old (or seem old) must be pre-Christian, therefore “pagan”.
    There are many unwarranted assumptions in this line of reasoning, but
    it seems to be widely accepted without much question. As it happens,
    the elements of Halloween which may be pre-Christian are actually not
    common today and the most common practices today do not seem to be pre-Christian at all.

    One of the most common elements in traditional Halloween folklore
    involves the lighting of fires. This seems to be the source of Jeffrey Keating’s antiquarian fantasy about druids burning people alive at
    Samhain, but fires that are watched as they burn out over the course
    of the night at Halloween are found in traditions across Ireland,
    Scotland and many parts of Wales. These “Hallowmas fires” were
    discouraged in Protestant areas as a holdover from Catholic
    traditions, since watching the fire as it burned down while
    remembering the dead was part of the tradition in many parts, and was
    clearly connected to the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. But there
    are elements in these practices that could indicate a pre-Christian
    origin, such as the Scottish tradition that the fire is burned to
    “keep the fairies á awá” or to drive off witches. The fire traditions
    are also associated with divination, which is another cluster of
    practices around Halloween that has largely died out. In North Wales
    each person put a white pebble in the fire and if any of them was
    missing from the ashes the next day, this was a sign that person would
    die that year. Similar practices in Scotland could indicate an
    pre-Christian origin for these ideas, though there is no way of being
    sure of this.

    Other, better known and still popular traditions do not seem to have “pagan” origins at all, despite persistent claims to the contrary. The lurid fantasies of druids carrying off people for human sacrifices
    unless they were placated with gifts and food are often alleged to be
    the origin of trick or treating. In fact, this seems to have its
    origin in a Christian practice. Since All Saints and All Souls were
    feasts focused on the afterlife, in the old Catholic tradition they
    were also a time where charity was encouraged by the living to boost
    their chances of attaining heaven. So distributing food to the poor
    was a central part of Allhallowtide – the three day period from
    Halloween to the end of All Souls. Special “Soul Cakes” were
    traditionally baked to be given as charity to the poor and other
    seasonal food, such as nuts, apples and berries – all abundant in
    early autumn – were also distributed.

    Poorer people going to houses to receive food as charity gave rise to
    people visiting others in disguise to demand “soul cakes” as part of a game. This took many forms that varied by region, but this practice of “guising” or “mumming” was part of celebratory folk practices at other times of year, particularly Christmas. At Halloween, the “guisers”
    often sang “soul cake songs” demanding traditional food gifts in
    return for a blessing. In some places the practice meant any “guiser”
    could enter a house and had to be welcomed and given soul cakes, while
    the owners pretended to not know who the visitors were. This is why
    traditional “guiser” masks were designed largely to hide someone’s identity from their neighbours rather than the modern version of the
    Halloween “costume”. In some versions the “guisers” simply painted their faces black. The game consisted of people in a close knit
    community pretending not to know each other while breaking social
    norms. This element developed into a “misrule” element – again,
    something also seen at Christmas – were acts of damage and violence
    were threatened (and minor acts carried out) if the “guisers” were not rewarded with food. The clear line of descent from this to modern
    “trick or treating” is obvious. That this all arose from a Christian practice of charity on a holy day is also clear, though in places it
    also involved leaving out food “for the dead”. Again, it is impossible
    to tell if this too was an pre-Reformation Christian practice or a
    remnant of something pre-Christian.

    “Guisers” often carried vegetables carved with faces holding candles
    as lanterns as they went around the houses of their community. These
    could be turnips or mangel wurzels, and this practice was common in
    Ireland but also in northern Scotland and in parts of Somerset, where
    they were called “punkies” or “spunkies”. This was a dialect word for

    [continued in next message]

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