Wednesday, November 1, 2023

All Saints Day

Halloween is often considered "the devil's holiday" (or sometimes, the devil's "birthday"), but it's actually not as demonic as it seems on the surface - or as America influenced it to be. 

Before it was Halloween, this day was an old cultural holiday in another civilization entirely in which they celebrated the end of the harvest season and honored the dead, who had provided for them for another year by all that they established that made the harvest possible. It was believed that on this day, the space between this life and the next was thinner, so it was easier for the dead to be present. 

Now, before you get all bent out of shape, remember this: civilizations throughout time have always had their ways of understanding death and the afterlife, and every culture - including ours - has its ways of honoring the dead. So even if we don't agree with what this older civilization believed about spirit life, we can recognize that it was not specifically satanic; it was actually sacred. 

Then, the Catholic church came into its heyday and recognized the sacred celebration of the non-Christian folk and decided to piggy-back off of their understanding and created something called All Saints' Day. That's today. It's a day set aside to honor the saints of the church. (Duh.) Saints are always venerated. That is, they are respected. They get to be saints because of their goodness, their righteousness, their faithfulness. 

A little while later, the church added All Souls' Day. That's tomorrow. All Souls' Day is a chance to honor the faithfully departed a little closer to home - members of your own family or community or close circle. So you honor the saints of the church on All Saints' Day and the saints of your own story on All Souls' Day. And this was all wrapped around the sacred celebrations that were already happening culturally to honor the dead. 

When stuff like this starts to get established, it doesn't take long for someone clever to see an opportunity and, well, blessed are the poor. The poor, who had very little to offer in terms of sacrifices, figured out that they could essentially hire themselves out to the richer families and offer to honor their dead for them in exchange for some funding. And who doesn't like more persons loving on grandma? Of course I want you to offer something for my beloved. So poor persons started going door-to-door seeking from the rich for the opportunity to honor the rich's dead, which would leave some leftover to honor the dead of the poor. It was a win-win. (And this is how we got trick-or-treating.) 

But it's still sacred. All the way through this history, to this point, it's a sacred day. Honoring the dead. Revering the saints. Remembering the faithful. The only even hazy line is what different cultures believe happens to the dead, and the spirit, after this life. 

It wasn't until relatively recently - around the early 20th century - that Halloween started being associated with the dark arts - with devils and demons and ghosts and hauntings and possession and the like. And it didn't start in the spooky castles of the Middle Ages, which until this point were celebrated as cultural achievements; it started, according to everything I can find, in America. After we got hold of it, everything became "haunted." 

I don't know how it happened exactly. I don't know if it was someone who imagined a not-rosy eternity for their dearly departed or someone with a delusional mental illness or someone possessed by a demon (we do know, after all, that demons are real), but someone somewhere heard "souls" and "dead" and "spirits" and put them together into a possession and a spook and a haunt and convinced enough other persons to go along that slowly, but surely, we got to where we are now. 

I truly think that we hit the height of this a few decades ago when the occult was the thing, when everyone was interested in oiuja boards, when ghost tours first started becoming popular. But I think we're on a downward slide now. I think we're settling into a sense of just community fun, with these hints of hauntings but less outright intentional focus on the devil and demons and the like. We have embraced the "spooky" and left aside the "evil" for the most part. Oh, it still exists if you go looking for it, but as a whole, culture has toned this all down quite a bit. 

Unfortunately, through this relatively brief transformation from day of honor to day of horror to whatever you want to call where we are now, we lost the sense of sacredness that this day held for literally hundreds upon hundreds of years. We've lost the sense of honoring the dead in this season and gone more, oh, the route of Beetlejuice, let's call it. 

But that doesn't mean that the church doesn't still have any input on the so-called "spooky season." In fact, in recent years, the world has taken its cues straight from the church on this one and today, a lot of Halloween is built not on the world's fancies, but on the church's model. (We'll talk about this tomorrow.)

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