A Holiday for the earth: Healthy harvests, happy hours and Samhain

I got an early trick or treater last night. It turned out to be old Benny, the neighborhood can collector. Like most nights, I didn’t have any treats for him. I did round up some change and walk to the store with him for a couple cold 40s. We sat on a bench and drank a while. Benny wanted to know a little Halloween history, so I did my best to enlighten him.

I explained that Halloween originated with the ancient Druids, or Celtic priests, who believed that on this night the Lord of the Dead, Samhain (pronounced Sow-In) and the spirits of the departed entered the earthly realm. It marked the eve of the Celtic new year, and commemorated the harvest season and the onset of winter.

The “veil” separating the material and supernatural worlds was also considered thinnest at this time, and by appeasing the spirits, it was believed that the future could also be foretold. Samhain was also considered a special time since this point of the calendar lies exactly between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice. Ancient people, with their reliance on both a sense of seasonal variations and agricultural cycles, as well as a keen awareness of the night sky, perceived this to be a special time. Other cultures celebrated harvest festivals as well, which proved to be a major obstacle for the Christian faith that was slowly becoming dominant at this time.

This culture was eventually absorbed and the Roman’s designated Nov. 1 All Saints’ Day and Halloween was Hallow’s eve.

The holiday likely came to America with the influx of Irish settlers. Pagan beliefs based on old Celtic ways survive to this day, but not without obstacle. For years practitioners of alternative religion and belief systems were persecuted. In fact it is not hard to find some paranoia surrounding Halloween to this day.

Many Christians, especially fundamentalist ones, don’t like Halloween one bit. The Christian Broadcasting Network reminds us that “evidence persists that some Satanists and voodoo groups offer sacrifices – usually animals, but, possibly, human babies” at this time of year.

I will of course be sure to keep my babies and animals locked up tight as usual, but I am not too worried about satanists running around stealing my kin.

Many Christians express fear and disgust that their kids dress up like witches or devils and run around like Samhain’s overworked minions on a long awaited terrestrial vacation. They usually discourage dressing up like witches or demons and have frequently put on “hell houses.” In these houses, kids get to witness horrors of homosexuality and abortion, as well as the horrors of witchcraft and Satanism.

According to a fundamentalist Web site I read that offered a “history” of Halloween, satan and paganism are taking over schools. These schools practice relaxation-breathing techniques that are similar to the process of hypnotism. They then take them on a fantasy journey where dragons and other fantastic pagan creatures are met.

I for one would rather kids use-breathing techniques to relax and focus the mind than a daily dose of Ritalin. And since when is it so wrong to stimulate the imagination with a little fantasy adventure? Are video game manufacturers worried about losing their market share on youth’s imagination?When I relaxed and went to my happy place fantasy I met Olivia Newton John in boots riding Falcor, the flying dog beast from “A Never Ending Story,” but that’s beside the point.

Because with or without Falcor, alternative beliefs deserve a voice. Pagan beliefs are very popular and as justified to exist as any religion.

Don’t worry about Satan. I was informed that Satan had nothing to do with any of the Wicca or other pagan practices because Satan is a Christian mythological figure. They have their own mythology and don’t need to borrow from Christianity. I have also been informed that most pagans don’t celebrate Halloween. It is mostly for kids and business, Nov. 1 is the holiday.

So bow down to the earth in thanks. Volunteer for an environmental organization near you. Respect each other’s beliefs and gods. Ask them to stop the killing. Dress up on more days than one. Close your eyes and go to that happy place, and good luck on those midterms.

Hey Wicca fans, coming soon: a review of Wiccan High Priestess Phyllis Curott’s book “Witch Crafting, a Spiritual Guide to Making Magic.”