Samhain: Myth and Tradition

There’s a Western tradition of taking pagan holidays and sanitizing them, making them cute and child-friendly. Hell, it’s the same thing we did with fairy tales. For a culture that is now obsessed with horror, the supernatural and the twisted macabre, we have a strong tradition of white-washing the scary and handing out candy in some strange parody of observance.

I don’t think any holiday has been so affected as Samhain/Halloween. The sacred, dangerous memorial of the dead has become a kiddie-fest, a laughter at a tradition we would do well to respect.

Myth and Tradition

Growing up, with grandparents that avidly listened to Rush Limbaugh and believed that the Freemasons were working with the Catholic Church to make the world worship Satan, Samhain was presented as a particularly gruesome holiday. I will never forget the Chick tracts–a particularly weird and noxious idealogy–that graphically depicted* Druids dragging virgins from houses to rape and sacrifice them, or modern-day ‘Satanists’ drugging and abducting children to kill in honor of the devil.

Fortunately, even as a kid with a somewhat warped concept of other religions, this appeared mildly sensationalized. But, how many people actually believe that? Too many.

When I was researching folklore for vampires, I stumbled across some interesting correlations. In many beliefs, someone born** over the Samhain/Day of the Dead holidays (whatever time of year that culture celebrates it) is fated to be a Vampire, or unusually clairvoyant.

It is also interesting to note that this was the ‘New Year’s’ day for the Celts. It was a time to remember the dead, to put the grief and memories to rest and move on into a new year. Farmers figured out which animals to slaughter for meat for the year, and the winter began.

Yes, this is also believed to be the day where the veils are thinnest between the spirits and mortals. Spirits of the dead are more likely to talk, things go bump in the night, etc. It can be scary. Maybe it’s the scariest thing for a nation, a culture that doesn’t want to believe in the supernatural, in the reality of things other than steel and concrete.

*I have always had the sneaking suspicion that Chick tracts were horror-porn given morals so that a certain brand of people wouldn’t feel guilty indulging in interests that make even me cringe. Seriously, go look at those things sometime, but take a bucket of bleach to clean your eyes, hands and brain. It’s all the more disturbing because this is supposed to be ‘holy’. I’m sorry, but I’ve read horror that isn’t as perverted and disgusting as Chick’s stuff.

**Yes, I was born on Samhain/Day of the Dead, which lends unusual irony to my early nicknames of ‘witch’ and ‘vampire’. My ‘New Year’ seems to naturally fall on my birthday anyways, so this festival always takes on special meaning. Also, it SUCKS as a kid in a conservative family, because not only do you not get to go have fun, you can’t have sleep-overs for your birthday, because everyone else is out having fun without you! Yes, this is a very, very long-standing grudge. To this day, I have NEVER been trick-or-treating.


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