Halloween Myths, Errors and Lies
Anti-Halloween propagandists use these claims to disrupt or prevent our religious rites, slander our beliefs, and blaspheme our deities, despite the total lack of evidence to support them:
- Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have never found even one example of a “Satanic cult human sacrifice.” What they do occasionally find are budding psychopaths killing small animals in what a psychiatrist would call a “ritualistic” manner. As that link just cited puts it, “FBI expert K. J. Lanning defines a satanic murder as ‘one committed by two or more individuals who rationally plan the crime and whose primary motivation is to fulfill a prescribed satanic ritual calling for the murder.’ Using this definition he has been unable to identify even one documented satanic murder in the United States.”
- Similarly, the urban legends about “Satanic cults looking to kidnap blond blue-eyed children for sacrifice” (presumably by evil “non-Aryans”) reveal more about racism than crime in America because here, too, there is not a single real incident recorded by law enforcement agencies.
- All those stories of poisoned candy and razor blades in apples — which some Christian Fundamentalists would have us believe is how modern Witches and Druids now “sacrifice” kids — turn out to be more urban legends with zero law enforcement backing — see Curses! Broiled Again!: The Hottest Urban Legends Going, by noted folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand for details.
- Claims are made that “the ASPCA reports the evidence of animal mutilation and destruction is ten times more available on the week preceeding and the weekend following Halloween.” I’ve been unable to get the ASPCA to back this up. Apparently, some pounds and animal control facilities may not adopt out black kittens to scary-looking teenagers just before Halloween, but the evidence on which they base these policies is unclear. It may just be another urban legend based on teenaged sociopaths killing animals in years past. See Wren Walker’s article on Satanic Panic and Black Cats for details.
- The urban legend of Baby-Killing, Blood-Drinking, Incestously-Orgiastic, Evil-Doers has been around a long time — in fact, it’s been passed down for 00 years and used against one religion after another — including the early Christians!
- Supposed physical evidence to support all this nonsense is either completely absent or quickly vanishes once closely examined by law enforcement experts.
- The modern authors of various books promoting these slanders have repeatedly been proven — by Evangelical Christian journalists — to be frauds and con-artists milking the Fundamentalist market. See also Kerr Cuhulain’s brilliant book on Fundamentalist con-artists, Witch Hunts: Out of the Broom Closet at Amazon.com for details on dozens of the worst liars.
- In thirty years of my attending Samhain/Halloween rites, and discussing them with other Neopagans, not one of them has included an orgy — darn it!
You can visit the Satanic Ritual Abuse page maintained by the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance for details on these psychotic fantasies and the findings of various reputable researchers. A good book on how urban legends have become entwined with American Halloween traditions is Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life, edited by Jack Santino.
Perhaps the best book written on the topic of the Evil Satanic Conspiracy silliness so far is Satanic Panic, by sociologist Dr. Jeffrey Victor. The publisher’s card catalog description for this work sums it up well:
Again and again we are told — by journalists, police, and fundamentalists — that there exists a secret network of criminal fanatics, worshippers of Satan, who are responsible for kidnapping, human sacrifice, sexual abuse and torture of children, drug-dealing, mutilation of animals, desecration of churches and cemeteries, pornography, heavy metal lyrics, and cannibalism. This popular tale is almost entirely without foundation, but the legend continues to gather momentum, in the teeth of evidence and good sense. Networks of “child advocates,” credulous or self-serving social workers, instant-expert police officers, and unscrupulous ministers of religion help to spread the panic, along with fabricated survivors’ memoirs passed off as true accounts, and irresponsible broadcast “investigations.” A classic witch-hunt, comparable to those of medieval Europe, is under way. Innocent victims are smeared and railroaded. Satanic Panic uncovers the truth behind the satanic cult hysteria, and exposes the roots of this malignant mythology, showing in detail how unsubstantiated rumor becomes transformed into publicly-accepted “fact.”
“Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is now doing to the evangelical Christians. It’s no different. It is the same thing. It is happening all over again. It is the Democratic Congress, the liberal-based media and the homosexuals who want to destroy the Christians. Wholesale abuse and discrimination and the worst bigotry directed toward any group in America today. More terrible than anything suffered by any minority in history.”
Granted, this is the same jerk who agreed with Jerry Falwell’s claim that the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 were the fault of Pagans, feminists, gays, and the A.C.L.U., still his words deserve analysis.
Robertson equates the loss of American Christianity’s special political and social privileges with the Jewish Holocaust of World War II. Oddly enough, I haven’t noticed Fundamentalists being herded into concentration camps by Democrats in Congress, nor any of the media (liberal or conservative) calling for their execution, nor any gay or lesbian organizations bombing Fundamentalist churches. Yet I have seen Fundamentalist Christians (1) trying to take over Congress through illegal and dishonest stealth campaigns, (2) spending millions to prevent accurate science, history and safe sex from being taught in public schools, (3) organizing Christian Militias to overthrow the American government through domestic terrorism, and (4) gleefully murdering people whom they thought were homosexuals or abortion doctors.
“More terrible than anything suffered by any minority in history?” Tell it to the millions of Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnnesses, occultists, and homosexuals who were murdered by Hitler; the millions of political dissenters executed by Stalin; the tens of thousands of supposed Witches tortured, raped and murdered by the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches; or the tens of thousands of political liberals and moderates who were killed by American-trained Death Squads in Central and South America. Not being allowed to shove your theology down the throats of schoolchildren, or to take center stage at City Council meetings, doesn’t even come close to what other minorities have suffered over the millenia — much of it at the hands of Fundamentalists and other True Believers.
I find it outrageous that racist, sexist, and creedist groups in current (or former) political power have managed to twist the term “bashing” away from its original meaning of members of minority groups being physically beaten and killed to instead mean themselves being verbally criticised. I am not engaging in bashing of any sort by saying or writing that Fundamentalism is a twisted, bigoted, and dangerous approach to any belief system, as the events of September 11, 2001 made all too horrifically clear to Americans. See my essay, A Call to Arms for details.
|Vocabulary Note: I’ve spent years trying to come up with appropriate cross-religious terminology to use to refer to particular religious phenomena. “Fundamentalist” is the best term I’ve been able to find to use as shorthand for “ultra-conservative, rigidly dualist, deliberately ignorant, force approving, religious fanatic/extremist.” It at least has the advantage that most English speakers already know it and many of them use it this way, much to the annoyance of some who call themselves Fundamentalist. Mainstream theologians and religious studies professors have not been forthcoming with alternate terminology, perhaps because of their own academic or theological agendas/fashions/limits. I am very much open to suggestions for other terms that will cover this complex but distinctive spiritual/religious dysfunction.|
However, if you’d prefer a more neutral discussion of Evangelical Christian Beliefs about Halloween, you can visit the website of the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. Their essay on How Christians View Non-Christian Religions is also quite good, as are most of their materials on their huge website.
By the way, if you’re interested in seeing just what idiots “real” Satanists are, you can read My Satanic Adventure and The Enemies of Our Enemies elsewhere on my website (or read the raving egomaniacal flamewars on the Usenet newsgroup “alt.satanism”). Now, however, let’s focus on the Fundamentalists’ weird fantasies about Halloween.
Chick actively encourages his customers to buy his tracts by the thousands and to hand them out to innocent children on Halloween. For a description of many of his bizarre, bigoted, sick, and paranoid tracts, see Kerr Cuhulain’s discussion of Chick and his work. As he says, “This may seem silly stuff to many of you readers and it would be if it weren’t for the fact that so many people take these publications seriously. Chick’s business has thrived for decades and his tracts are available in 100 different languages. Chick has distributors in England, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Germany. Police officers have used these tracts as a resource…”
Let’s look at a few historical facts related to Chick’s paranoid fantasies about Halloween:
- Paleopagan Druidism in Ireland and the British Isles was wiped out by Christianity long before anyone was building medieval castles with “princesses” in them.
- Virginity simply wasn’t as important to European Paleopagans as some would assume — except for occasional political purposes — and was certainly a condition that Celtic women had little difficulty removing in pre-Christian days.
- Since half of the Paleopagan Druid caste were women, it’s highly unlikely that these historically strong and assertive Celtic women would have allowed their husbands, fathers and sons to get away with raping and murdering women of any caste — whether virgins or not!
- There’s a distinct lack of historical or archeological evidence that the ancient Druids ever sacrificed anyone other than criminals, prisoners-of-war, or volunteers — if them. The human sacrifices called “missions,” “inquisitions,” “crusades,” and “pograms,” however, have killed innocent men, women and children by the millions — and this is very well documented by mainstream historians.
- The pumpkin is a New World plant that never grew in Europe until modern times, so it couldn’t have been used to make jack-o-lanterns by the Druids. Human fat (I’m told by a biologist) would make a lousy candle fuel even if anyone were psychotic enough to try. Apparently turnips were used to make lanterns in Ireland and Scotland, but these were not the plants that Americans know as “turnips.” One correspondant told me, “a turnip to the Scots /Irish is not what the English would call a turnip. Rather than being white and purple skinned, it is yellow and purple and is known to the English as a ‘swede.’ They are between half a foot and a foot in diameter.” These are harder to carve than pumpkins, which is probably why Irish immigrants to North America switched to using the latter, but still easier to carve than the roots the Americans and British call “turnips.” I’m unaware of any historical references to the turnips being used as jack-o-lanterns in Ireland until modern times, or of turnip-lamps being used in the Paleopagan Celtic territories where the Druids once worshipped.
- There’s zero evidence that the ancient Druids or their congregants ever dressed in identity-hiding costumes or engaged in ritualized begging at harvest time. It’s possible, but by no means certain, that this was a Paleopagan custom. As for the dark medieval monks’ robes depicted by Chick in his comics, since the ancient Druids considered white their caste color and brown or black the color associated with the servant caste, they probably wouldn’t have been caught, you should pardon the expression, “dead” in them!
- According to the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, in an essay called The Myth of Samhain: Celtic God of the Dead, both Neopagans and Christians have been wrong on this topic: “There is some evidence that there really was an obscure, little known character named Samain or Sawan who played a very minor role in Celtic mythology. He was a mortal whose main claim to fame was that Balor of the Evil Eye stole his magical cow. He is rarely mentioned in Celtic mythology; his existence is little known, even among Celtic historians.” However, “…there is/was no Celtic God of the Dead. The Great God Samhain appears to have been invented in the 18th century, as a God of the Dead before the ancient Celtic people and their religion were studied by historians and archeologists” (emphasis added).
- Major dictionaries of Celtic Languages don’t mention any “Samhain” deity either: McBain’s Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language says that “samhuinn” (the Scots Gaelic spelling) means “Hallow-tide” (or ‘sacred time’), and that it probably came from roots meaning “summer’s end;” with a possible derivation from the annual assembly at Tara every November 1st. MacFarlane’s School Gaelic Dictionary defines it simply as “Hallowtide.” I have several Irish/English dictionaries in my home, and they all say that “samhain” or “La Samhna” (to use the Irish spellings) is the first of November, or the month of November, or “Hallowtide/Halloween.”
But where do Chick and other Fundamentalists get their weird beliefs about Halloween? One correspondant asked me, “How can these things never happen if so many people preach that it does? … Where would Christians get these ideas if they weren’t fact?” The short answer, of course, is that preachers are people and (1) all people make mistakes, (2) some people are ignorant, and (3) others just tell lies. After all, lots of people used to believe that the Earth was flat and that the sun moved around the Earth. The Church quoted scriptures to “prove” these beliefs and burned early scientists at the stake for disagreeing. Yet merely saying, “They’re lying to you,” though true, can easily be thrown back into our own faces, if it’s only a matter of one group’s word against another’s (assuming neither group can get away with silencing the other). A more useful answer, one with the weight of solid academic research behind it, will take us a bit more time.
The sources of information that Fundamentalists use are extremely few:
- A work of nasty anti-Catholic propaganda written in 1873 and filled with hundreds of historical, linguistic, mythological, and other errors that only a Fundamentalist could believe, called Two Babylons or the Papal Worship, by Alexander Hislop (this book is especially popular with Jack Chick);
- An even older work, The Celtic Druids, by Godfrey Higgins, published in 1827, filled with almost as many mistakes as Hislop’s book;
- Decades-old editions of encyclopedias which simply quote Hislop or Higgins;
- Sermons, books and broadcasts by “Ex-Grand-High-Druid-Witch experts” on the occult — all of whom turn out to be phonies and often criminals as well; and
- Decades of sermons by ministers repeating unquestioningly the statements made by other preachers before them.
An essay called Halloween: Myths, Monsters & Devils, by W.J. Bethancourt III, contains a superb and detailed analysis of Fundamentalists’ literature on the topic (his Bibliography page should not be skipped either). His essay says, among many other interesting things:
As for “Samhain” or “Saman” being the “lord of the dead,” this is a gross fallacy that seems to have been perpetuated in the late 18th and 19th centuries CE. I have found it in Higgins (first published in 1827, and trying to prove the Druids emigrated to Ireland from India!) where he quotes a Col. Charles Vallency (later a General, who was trying to prove that the Irish were decended from the inhabitants of Armenia!!!) Higgins also refers to an author named “Pictet,” who gives this name as that of a god, associating the word with “sabhan,” (which word I cannot find in any Gaelic dictionary at my disposal) and trying for a connection with “Bal-sab,” to prove a Sun god and Biblical association.
|The full title of Higgins’ book (leaving out the solid capital letters) is: The Celtic Druids; or, An Attempt to shew, that the Druids were the priests of oriental colonies who emigrated from India, and were the introducers of the first or Cadmean system of letters, and the builders of Stonehenge, of Carnac, and of other cyclopean works, in Asia and Europe. Browsing through the facsimile 1829 edition of Higgins’ book (published by Kessinger Publishing, LLC, Kila MT), it quickly becomes clear that the Honorable Godfrey Higgins, Esq. while astute enough to notice the similarities between the Sanscrit, Latin and Irish languages, was working without the tools or knowledge of those disciplines which were to become known as linguistics, anthropology, archeology, or indeed any modern social or physical science. He made up for his ignorance with an obsession to reconcile what he knew of Celtic languages, cultures and history with Semitic languages, cultures and (the ChristianBible’s version of) history. The results, despite his prescient guesses about what would someday be known as the Indo-European languages and the common Indo-European clergy caste, are so far off the mark about almost every subject he touched upon, as to appear pathetic to even the most charitible modern scholar.Pardon me if the following seems a long digression, but the influence of this author’s book has been so long lasting and so pernicious to the reputations of the ancient Druids, and of Halloween, that it’s reasonable to quote several key paragraphs. Here, set in underlined type to distinguish it from real scholarship, or my own opinions, is what Higgins has to say about “Samhan or Bal-Sab” in Chapter V, Section XVII:|
The God Samhan is placed by M. Pictet [“of Geneva, a learned friend of the author’s”] at the head of his double series, with the following explanation: Samhan eadhon Ceisil, eadhon Giolla; Samhan, that is to say the evil spirit, (Satan,) that is to say, the Serviteur.
Samhan appears to have been one of the Gods, the most revered, in Ireland. An annual solemnity was instituted to his honour, which is yet celebrated on the evening of the first day of November; which yet at this day is called the Oidhche Samhna, or the night of Samhan.
This solemnity was consecrated by the Druids, to the intercession of the living for the souls of those who had died the year preceding, or in the current year. For, according to their doctrine, Samhan called before him these souls, and passed them to the mansions of the blessed, or returned them to a re-existence here, as a punishment for their crimes. He was also called Bal-Sab or Lord of Death. It was probably this epithet which induced the commentator to call Samhan by the name of Ceisil, which, in modern Irish, means devil.
Samhan was also the Sun, or rather the image of the sun. This word is found in many Semitic languages: in Arabic, Schams, the sun; Hebrew, sms; Chaldean, smsa; Syrian, Schemscho; in Pehlvi, Schemsia; in Sanscrit, Hamsa, the sun. The Sun was the first object of worship of all the Heathens, either as Creator, or as an emblem or Shekinah of the Divinity. The attributes of Samhan seem at first contradictory, but they are not unusual amongst the Heathen Gods. With the Greeks, Dionysos, the good Demiurge, is identified with Hades. In Egypt, Osiris was the Lord of death; with the Scandinavians, Odin, the God beneficent, was, at the same time, king of the infernal regions. This deity was above all others whom we have named [in the preceding sections], but he was below the supreme being Baal. If Samhan were the Sun, as we see he was, he answers to Mithra of the Persians, who was the middle link between Oromasdes and Arimanius — between the Creator and the Destroyer, and was called the preserver.
Schelling says, the Irish doctrine was, that souls did not descend to the severe Zeus, (Pluto, the Jupiter of the Styx,) but that they ascended to the merciful Osiris. Such is the meaning of the Irish Samhan, who is a merciful judge, not deciding by his caprice, but holding his power from the God Supreme, of whom he is the image. In all this is a curious mixture of physical and moral doctrines.
I will leave as an exercise for the reader to count all the outright mistakes and obvious lapses in logic. That some Fundamentalist Christians should, to this very day, use such an abysmal example of obsolete scholarship — he thought Irish was a dialect of Hebrew, and the Celts descendents of Moses! — as a primary source for their anti-Halloween propaganda, shows just how desperate they are.
As I discuss at great length in The Real Origins of Halloween, the truth about trick or treating is a far cry from the horrific images “conjured” by Fundamentalists, (as in this Chick Publications tract “The Trick”). Rather than an ancient Satanic plot to kill or corrupt children, the American tradition of trick or treating is a modern custom invented by town councils, schoolboards and parents in the 1930s to keep their kids out of trouble. The great poisoned treats scare trotted out every year and exploited by Mr. Chick is, however, just another urban legend. Almost every actual example of booby-trapped Halloween treats has turned out to be a murder plot by a relative, not a malicious act by strangers.
One Christian teenager told me:
Probably the thing that makes Halloween so different is not that people act far differently (some minor increases in vandalism and rabble-rousing), but rather that it is so simply accepted. What makes my peers decide to egg somebody’s house on Halloween rather than another day? The fact that it is accepted and almost anticipated. And so they join the bandwagon, fearing less repercussions because of the “viable” defense, “Hey, anybody could’ve done it — all those weirdos out and everything.” How many Satanists go trick-or-treating vs. the number of high school kids smashing pumpkins? Common sense speaks for itself. I would personally say if Halloween is to survive as a non-controversial institution, we need to first clean up the simple and obvious criminal element. Without that, many so-called Christians would lose their leg to stand on. However, and I hope you agree, we (meaning the Biblically-based Chrisitian community vs. subscribers to other faiths) could discuss the underlying spiritual issues without the argument of increased criminal activity (supposedly incited by Pagans) twisting the issue. Besides it’s easier to discuss things coherently when your house isn’t TPed in the dark and you’re looking for a scapegoat.
Is Halloween an appropriate holiday for Christians to celebrate? I suppose that depends on which kind of Christians are asking. Conservative Christians, who often place far more emphasis on (the parts they like of) the “Old Testament,” than they do on (the parts they don’t like of) the “New Testament,” can simply point to the genuinely traditional Halloween customs of divination and communication with otherworldly spirits and dead ancestors, and say these activities are forbidden to them. Liberal Christians, who usually pay more attention to (the parts they like of) the “New” than to (the parts they don’t like of) the “Old Testament,” may come to different conclusions. Moderate Christians, of course, will be caught in the middle as usual. But no one, regardless of religion, should need to “bear false witness” (that is to say, tell lies) about Halloween, Neopagans, or indeed any other religious topic, in order to make a spiritual decision for him- or herself, or their children — the only people for whom they may have the right to make that decision.
By the way, here’s a useful tip for haunted house organizers from Michael Ward of Theatronics Engineering:
“As an theatrical consultant I have spent over 20 years helping people build ‘dark attractions’ (so named because they are in the dark). In that time I have been involved in raising over 5 million dollars for causes such as Jerrys Kids (M.S.), Special Olympics, Prevent Blindness, Make a Wish, Campus Life (Christian Youth Group), Jay Cees, and two high schools. Amid this rampage of evil doing, I have been approached many times by protestors and preachers who have tried to drive away our customers (thus driving down our charitable donations). I have tried to argue and debate, I have even tried to be polite and ask that they leave. Calling the law sometimes worked if we had any claim to the land we were on.
But I found the #1 solution. When they show up and start handing out fliers, I proudly proclaim that the fliers and comic books are worth $1.00 off at the door. It doesn’t cost the house much because the group usually stops giving them out right away. But they are usually besieged by the customers for the books. Every time they pack up and leave quickly.”
Don’t believe it? Here’s a quote (minus the all-caps shouting) from an email I received a couple of years ago:
“…just keep your mouth shut! and don’t ever try again to make those web pages! … You better erase your web pages as soon as possible otherwise you will be sick to death within two month. Two month! Remember this!”
Since I’m still alive, we know that this one illiterate “spiritual warrior” was sorely disappointed. Of course, so was the one who promised to pray me to death the year before… I get a half a dozen emails every year now, challenging me to battle them on the astral plane and promising to destroy me and all other Neopagans, Druids, Witches, etc., in the name of Jesus. Funny how there are more of us every year, despite the “spiritual warriors” and their supposedly inevitable victory over all of us Heathen…
If there are some of you reading this (or hearing it broadcast) who consider yourselves to be Christian Fundamentalists, but who do not approve of the behavior or words of those I’ve described here as representing Fundamentalism, I suggest you try doing one or more of the following:
- admonish your brethren rather than myself
- meditate upon what it is about Fundamentalism that makes it so easy to slide into anger, hatred, fear, and deceit in the name of Jesus (or Yahweh or Allah)
- consider changing your personal religious label to something lesss disreputable
- speak out in public against your fellow Christians who misrepresent their personal hatred and fear as the only “real” Christianity.
Don’t bother complaining to us Pagans — we’ve already heard every lame excuse in your Book. Witches, Druids, and other Neopagans are not responsible for some Christian Fundamentalists’ bizarre fantasies of who and what they think we are. We will no longer let them get away with committing or advocating hate crimes against us — and then whining that they’re the ones being persecuted because we’re allowed to exist and to celebrate our own holy days according to our own beliefs.
Other Christians may join the mother who told me, “I choose to believe the Bible principals verbatim, but I do not agree with everything my church leaders tell me as addendums. I require solid evidence.” I hope this essay, in conjunction with The Real Origins of Halloween, has provided just that kind of evidence. Christian leaders are, of course, free to discourage their followers from celebrating holidays that make them nervous or which they consider incompatible with their beliefs. However, in a time when Fundamentalist terrorists seek to destroy the very freedom of religion that has made America great, perhaps those pastors should also mention to their flocks that Christian preachers have no right to bear false witness against their neighbors, even if it will fill their churches and their bank accounts.