Unmasking Halloween: Is it just harmless fun?
- Thursday, October 20, 2005
The Roman general Agrippa first built a Pantheon (temple for all of their gods) in 27 B.C. It was rebuilt by the Roman Emperor Hadrain in about A.D. 100 and dedicated primarily to “Cybele” the goddess of nature. Since it was a Pantheon, many other deities were also worshipped there Thus, the Pantheon became the principal place of worship for the Romans and the place where they went to honor and pray for their dead.
When Rome fell to the invading barbarian horde of Gauls, they, too, overran the Pantheon, along with everything else. Gradually, it fell into disrepair. In A.D. 607 it was recaptured by the Emperor Phocas, who gave it as a gift to Pope Boniface IV. Boniface then re-consecrated and dedicated the Pantheon to the Virgin Mary.
So, from A.D. 609, it was used as a Christian church (Santa Marie Rotunda). It was an easy—but tragic—transition from ‘Cybele’, goddess of nature, to Mary, mother of Jesus. Every May, a major celebration was held in the Pantheon to the Virgin Mary.
Since the Church was embraced by the Roman Emperor Constantine and made the official State Religion (Edict of Milan in A.D. 313), there has been a constant battle to keep the Church free from the influence of the pagan culture around her. Too often, as history has proven, while the Church had sought to “Christianize” the culture, she has more often been enculturated by her pagan surroundings!
Thus, syncretism (the reconciling of differing beliefs in religion) of alien and hostile ideologies has always been the great enemy of the faith. There are few more tragic examples than Halloween.
During the Medieval Period, or Dark Ages, the Church had sought to increase its influence over many pagan practices—sometimes more successfully than others. Many pagan superstitions and practices that the Church had sought to eradicate began to reappear in Europe during this period. Involvement in witchcraft again became widespread.
One of the most important aspects of witchcraft was the number of celebrations held each year called “Witches’ Sabbaths.” The most important of those was known as the “High Sabbath,” or the “Black Sabbath,” which occurred on October 31st.
It was generally a night of feasting and revelry. It was that feast that gave us many of the common paraphernalia of our Halloween like witches on broomsticks, black cats, death’s skulls and pumpkins. So much of our Halloween folklore today stems directly from this High Witches’ Sabbath that was celebrated in Europe during the Dark Ages.
There is one more tributary of the historic stream that feeds Halloween. It is the one from which the name “Halloween” itself comes.
All Saint’s Day:
Very early in the life of the Church, there was a movement to honor and reverence the lives of certain church leaders and martyrs of the faith. Gradually, they were put in a special category and called “saints.” The Church father Chrysostom tells us that as early as the 4th century, the Eastern Church celebrated a festival in honor of the saints
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