Posts Tagged Halloween

95 Theses revisited- Reformation Day

Wittenburg Door

Perhaps I am thinking about the wrong things altogether on October thirty-first.  Though not a Lutheran, I am surely a daughter of the Reformation, who is privileged to read the Bible in her own mother tongue, to rest her faith on scripture alone, and who believes that when she dies she will go directly into the presence of her Redeemer.

Perhaps on October thirty-first I should spend a moment in thankfulness for a German Priest who, on October 31, 1517 stood against the powers of his Church and declared Christians free from the sale of Papal pardons and indulgences and the fear of Purgatory.

I had never actually read Luther’s 95 Theses but this morning I looked up an English Translation- and extracted a handful for this blog.

36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon.

62. The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.

63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last.

64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.

75. To think the papal pardons so great that they could absolve a man even if he had committed an impossible sin and violated the Mother of God — this is madness.

76. We say, on the contrary, that the papal pardons are not able to remove the very least of venial sins, so far as its guilt is concerned.

81. This unbridled preaching of pardons makes it no easy matter, even for learned men, to rescue the reverence due to the pope from slander, or even from the shrewd questionings of the laity.

82. To wit: — “Why does not the pope empty purgatory, for the sake of holy love and of the dire need of the souls that are there, if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a Church? The former reasons would be most just; the latter is most trivial.”

84. Again: — “What is this new piety of God and the pope, that for money they allow a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God, and do not rather, because of that pious and beloved soul’s own need, free it for pure love’s sake?”

I have long thrilled to Luther’s defense at the Diet of Worms

“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.”

Happy Reformation Day everyone!

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Halloween Night

Well, after writing a series of Halloween/Samhein blogs and exploring the subject I  found myself still ambivalent.  I could make do with Thanksgiving to celebrate Harvest and Good Friday/Easter to celebrate Christ’s victory over death.  I don’t miss Halloween the slightest when we are in Africa, and I look at the macabre aspects with revulsion.

And yet, I used to love handing out Halloween treats as a teenager.  I enjoyed the excuse to costume up, and yes, carving Jack-o-lanterns, when they were nothing more than a fun craft with pumpkin pie to follow.

If I ever get into a real life conversation about Halloween with someone other than another ambivalent Christian, I think I will explore the fear of death and the answer of the resurrection.  I think our culture swings between an unhealthy denial and unhealthy defiant fascination with death.

So what did I do with the day itself?

This year the grocery store I shop at gifted me a free box of Halloween mini bars for buying a generous load of groceries. It was unexpected.  I hadn’t heeded the coupons, or shopped intentionally, but when I finished the clerk looked at my total, pulled a box of candy bars out from under the counter and said, “Do you have a coupon?  I think you qualify, oh wait, I have an extra coupon here for you.”

I looked at the box, did not have the strength of character to turn down her kindness, and came home with the chocolate.  Tonight I left on the kitchen light and the light over the side entry and handed out treats to  exactly three door bell rings- “Two angels with halos, a little boy, sans costume but sucking a lollipop and holding on to his mother’s hand, and later, after it started to rain, three  pretty moist junior teens, friendly and having a good time.

Oh, and I kept the cat in, and parked the car in the garage.

And I prayed for a friend who sent a message this evening that he has been called to his mother’s side. She is doing poorly and the diagnosis is pancreatic cancer.

I know too that she is one who also says,

“And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.”

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Facing Our Fears

Sorry, but this topic keeps haunting me.

Yesterday I went to to the Post Office, located in the back corner of a Drugstore, to get a postal order. As I walked out, I slowed in repulsed fascination with the over-sized skulls leering at me from the shelves, and the equally grotesque smaller ones  perched on phony RIP grave markers.  I fingered the flimsy “sexy” costumes, titled “For the Evil Ball”

For eleven months of the year our culture works hard at denying death.   If it happens we pretty it up as much as possible. We may even feel awkward about how to express sympathy when a death has occurred.  Then every October the pendulum swings far to the sinister.

These are not new human concerns.   Here’s Job, followed by a video clip, only for the strong of stomach. It will tweak the memories of my generation (I can, shockingly enough, remember my mother singing it.)  The singer’s final comments are telling.

If the only home I hope for is the grave,
if I spread out my bed in darkness,
if I say to the grave, ‘You are my father,’
and to the worm, ‘You are my mother’ or ‘You are my sister,’
where, then, is my hope?
Who can see any hope for me?
Will hope go down to the gates of death?
Will we go down together into the dust?”

I know that my Defender lives,
and in the end he will stand upon the earth.
Even after my skin has been destroyed,
in my flesh I will see God.
I will see him myself;
I will see him with my very own eyes.
How my heart wants that to happen!
-New Century Version.

For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
And though after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:
Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.

-King James Version

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The gods set the terms

I’ve been circling and circling my topic.  I am working towards engaging Samhain and Halloween, Catholic answers to interacting with the dead, and the whole question of what awaits us at life’s exit point.

To deal with them I would like to first consider the topic of sacrifice.  I think that for the average Canadian the term  “to sacrifice” has commonly come to mean  “giving something up,” or  “denying yourself some good thing” in order to achieve a greater result.

However I would like to go back to our roots, where to make a sacrifice means  “offering something at cost to a deity”. In Nkonya sacrifices are offered either in hope to obtain a boon, or in fear to appease an offended deity.

Our Celtic ancestors, and many others world-wide  have shared and do share this view.

In making any sacrifice a key point is that the god or ancestor approached specifies the required sacrifice, it is not left to the discretion of the supplicant.   In Nkonya the priest of a shrine will act as the intermediary between the shrine god and the offerer and must be consulted in advance if the correct sacrifice is to be made- whether wine, or a chicken, a sheep, or a goat.  He will then offer the sacrifice in the prescribed manner.

There are many boons sought: Success in business, or in exams, on the playing field, or in conceiving a child.

However the most urgent sacrifices are made to appease an offended deity, who will kill you if you do not offer the necessary sacrifice posthaste.  This may be because you have directly broken a taboo, or it may be because you have stolen a neighbour’s chicken and he in turn has called on a deity to arbitrate the case and kill  the offender.  An honorable person who has invoked such a curse will announce his actions so that you have a chance to make it right and live.  Not everyone is honorable.

This brings us to the Christian view.  We acknowledge  only one deity,  God Most High, the Creator God. He is all-powerful, unchanging,totally other. He also takes the initiative, announcing himself as ‘I Am” in a burning bush, and entering human existence as the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

This is God, of whom Jesus said,

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.
But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.”

At this season of the year when the grass of the field turns brown, leaves fall from the trees, and the days grow short and cold,  we build bonfires against the coming Winter, listen to the lowing of the penned cattle, and consider sacrifice. The first question is, “What sacrifice does the Most High God, the Creator, the Lord of the Harvest,  require?

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Halloween not Samhain- The case for Masquerading

Guest written by – Th’Plonk, who stuffed it into my email box this morning.

Halloween is not Samhain. Samhain is a very self-aware, very pagan holiday to observe the thin boundary between the dead and the living. It may be the origin of Halloween, but I can only think of perhaps one person I know who celebrates it. And she’s my Nemesis and therefore doesn’t count. Halloween bears as much resemblance to Samhain as Santa Claus Season bears to Christmas. Halloween as celebrated by the masses is not self aware, and is less of a holiday than a carnival of shadows and mortality.

It’s that carnival where people dress up as the things they fear. Most of these fears are buried under day-to-day living, and people would not admit to them in the daylight, but they bring them out one night a year when they dress up…

…as Werewolves. We struggle on a daily basis – both Christians and pagans – with anger, lust, greed, and a hundred other animal urges. Sometimes it feels that intellect and conscience have less control over what we do than the phases of the moon. What if one day, the urges took control of us? The werewolf story is scary because it’s attractive – giving in to the animal nature of temptation seems, well, natural. Except for the part where you maul your friends, family, and yourself with your destructive actions.

…as Zombies. There are almost eight hundred thousand bodies in this city, but one knows only a few of them. Many people feel alone in a sea of blank faces. The pressures of work and culture force us to conform. And throughout the mass culture is the unmistakable smell of decay. The zombie story is about you and the few people who you actually know hanging on to your identity in the shambling, shuffling, unthinking, unfeeling horde. What if you can’t hold on? What if someone you love for their uniqueness becomes infected? What if you give in? What if the city eats you? It’s scary.

…as Vampires. A lot of people feel lonely and dead inside, with a terrible hunger to be loved. If you could just stop caring about anyone else, you could simply suck the life out of people. You’d have power over them, and no one would hurt you. But wouldn’t be real love, and you’d still be hungry for love and appreciation all the time. In addition, your victims who you exploit would find themselves lonely and dead inside, unable to open themselves up to a trusting relationship, exploiting their friends and lovers in return. I’ve noticed that stories about vampires are only ever becoming more and more popular these days, and I think it’s because with the collapse of the family vampiric “love” is endemic. It’s a worrying thought.

…as Demons and Witches, as Freaks, Cripples, and Weirds, as Ghosts and Skeletons. As Criminals and as Cops. And because Halloween is unregulated and unexamined, some people end up a morbid admiration and obsession for their fears. The Goth subculture basically tries to have Halloween year round because it feels more real to them. [And because they’re a bunch of silly angst-ridden middle class teenagers who imagine no-one understands them.] And there is Samhain and the occult and of course there are all those people who love to use the masks of a carnival as an excuse for drugs, sex, and debauchery. I’m sure the devil has a field day.

But the core of a carnival is facing your fear, bringing it out into the open, dressing it up, and taking it over the top, making it ridiculous. I think that’s what most people are doing on Halloween, if they would stop to think about it. It’s a search for catharsis. At Halloween, perhaps if only on a subconscious level, some people who ordinarily admit no weakness dress up as the scared, vulnerable, mortal men and women they know they are. And if the Christians are all abstaining from Halloween, well, there will be someone else there to talk with about it.

If I were serious about Halloween, I might dress up as an AntiVampire. I’d put on a tunic and a crown of thorns and I’d go around with a loaf of bread and some wine and offer people my own blood to drink and flesh to eat and tell them that the new life it gives them will enable them to pick up their cross and die to the world in order to truly live, which in its own awe inspiring way is scarier than all the freaks and monsters combined. But it’s a bit too serious and a bit too sacred, and I think one or two people might take it the wrong way.

So I’m going to go as a Mad Scientist, that archetype of technological fear, who searches for truth but finds madness, and I’m going to laugh a crazy laugh and break the world trying to fix it. And I’m going to be friendly and I’m going to have fun, because that’s the other thing carnivals are for. And if you pray for me, I might be a witness too, in the carnival of fears and shadows where Jesus wants to meet his lost children.

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The Days of the Dead

(What do the dead want?  Part II)

I must give credit to the Catholic Church for at least recognizing the human need to address the matter of death and those who have died.  It was not by chance that Hallow ‘en, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day migrated comfortably to follow and impinge on Samhain.

But is the Church’s solution adequate or scriptural? Can we answer the challenge of the Celts by  devoting All Hallow’s Eve into mocking the powers of evil? What about entreating saints to advocate for us on All Saints Day? Can we enter into the collect of the day
[That the prayers of all the saints will bring us forgiveness for our sin]

Father, all-powerful and ever-living God,
today we rejoice in the holy men and women
of every time and place.
May their prayers bring us your forgiveness and love.

Should All Souls Day be spent praying the departed out of Purgatory?

Can we put our spiritual weight behind the Benedictine Collect for All Souls Day

We suppliants, O Lord,
pour forth our prayers
for the souls of Thy servants and handmaids,
that Thou wouldst mercifully pardon
whatsoever they have committed
through human frailty
and graciously bring their sufferings to an end.
Through Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

If we abandon the teachings of our ancestors  and substitute those which feed into some bizarre extensions, are we any better off?

I found one site  supporting the “Lady of Medjugorje”  which gave a message purportedly from the “Queen of Heaven” saying,

“Concerning Purgatory: “There are many souls in Purgatory. There are also persons who have been consecrated to God – some priests, some Religious. Pray for their intentions, at least the “Lord’s Prayer”, the “Hail Mary”, and the “Glory Be” seven times each, and the Creed. I recommend it to you. There is a large number of souls who have been in Purgatory for a long time because no one prays for them.”

Humm? Would you mind quoting Biblical chapter and verse support for this?

If , in addition, pagan  practices are white-washed and assimilated as part of church tradition- doesn’t havoc result?  Consider for instance, “The Days of the Dead” as celebrated in Mexico.  There, ancient Celtic traditions, minimally Christianized met Mayan customs and the goddess Mictecacihuatl (Lady of the Dead) who presided over Aztec harvest rituals.  The resulting mish-mash is fascinating to an anthropologist but hardly endorses New Testament teachings.

As we seek for answers that engage  and do not destroy cultures, that speak Christ’s peace to fear, and bring light to darkness, it is worth considering Christ’s account of the Rich Man and the beggar Lazarus. Luke 16:19-31

A righteous and an unrighteous man both die.  Both have an after-life  existence.  Lazarus rests in peace with his godly ancestors as he “reclines on Abraham’s bosom”.  The Rich man is isolated in Hades, a place of torment. He is divided from Lazarus by an impassible void. He cannot help himself or contact his remaining brothers.  Lazarus is also prevented from taking a message back to the living- Abraham says that a messenger from beyond the grave would accomplish nothing. They already have the Scriptures to guide them.

Based on choices made in life, and irrevocable in death Lazarus and the Rich Man fare differently.  Their status can no longer be amended.  Neither of them seem to  have a further role in the world they have left.

Lazarus has reached a place of content and rest. There is nothing necessary for family members to add to it.   The Rich man is in torment but has passed beyond the ability of even Abraham  to help. In addition, he cannot return to warn, much less to harm, those left behind.

We need to weigh these words of Christ  in relation to those we mourn, and in relation to our journey to the end of this life.

Part III to come- It’s time to turn to the positives.

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What do the dead want?

Part One

I realize I was a bit precipitous in dismissing Samhain, after extracting Thanksgiving. In fact, I fell into a error common to those addressing the issues of cultural change.  I dismissed- out of hand- a driving human need  that the festival  addresses. We all have a felt  need to remember those who have died and perhaps to have an assurance that we too will not be forgotten after our deaths.

It is certain that those of us alive wish to leave something behind that will continue to influence, or impress people.  We are reluctant to die and in most instances hold on to this present existence tenaciously. It is not surprising then that many cultures assume that after death the “dead” will continue to want to exert influence on the world they left behind, and that they will hanker for the life they have lost.

In Nkonya you first assume that the dead desire to reach the abode of the previously deceased and join the ancestors. Witches, and murderers are denied this and their spirits are thought to wander unhappily between the world of the living and the dead.  Those who reach the abode of the ancestors continue to influence the living.  They have power to do good. However they are somewhat capricious and must be placated with sacrifices, and by observing taboos so that they will not be offended. Thus their power to do good is balanced by their ability to cause sickness and death.  It also follows that marriage engagements and joyful events should not be put on a day dedicated to them because of their propensity to meddle jealously.

In the Celtic tradition, putting a candle in the window to show the way home, or putting out food, and singing songs for the departed, also shows our beliefs that the departed have a desire to partake again of  “the real world”

There is also a widespread human belief that those who have departed, having gone to a spirit existence have also gained knowledge of the future.   We know that death destroys the physical body because we can eyeball it’s destruction. Perhaps, since they are now incorporeal  we view them as having escaped the space-time continuum. We lump them with the fairy or spirit world.

Given this universal hunger to remember our dead, and to be remembered, we do need to consider the Christian answer because our hope for what is beyond the portals of death is unique.

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