Posts Tagged Samhain

The God who weeps

All Souls Day- William Bougereau

(What do the dead want- Part III)

How do we answer Samhain, and All Souls Day?

We respond with Christ- the one sufficient reply to all facets of our fear. Specifically he answers our anxiety for the well-being of those who have passed through the portal of Death. He is the first born from the dead- the one who has entered and returned from a world into which we as yet only peer dimly, all the while cringing back from the doorstep.

Christ was God made man, who wept with Mary over the death of her brother Lazarus, so that those watching said, “Look how he loved him.” He was the one who went with her to the graveyard. He is the one who understands and enters our grief when a loved one dies.

He was God made man, who said to Martha,

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

He stood at burial vault of a man four days dead, had them roll away the stone and commanded,

“Lazarus, come out!”
“Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Christ was God, made man, who turned from the triumph of the risen Lazarus, and almost before the grave clothes were unwound, set his face like a flint and moved on to Jerusalem and Golgotha.

” He humbled himself
and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!”

Christ was the sacrifice, the lamb slain before the foundation of the world: the only propitiation acceptable to the Creator, the offended deity.

No wonder the writer to Hebrews begins with this exultation:

” In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,
but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (NIV)


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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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The Value of a Sacrifice

There are some stories that stay with you.  I remember being told one by a Ghanaian friend.

A certain business man wanted to bring his business success so he acquired a small shrine, an object of spiritual power.  He was assured that it  asked only that a libation of pure water be poured to it from time to time.  His business started to grow but soon the shrine requested palm wine in return for it’s help. Subsequently it asked for local strong drink, and eventually imported schnapps. He brought what was asked for. The business prospered.

One day the spirit of the shrine asked for the blood of a chicken, and then sometime after, the sacrifice of a sheep.  Business boomed.  One memorable day it demanded the sacrifice of a cow.  The man complied.  After all, he had the money now.

At last came the day when the shrine asked for the life of his youngest child.  The business man recoiled, stunned.  He refused.

And, said my Ghanaian friend, matter-of-factly, “He went bankrupt.”

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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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Samhain Celebrations

How does one redeem a festival?  Can it be redeemed?

We are coming up to Samhain.  This was one of the principal festivals of the Celtic calender.  In part it was a harvest festival.  |People believed that all crops had to be harvested by this date or left in the field lest the fairy folk bring ill-fortune.  It was also the time when animals were slaughtered for the winter. Of course, slaughtered animals were sacrificed to the gods, even though, as in most cultures the majority of the meat was for human consumption.

But the festival was more than a harvest celebration.

Wikipedia says

“According to Celtic lore, Samhain is a time when the boundaries between the world of the living and the world of the dead become thinner, allowing spirits and other supernatural entities to pass between the worlds to socialize with humans. It is the time of the year when ancestors and other departed souls are especially honored. . . Often a meal will be prepared of favorite foods of the family’s and community’s beloved dead, a place set for them at the table, and traditional songs, poetry and dances performed to entertain them. A door or window may be opened to the west and the beloved dead specifically invited to attend. Many leave a candle or other light burning in a western window to guide the dead home. Divination for the coming year is often done, whether in all solemnity or as games for the children. The more mystically inclined may also see this as a time for deeply communing with the deities, especially those whom the lore mentions as being particularly connected with this festival.

For the Wiccan community this is “one of the eight annual festivals, often referred to as ‘Sabbats, observed as part of the Wiccan Wheel of the Year. It is considered by most Wiccans to be the most important of the four ‘greater Sabbats’.”

The Christian answer to Halloween is to keep the harvest festival of Thanksgiving Day. We return thanks not to our ancestors or “the god’s,” but  to God Most High for the harvest.   This is true whether it comes from our own garden and animals or indirectly through the grocery store.

I believe that after celebrating Thanksgiving we have sucked any good out of Samhain.  Our dead are safely with Christ, they need no further care from us.  Furthermore we are forbidden any attempt to contact or communicate with them.  As for the powers of darkness, Christ is the light of the world and victor over them.  We need not buy them off nor grant them any glory.

I believe we should leave Halloween strictly untouched and unhonored and unmasked.  If anything at all we should gather to pray for those still prisoners of the kingdom of darkness.

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