All Souls’ Day

Today ends the period known as Hallowtide, which began with the vigil of Hallowe’en and celebrates all the faithful departed.

You might have seen little witches and skeletons wandering the streets in search of goodies, or heard ministers of a religious order condemning them, and the whole thing, as evil.

Actually, in the spirit of Samhain, the Celtic festival celebrated at around this time, dressing up and wandering from house to house is perfectly acceptable, although it’s true they should probably be reciting verse or something to prove that they aren’t simply bad spirits. And dressing up is an established method of tricking such bad spirits into leaving one be – it’s one reason why a bride is accompanied by bridesmaids: to confuse any spirits wanting to jinx the happy couple.

And for all those frothing at the mouth about Christianity stealing a pagan festival (Samhain) to encourage conversions, it’s not so cut and dried as all that. The Celtic Church celebrated Hallowmas in April. The early Latin Church appears to have borrowed, temporarily, an old Roman festival in May, and the Eastern Orthodox Church continues to use the Sunday following Pentecost. And the Church doesn’t celebrate Hallowtide in the accepted manner. Requiem Masses are more in the Catholic style, with incense and chants.

Hallowtide at its current dates was confirmed in the ninth century by Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne, at the request of Pope Gregory IV, although it had been instigated a century previously by Gregory III, who wanted to suppress the Roman festival. It was commonly celebrated at the beginning of November by the Germanic tribes east of the Rhine and in the British Isles, and it seems more likely that the Popes were merely officially recognising something which the people did. It may or may not have had something to do with lingering pagan beliefs, although there is a Jewish tradition of praying for the dead, and in the early days, Christianity was a cult of Judaism.

For the ministers out there, if you’re so worried, the children are probably actually the best protected from evil spirits. Hidden, if you like, in plain sight by being dressed as them.

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