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Speculation around the bonfire on the origin of

WHEN I REFLECT on what a heretic really is, I can find
no other criterion than that we are all heretics in the eyes
of those who do not share our views." Sebatian Castellio

Long before the seasonal occasion was Christianized

with the Devil and his demonic company and called
Halloween, Samhain was a pastoral holiday. The
festival's primary concern was with animal and human life
and death, and not with the agrarian cycle per se
(Samhain falls between the autumnal equinox and the
winter solstice, long after the major harvesting has been

We know very little about Samhain. An ancient text refers

to the custom of putting out all the hearth fires in Ireland,
in favor of a single bonfire from which the hearth fires
were relit. What does that mean? Fire is of universal significance to man, giving us due cause to gather
around it to speculate. Some scholars opine that Samhain once involved a widespread practice on the
continent and in the isles of lighting bonfires on top of high places, where human and animal sacrifices
were then presumably performed. Since religion regulates and organizes the satisfaction of the basic
human need for food, defense, shelter, and procreation, the scholarly conjecture about Samhain does
not seem to be wide of the mark. We speak here, however, of the very early days when, for instance,
the head of an enemy was worth more than its weight in gold.

Be that as it may, Samhain is the Celtic New Year's Eve, a crucial time when livestock and the souls of
the dead can be led or come out of the cold winter winds to warm up and to get a bite to eat--food was
actually set out for the souls to eat. It was possible to commune with the dead at this critical juncture
because the present veil between the past and the future was extrem ely thin then. Looking forward, one
could also divine future events by various oracular means. Of particular interest was who would die
during the new year. Marriage and the weather were also very important concerns.

Since the Celtic priests, the Druids, who presided over the more formal aspects of the Celtic religion, did
not keep written records, we have insufficient information to draw many valid conclusions about the
Celtic beliefs. The literal evidence of the later Celtic folklore in the British isles are the interpretations
created by Christian monks many centuries after the Celtics reached their cultural prime. The
archeological remains of the original religion are scant and are from the Roman period. From this
paucity of original sources, together with the biased information provided by Roman and Christian
settlers, the modern enthusiasts including Celtic Pagans, Wiccans and others, have built up elaborate
and diverse sets of opinions and beliefs about the orig inal nature of the religion. Various reconstructions
have been cobbled together and declared to be authentic or traditional. Those who are not so sure admit
they know next to nothing about the original religion, yet they do the best they can with what is fairly
certain, admitting that the rest is an evolving myth supporting the progress of their religion.

Modern Celtic Pagans, who differentiate themselves from the modern Wiccans, seem to be more
conservative than the Wiccans. They are more oriented towards the family and the clan, which is, of
course the old human tradition. Druidism was the Celtic Pagan religion. We can thank Julius Ceasar for
much of what we know of the priests themselves, the Druids. A few authorities believe the Druids were
the European counterpart of the Indian Brahman caste. Druids regulated the sacrifices, judged disputes,
and steeped themselves in religion, philosophy, poetry and astronomy. The religion had many local gods
and goddesses, tute lary deities. To the best of my knowledge, no evidence of a definite pantheon has
been discovered--we are left with what appears to be a decentralized religion, perhaps eventually
organized according to upper, middle, and lower spheres or planes of existence. We know the dead
were prepared for an afterlife on a single Delightful Plain.

The lack of a definite traditional heritage and the subjection of original sources to later biased
interpretations gives modern Pagans, in their quest for certainty about ultimate matters, many occasions
for squabbles.

For instance, it was recently widely believed that "Samhain" was not only the name of the festival but
also the name of the lord of the dead. (1) Christians allegedly said that Samhain collected together all
the wicked souls who died during the year and who were destined to inhabit animals--according to
Ceasar as interpreted, the Celts did believe in transmigration of souls, at least to humans. However,
Pagans now insist there w as no such god of the dead called Samhain. Their denial has become a very
common error, for all that can be said for sure is there is yet no evidence of a lord of the dead called
Samhain. The Pagans may be in for a big archeological surprise, just as the experts on the Delphic
oracle, who said archeology proved there was no natural gas for the pythia to get hysterical on, just
recently had to eat crow when archeologists dug deeper. Therefore I here opine that there was, in at
least one locality, a Lord of the Dead called Samhain, a god whose totem was the bull and whose
consort was the sacred cow of plenty. Indeed, I believe that witches, presumably rendered tolerant from
the sad history of intolerance they were subjected to, will not object that I hereby declare, with the power
invested in me by a man's intuition, Samhain to be the Lord of the Pagan Dead for this New Year.

Speaking of post-modern witches, Wiccans claim to have their roots in several traditions including Celtic
Paganism. However, they are more liberal and individualistic. Considerable controversy exists over
whether witches ever existed at all except as defined by the persecution of those diverse individuals
adjudged heretical and/or hysterical, mostly women who were unjustly convicted of abominable
practices such as consorting with the Devil or his demonic crew projected by the Christian religion.
Some of the accused were convinced by torture and other persuasive means, hence they confessed to
witchcraft. Sometimes women were the ones bringing forth the charges. Be that as it may, Wiccans
disassociate themselves from such absurd diabolical conceits as well as from the fear and hatred of
nature and of women. Wiccan witches are in the continuous process of finding themselves and the most
appropriate religious practices.

A simple Samhain celebration for modern Pagans might be to light a candle, commemorate departed
friends, consider the past year and plan the next one. A bit of food or drink might be set out for the living
and the dead. In other words, it is a contemplative New Year's celebration.

Although many Christians will beg to differ and even damn me to hell for saying so, it seems to me that
Halloween is really a holiday created by Christians from the dualistic aspects of its Middle Eastern
religion pasted onto Samhain.

The Celts did not have the Judeo-Christian devils or Satan ruling over demons: they had faeries who
were generally friendly yet who could act up from time to time and even be downright evil if
disrespected. As far as we know, neither did the Celts have a good heaven and a horrible hell: they had
Tir nan Og or some otherwise named place of eternal youth and happiness. Nonetheless, the faeries,
even when unprovoked, might get rather rambunctious and unruly at Samhain, a crisis where the usual
laws are suspended and chaos is most likely to have its sway. At least some folks say so, and they
claim fae ries went madly about in the night for the treats laid out--if no treats were there, tricks, or
practical jokes, were sure to follow. Rumour has it that some folks dared to imitate the faeries. In other
words, our conservative, traditional Celts may have had a heck of a lot of fun, but they did not raise hell
until the Christians arrived with devils and Christian demons, with Satan and his beloved witches.

Instead of castigating Christians for their import business, we take a sympathetic look at the synthesis of
Samhain and Halloween, giving due regard for the virtues of the Christian ingredients.

Christianity substituted All Hallows Day for the Celtic festival. The Church observed some of the Celtic
practices with a permissive eye, an eye that served its purposes and belief system, and it misinterpreted
the Celtic practices accordingly. The Devil and his brand of demons were brought into play: that is not
such a bad thing, for Satan is a foil, bringing out, by way of contrast, the goodness of God. The Church
had fun making fun of the grotesque Devil and his ghastly caricatured associates. After all, Death, the
Devil and his diabolical company is a farce compared to the God of Love and Eternal Life. Satan is a
joke when God is nigh. Anyway, what is God good for if not for ridding us of the fear of death?

As for the souls of the dearly departed, nothing can be done for them, for they are already where they
belong. Furthermore, the ancestors are not to be worshiped, but remembered. At least that is the
theology if not the practice. Anyway, one might have a tooth or a piece of the femur of an apostle or a
saint tucked away for safe keeping. A hair from Jesus' head would do much better, but the gnostics
would say it is an illusion.

Consider here a more recent practice, the feast partaken of in a sacred charnel house with skulls and
bones stacked high as a grim reminder of the vanity of this life compared to the joyful substance of the
eternal one. There is great consolation in knowing that one dies only once, and, if he or she has faith,
then the desitiny is eternal life, unification with God. Therefore, it is foolish to pray for the dead, to cater
to them, to worship them in any way: the saved and the damned are where they belong. We might,
however, "commemorate" the dead. Of course, the authorities do make certain concessions and must
have their fees therefrom, so the old practice of praying for the dead and worshiping ancestors
continued in a fashion. But before we condemn hypocrites for their hypocrisy we should examine our

In any event, looking at the lighter side of religion and its elevated theology, many Christians did get and
still get a legitimate kick out of Halloween. They have a hell of a lot of fun for very good reasons.

Indeed, we should reiterate here that those who took Satan and his cohort too seriously and unwittingly
exalted Satan over the God of Love, tortu red and burned many women and and a few men called
witches. Those human sacrifices practiced by both Catholics and Protestants eventually included even
those who confessed faith in the same God but who disagreed with the authoritative dogma.

Again, to remind ourselves of the holocausts, heretics (choosers) were usually accused of engaging in
reprehensible acts with Satan or with others at his bidding. It seems that women were especially prone
to being possessed by Satan and his unclean spirits. Having lost the power to cast out demons and to
send the afflicted on her way alive, the church authorities incinerated the demon by bonfire and sent the
poor witch's purified soul to heaven, providing that she confessed. In their need to conform rather than
get the hell beat out of them, many women believed in witchcraft and approved of the holocaustic
bonfire process, just as many women approve of and aid and abet their own religious and secular
persecution to this very day.

The foregoing reiteration demonstrates that we must maintain a sense of humor about so-called evil
spirits when we approach our bonfire. If we approach it in good humor and with self-restraint, we shall
be warm and well fed. If in our vanity we become too serious about our spiritual pursuits, there shall be
hell all around. This is something for every good cook and his descendent the priest to consider.

It is said that, if a candle is lit on Samhain, then the future can be foretold by meditating on its light. I
wonder if my candle shall be blown out during the new year, and if not, whither its flame shall flicker, and
whether it shall be dim or bright. And by virtue of my lucubrations, if I do live through the new year, I
hope to adumbrate some portion of that truth in which all souls have their warmth and light, for there it
appears that, despite our differences, we burn as one fire fueled by one spirit lighting many lives. May
we live and prosper in the ligh t. May that pure fire forever flame in heaven, lighting every hearth and

"We do not testify our own faith by burning another, but only by our readiness to be burned on behalf of
our faith." Sebastian Castellio
(1) Extant Celtic text mentions 'Lord' Samhain twice; 'Samhain' was evidently not the popular name of a
Celtic god or lord.