It’s that time of year again, when Wiccans and other Pagans have to counter the silly and, sometimes, hurtful lies and misconceptions surrounding one of our holiest days. Some Christians feel impelled to step up and call us and our holiday “Satanic” and accuse us of doing horrible things. Even folks who don’t mean us ill believe some things that are just not true. So let me, a Wiccan for 35 years, guide you through the minefield of myths, misconceptions and outright lies about my favorite holiday.
Halloween is known by most Pagans as “Samhain.” That is not pronounced “Sam Hane” but, rather, “Sow” (as in mommy pig) – “in.” Samhain is the start of the dark half of the year. It is, according to most Celtic scholars, the Celtic New Year and most modern Pagans (including Wiccans and Druids) celebrate it in this capacity. Samhain is one of the four Great Fire Festivals, along with Oimelc, Beltane & Lughnasadh. These fall on the first day of November, February, May and August, respectively.
One of the things we do at Samhain is remember those who have passed on in the previosu 12 months. Along with ancestors, they are often honored on the Samhain altar. Sometimes, a “Dumb Supper” is held to honor the dead, with all participants eating silently — hence, “Dumb.”
It’s very safe to hold on to myths but, often, it can be harmful; both to one’s self and to others. The following are some myths, misconceptions and downright lies about Halloween/Samhain:
Myth: Halloween is a Satanic holiday. Pagans, not being Christian, do not acknowledge any “Satan” or devil. It simply is not a part of the belief system. It is important to remember that the gods of the old religion become the devils of the new. This is exactly what happened when Christianity supplanted pagan faiths; any old god was painted as a demon. This deliberate and literal demonization continued into this century when people who see an image of Pan call it a devil. As for actual Satanists, they are not what they appear to be.
Myth: Animals and humans are sacrificed on Halloween. A vicious and harmful lie, still repeated by both well-meaning and oppositional sources. Every year, we hear the scare stories about how blacks cats get sacrificed. The ASPCA has fed into this myth and many shelters will not adopt out black cats close to Halloween. But there is no good evidence to support it. As for human sacrifice, there is no evidence, according to the FBI, of any ritual Satanic sacrifice at Halloween or any other time.
Myth: blond blue-eyed children are kidnapped for Halloween sacrifice. This is a sub-myth of the human sacrifice one. Urban legend that it is, it still has the power to frighten parents. But, as with any human sacrifice, there is no evidence to support it.
Myth: Pagans commit crimes on Samhain as part of their “Satanic” activity. This is one of the oldest ones in the book. Such claims have been made about pretty much every religion all through history. These lies have always been used to slander minority groups. There is, in some places, an uptick in crime on Halloween: it depends on the city, the day Halloween falls upon and various other conditions. But there is no evidence that Pagans are any more likely to commit crimes than any other faith. As for Pagans being more likely to commit crimes, a break-down of prison inmates — the only kind of numbers we have for this — doesn’t even have Pagans as a blip on it.
Myth: Samhain was the Celtic God of the Dead. The modern version myth goes back to Fundamentalist and tract publisher, Jack Chick. Chick’s company publishes these miniature comics in an effort to “spread the Gospel.” Unfortunately, they spread slander and lies along with it. One of the books, “Spellbound?,” depicts ancient Druids kidnapping a “virgin princess” to sacrifice to their God of the Dead, Samhain. It would be laughable if it weren’t taken seriously by so many. Samhain may have been a minor character in a Celtic myth, but there was NO Celtic “God of the Dead.”
Myth: Trick or treat was a Druidic custom. The modern custom of children dressing up in costume and going from house-to-house for candy is a recent tradition. It was dreamed up in the 1930s by various town councils, school boards and parents as a way to keep kids out of trouble (like egging and other pranks). There was a tradition in the Middle Ages of begging for “soul cakes” on All Souls Day (Nov.2) in some Celtic countries. The costumed celebrating also dates back to Medieval times when it took place on Samhain as well as on May Day and Yule. But trick-or-treat, as we know it, is not a paleopagan tradition.
Myth: Beware of tainted candy. No matter how often this urban myth is debunked, it still pops up every year. This year, I have seen warnings of Ecstasy being passed off as candy with the usual hysteria. This is another well-meaning myth with no evidence to support it. The idea may have come from the case of Timothy O’Bryan, who was poisoned by his father with a cyanide-laced Pixy Stick. For insurance money. However, there are no known cases of poisoned candy being given out by strangers.
Myth: Children’s Halloween activity is somehow linked to the practice of satisfying an ancient Celtic God. As we’ve noted, there is no link between Halloween and Satanic activity. How children dressing up in costumes and gathering candy could have any effect upon a spurious Celtic god has yet to be adequately explained. Therefore, there is no reason to keep any child from enjoying the holiday.
Myth: Sex offenders hunt for victims on Halloween. While this may seem like something that could be true, studies show that it’s not. Livescience.com notes that this myth is fueled by “alarmist news reports and police warnings.” In some states, registered sex offenders are not allowed to open their door to trick-or-treaters or even have to spend the night in jail or a counseling session. A 2014 study, however, shows that the assumption behind these laws that sex offenders will use Halloween as an opportunity is simply misguided. They found no significant increase in sex crimes on or around Halloween.
Myth: El Dia de Los Muertos is the Mexican version of Halloween. This misconception is included because of the increasing popularity of the Day of the Dead among non-Latinos. This holiday has nothing in common with Halloween. It is a day when Mexicans honor their ancestors. They do this by holding picnics at cemeteries, decorating graves and offering love and honor to the dead. It is about reflecting upon one’s own mortality.
No doubt there are Fundamentalists who will say that this list is, itself, a lie. To them, the very idea that Pagans, Wiccans and Druids are allowed to celebrate our holy day legally in America is outrageous. Why, it’s persecution against them, they say. To them I offer the words of the late Druidic scholar, Issac Bonewits:
Witches, Druids, and other Neopagans are not responsible for some Christian Fundamentalists’ bizarre fantasies of who and what they think we are. We will no longer let them get away with committing or advocating hate crimes against us — and then whining that they’re the ones being persecuted because we’re allowed to exist and to celebrate our own holy days according to our own beliefs.
Wishing you a Happy Halloween, a hallowed Samhain, a festive El Dia de los Muertos and a blessed All Saints and All Souls Day.
Halloween Errors and Lies
Halloween by Silver Ravenwolf
Featured Image by the author