By Theresa Willingham
At its core, Samhain is about the night when the old God dies and the crone Goddess mourns him deeply for the next six weeks. The popular image of her as the old Halloween hag stirring her cauldron comes from the Celtic belief that all dead souls return to her cauldron of life, death and rebirth to await reincarnation.
Despite efforts by the Christian church to recast the sabbat, or seasonal festival, by turning it into a day of feasting and prayer for saints (All Hallow Eve, preceding all Saints Day, is still one of the holiest days in Catholicism), Samhain lore and practice remained popular and the church was forced to diabolize it as a night “boiling with evil spirits.”
Masters of cultural blending, the church declared that the evil spirits were dispelled only the ringing of church bells on All Saints Day. Although terror has nothing to do with this pagan holiday, the idea of Samhain being a night of unleashed evil took hold in the collective mind.
The affect of this unfortunate misinterpretation is that a great opportunity to reflect on life and death, on the endless cycle of seasons, and ultimately, on confronting and overcoming that which frightens us, has become lost. Halloween has become an extremely commercial holiday, second only to Christmas in decorating and candy sales, or a celebration of the macabre, leading to fearful rejection by religiously conservative groups, or wanton abandon by those happy to unleash their versions of the hounds of hell.
Very few people however, seem to take the opportunity Halloween presents to face our fears, which is interesting – or maybe understandable — America appears to be one of the most frightened places on earth. According to a NY Times poll in 2006, nearly half of Americans feel “somewhat uneasy or in danger.” Compared with five years previous, 39% of Americans said they feel less safe now, while only 14 % said they feel safer.
While there don’t seem to be any exact figures, turn on the television at almost any given time, and it’s clear that there’s been an increase, in recent years, in the number of crime dramas and crime related news coverage. We’ve got show like the venerable America’s Most Wanted reminding us that violent predators are loose in every city; CSI solving dramatic murders in at least three states; 20/20, PrimeTime and 48 Hours, with their companionable reporters warning us, with great concern for our well-being, about scams, crooks and thugs of every variety; and horrific slasher films, available on cable, right in our own homes and enhanced with the best blood-letting computer graphics to bring it all home.