As the annual ritual of disguised children panhandling for confections is upon us, it’s proper we examine what we think we know about Halloween. Many religious conservatives eschew Halloween, referencing its alleged demonic connections. Given the murky origins of the holiday, a little lesson in history and culture is warranted.

As the annual ritual of disguised children panhandling for confections is upon us, it’s proper we examine what we think we know about Halloween. Many religious conservatives eschew Halloween, referencing its alleged demonic connections. Given the murky origins of the holiday, a little lesson in history and culture is warranted.


Most stories about the origin of Halloween correctly state Halloween has its origins among the ancient Celts and is based on their "Feast of Samhain." This element is widely accepted among anthropologists and historians. Having said that, the narrative gets off the tracks pretty soon thereafter.


Johanna Michaelsen, author of the book, Your Child and the Occult, presents a typical statement of the anti-Halloween position: "The Feast of Samhain was a fearsome night, a dreaded night, a night in which great bonfires were lit to Samana the Lord of Death, the dark Aryan god who was known as the Grim Reaper, the leader of the ancestral Ghosts."


The facts are much less dramatic. The God, Samhaim (Samana), never existed in Celtic (or any other pagan) culture. The misattribution largely originated in a series of widely read, but shoddily done, late 18th and early 19th century scholarship — chiefly, Col. Charles Vallency’s 1770 publication of six volumes that attempted to prove that the Irish people originated in Armenia. In 1827, Godfrey Higgins "built" on Vallency’s work by painting Samhain as a God with connections to the Vedic traditions of India.


Even though this early research has been wholly discredited and fully disproved, putatively well-intentioned, but misinformed secular media outlets have repeated the error until it became a nearly universal belief, particularly among conservative Protestants.


In an interview with LiveScience.com, Nicholas Rogers, a history professor at York University in Toronto and author of Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, states unequivocally: "there is no hard evidence that Samhain was specifically devoted to the dead or to ancestor worship. Samhain was less about death or evil than about the changing of seasons and preparing for the dormancy (and rebirth) of nature as summer turned to winter."


Even the Wiccan website, Brightest Blessings, dispels the myth: "Samhain… most often recognized as our New Year, is also called Ancestor Night. It represented the final harvest, when the crops were safely stored for the coming Winter. As the veil between the worlds of life and death is thin on this night, we take this time to remember our beloved dead."


Intending no disrespect to whatever beliefs the members of any particular group want to hold, the great mass of empirically verifiable, neutral and balanced research indisputably refutes the connection between Celtic deities, demonic forces and Halloween. It was a season celebration tied to the transition from summer to winter and the harvest — nothing more.


Church history seems to concur. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III, decreed that All Saints’ Day should be celebrated on November 1. Some see this as a kind of cooptation of pagan ritual into the liturgy, but that contention is tenuous. As early as the fourth century, the Eastern church celebrated a festival in honor of all saints. In the seventh and eighth centuries, Christians celebrated All Saints’ Day in May. Also called "All Hallows Day," it became the custom to call the evening before "All-Hallow E’en." In this respect, Halloween is arguably more connected to Christian observances than what some might wish to believe.