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Happy Halloween? Goulish Festival, Favorite of Children, is Rooted In Paganism

Raiders News Update

On 31 October, spooky beings and superheroes, cartoon characters and rubberized celebrities will line the streets and mall hallways of America anticipating sugary rewards. Compelled by shouts of "TRICK OR TREAT," children of all ages will again tote receptacles of various size and weight harboring the result of the nights hunt. It's called Halloween. And while for most of us it is a harmless annual activity, its roots run deep in ancient paganism.

ALL HALLOWS' EVE, or Halloween, originated in the 7th century AD. It was celebrated on 13 May and was a night for remembering deceased saints and martyrs. The date was later changed to November 1 in order to Christianize the pagan holidays Beltane and Samhain--festivals of summer, winter, fire, and the powers of darkness.

James Frazer, in The Golden Bough, said, "throughout Europe, Hallowe'en, the night which marks the transition from autumn to winter, seems to have been of old the time of year when the souls of the departed were supposed to revisit their old homes in order to warm themselves by the fire." Such ghosts walked the countryside retrieving offerings of food and drink (the treat) supplied by living family members. Darker forces roamed the night as well. Demons, hobgoblins, witches on broomstick, they all haunted the night with acts of mischief (the trick).

Real witches were also known to revel on Halloween night. According to Man, Myth & Magic, the witches of Aberdeen danced "round an old grey stone at the foot of the hill at Craigleuch, the Devil himself playing music before them." Modern witches and Wiccans practice similar skyclad (nude) Halloween traditions, calling on earth spirits and goddesses to visit their knife drawn circles of power.

The Goddess Hecate

Hecate, the Titan earth mother of the wizards and witches, illustrates perhaps better than any other ancient goddess, the connection between Wicca, the Celtic Halloween traditions, and the realm of evil supernaturalism.

As the dark goddess of witchcraft, Hecate, like Isis, was worshiped with impure rites and magical incantations. Her name was probably derived from the ancient Egyptian word Heka ("sorcery" or "magical"), which may explain her association with the Egyptian frog goddess of the same name. This may also explain the affiliation of frogs with witchcraft, and the various potions of frog-wart and "hecateis" (Hecate's hallucinogenic plant, also called Aconite), which supposedly sprouted from the spittle of Cerberus (Hade's three-headed guard dog) that fell to the ground when Hercules forced him to the surface of the earth.

Because her devotees practiced such magic wherever three paths joined, Hecate was known by the Romans as Trivia ( tri "three," and via "roads"). Later, when the Latin church fathers compared the magic of the goddess Trivia with the power of the Gospel, they found it to be inferior, and thus the pursuit of Hecate's knowledge became known as Trivial Pursuit, or inconsequential. But the fact that Hecate's followers sincerely believed in and feared her magic and presence was legendary. We find example of such fear in the Argonautica, (Jason and the Argonauts) by Apollonius Rhodius, when the sorceress Medea provided a spell for Jason to use in winning Hecate's assistance:

Take heed now, that I may devise help for thee. When at thy coming my father has given thee the deadly teeth from the dragon's jaws for sowing, then watch for the time when the night is parted in twain, then bathe in the stream of the tireless river, and alone, apart from others, clad in dusky raiment, dig a rounded pit; and therein slay a ewe, and sacrifice it whole, heaping high the pyre on the very edge of the pit. And propitiate only-begotten Hecate, daughter of Perses, pouring from a goblet the hive-stored labour of bees. And then, when thou hast heedfully sought the grace of the goddess, retreat from the pyre; and let neither the sound of feet drive thee to turn back, nor the baying of hounds, lest haply thou shouldst maim all the rites and thyself fail to return duly to thy comrads....

Jason bathed his tender body reverently in the sacred river; and round him he placed a dark robe, [and] he cut the throat of the sheep, and duly placed the carcase above; and he kindled the logs placing fire beneath, and poured over them mingled libations, calling on Hecate Brimo [the Mighty One] to aid him in the contests. And when he had called on her he drew back; and she heard him, the dread goddess, from the uttermost depths, and came to the sacrifice of Aeson's son [Jason]; and round her horrible serpents twined themselves among the oak boughs; and there was a gleam of countless torches; and sharply howled around her the hounds of hell. All the meadows trembled at her step; and the nymphs that haunt the marsh and the river shrieked, all who dance around that mead of Amarantian Phasis. And fear seized Aeson's son, but not even so did he turn round as his feet bore him forth, till he came back to his comrades.


Such magic, as illustrated in the fiction above, was fearfully employed by people to appease Hecate. This was primarily due to her role as the sorceress of the afterlife, but true believers also feared Hecate's ability to afflict the mind with madness (as in the Dionystic curses), as well as her influence over the night creatures. She was also thought to govern haunted places where evil or murderous activity had occurred. Such areas where violence or lechery had a history were believed to be magnets of malevolent spirits, something like "haunted houses," and if one wanted to get along with the resident apparitions they needed to make oblations to the ruler of the darkness--Hecate.

Hecate's familiar (the night owl) announced the acceptance of the oblations, and those who gathered on the eve of the full moon perceived the spooky sound of the creature as a good omen. Statues of the goddess bearing the triple-face of a dog, a snake, and a horse, overshadowed the dark rituals when they were performed at the crossing of three roads. At midnight, Hecate's devotees left food offerings at the intersection for the goddess ('Hecate's Supper'), and, once deposited, quickly exited without turning around or looking back. Sometimes the offerings consisted of honey cakes and chicken hearts. At other time's puppies, honey, and female black lambs were slaughtered for the goddess and her strigae.

The strigae were deformed and vicious owl-like affiliates of Hecate that flew through the night feeding on the bodies of unattended babies. During the day the strigae appeared as simple old women, and such accounts for the history of flying witches. The same strigae hid amidst the leaves of the trees during the annual festival of Hecate (held on August 13), when Hecate's followers offered up the highest praise of the goddess. Hecate's devotees celebrated such festivals near Lake Averna in Campania where the sacred willow groves of the goddess stood, and they communed with the tree spirits (earth spirits, including Hecate, were thought to inhabit trees) and summoned the souls of the dead from the mouths of nearby caves. It was here that Hecate was known as Hecate-Chthonia ("Hecate of the earth"), a depiction in which she most clearly embodied the popular earth-mother-spirit that conversed through the cave-stones and sacred willow trees.

Whereas Hecate was elsewhere known as Hecate-Propylaia, "the one before the gate," a role in which she guarded the entrances of homes and temples from nefarious outside evils (talk about Satan casting out Satan!); and whereas she was also known as Hecate-Propolos, "the one who leads," as in the underworld guide of Persephone and of those who inhabit graveyards; and finally whereas she was known as Hecate-Phosphoros, "the light bearer," her most sacred title and one that recalls another powerful underworld spirit, Satan, whose original name was Lucifer ("the light bearer"); it was nevertheless her role as the feminist earth-goddess-spirit Hecate-Chthonia that popularized her divinity and commanded reverence from among the common people.

Modern Symbolism

The connection between ancient paganism and the modern customs and costumes of Halloween is easy to trace. The Hecatian myths adopted by Celtic occultists continue in pop culture, symbolism, and tradition in the following ways:

- People visiting neighborhood homes on Halloween night represent the dead in search of food (the treat).

- Masks of devils and hobgoblins represent evil spirits seeking mischief (the trick).

- Those who pass out candy represent the homes visited by the dead, or may also represent worried individuals seeking to appease Hecate and other nighttime terrors.

- The Jack-O-Lantern (will-o-the-wisp, fox fire, fairy fire, etc.) is, according to some histories, a wandering soul stuck between heaven and hell. Others claim the Druids left Jack-O-Lanterns on doorsteps to ward off evil spirits. Another legend concerns a drunk named Jack who made a deal with the devil. Each claims to be the true origin of the Jack-O-Lantern myth.

Of course most children who wear masks and pursue sweets on Halloween night do not understand, or care about, such symbolism. Parents may wish to consider it.

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