Monday, October 25, 2004

Vacuum cleaners, candy corn and Ol' Scratch himself

It’s almost Halloween again, time for much weeping and gnashing of teeth among some of the bretheren about the pagan origins of this holiday.

I’m not going to dispute the fact that bobbing for apples, trick-or-treating, dressing in costumes and jack o’ lanterns all have pagan origins. What gets me cranky is the idea that Ashley in her princess costume or Dylan with his bag of candy corn is invoking the Prince of Darkness himself. To start off my rant, let me ask you a question:

If a guy sits down at a restaurant, orders a glass of merlot and nibbles on a crusty baguette, is he having the Lord’s Supper?

Of course not, you’d say. Why not? After all, he’s drinking wine and eating bread. Isn’t that what the Lord’s Supper is all about?

You know where I’m going with this: He’s not taking the Lord’s Supper because the bread and wine are being consumed completely outside of any religious context or intent.

So … if context and intent give meaning to external actions, then what – if there is no occultic intent – is inherently wrong with putting on a costume, gutting a pumpkin and putting a candle in it, or sticking your head into a barrel of water to retrieve an apple with your teeth? Answer: NOTHING.

And don’t give me this hooey about someone “accidentally” invoking the powers of darkness through innocent words or actions. A lot of people will quote
Exodus 23:13, which warns against even speaking the names of pagan gods. Well, if that meant any mention of a pagan god, how 'bout those two men named Apollos and Hermes (both named after pagan gods), who are identified in the New Testament as Christians?

And while I’m at it, let me give you a few more common names and words that are derived from pagan mythology:
- the names of the days of the week (e.g., Thursday is “Thor’s Day”)
- morphine (from Morpheus, god of sleep)
- cereal (from Ceres, goddess of grain)
- jovial (from Jove, the supreme god)
- hermeneutic (from Hermes, god who became associated with the Egyptian god Thoth)

(I know someone who took Exodus 23:13 to an absurd extreme. She refused to own a Dirt Devil™ vacuum cleaner, and she called her deviled eggs “angeled” eggs. Gack. Funny, though, I’m sure she felt jovial on Thursdays.)

Betcha didn't know that some of our favorite activities once had pagan associations.
Surfing had sacred aspects for the ancient Hawaiians. The ancient Chinese believed that fireworks would scare away evil spirits. Where’s the uproar about surfing and fireworks?

When I was a kid, Halloween was simply about dressing up in fun costumes, playing with my friends and eating candy. Now we have “fall festivals” (or the goofier appellation "Holyween") so that kids can focus on – guess what – dressing up in fun costumes, playing with friends and eating candy. (And don't even get me started on "judgment houses.")

Granted, some Halloween imagery is disturbing and morbid. I am fully aware that there are modern-day “witches,” Druids and assorted pagans who regard Oct. 31 as a sacred day. Super. They have their holiday, I have mine. I’m not about to mistake Santa Claus, mistletoe and Rudolph for authentic Christianity, and I can distinguish between real occultism and the cultural observance of Halloween as a day of general fun and innocent mischief.

Mull that over while I enjoy a refreshing, ice-cold Pitch Black soda in honor of the season.

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