Samhain, Halloween -- it's the same thing

by Sean Kelly

Staff writer

"Trick or treat!"

As costumed children go from home to home on Halloween collecting goodies, they will be acting out rituals dating back to a popular pre-Christian festival called Samhain, says David Lertzman, a PhD student in Community and Regional Planning.

Lertzman, who has studied "the Old Religion," will perform Halloween songs and ritual theatre at 8 p.m. as part of the Oct. 31 festivities at Green College.

The word Halloween comes from the feast of All Hallows which was instigated by the medieval church to coincide with Samhain, he says.

"To the old earth-based cultures, Samhain was a time of change, a time of darkness and chaos, where normal rules no longer applied," says Lertzman.

"Samhain was seen as a doorway between this world and the Otherworld, a time out of time, when the realm of the ancestors and fairies was closest. These spirits provided boons to good people, and played tricks on those who had taken advantage of others."

Wicca, a Saxon word meaning "to shape" or "to bend," may be the root of the modern word witch. It's also one of the names for the Old Religion, says Lertzman.

"Those we call witches were the medicine people. Their demonization and persecution in the Middle Ages and later was part of the reaction of the Christian church against the older, earth-based religions," he says.

Lertzman also believes our familiar Halloween witch is based on an ancient crone figure, who had positive powers of healing.

Europe's ancient agrarian cultures were based on a lunar calendar, he says, and the three phases of the moon were characterized as a maiden, a mother, and crone. All three were aspects of one great goddess.

"Since Samhain marked the approach of barren winter, it was the time of the Crone. She was the grandmother of time and decay, holder of powers of divination. Her ability to die created the possibility for rebirth."

Lertzman is fascinated by the differences between the ancient conception of life as guided by cycles of birth, death, and rebirth, and modern society's aim of attaining ever greater levels of production and consumption by controlling nature.

His PhD thesis examines how ancient earth-based knowledge systems may contribute towards the transition to ecological sustainability.

"When we go back to the ancient roots of customs like Halloween, we see people attempting to be more integrated within the natural systems of the planet."

For more information on Halloween festivities at Green College, call 822-8660.