Sound and Silence

when necessary, use words


October 2007

making space for Halloween

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
” [Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi]

Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders…” [Heb 12:1]

(Part of the Samhain Synchroblog “A Christian response to Halloween“.)

“Halloween”, hmm … that rings a bell or three:
dong: Isn’t it a commercial American kiddy candyfest?
Dong: Isn’t that when they show horror movies on TV?
DONG: Doesn’t it have its roots in satanism and witchcraft?

I am writing from Cape Town, South Africa. While relishing the opportunity to address questions once off limits, like the taboo of Halloween, it has to be said that I am in rather a quandary. I have been told by our local neopagans that we are actually celebrating Beltane (start of summer), not Samhain (end of summer, or Halloween), as the southern calendar is 6 months out of phase to the northern.

Anyway, I have already been wondering about calendars for the sacred  and paganism in general so this is a continuation of the thoughts presented there. As the theme here is to do with a Christian response, I would like to create some mental space in which we can consider the question of a festival all but owned by Paganism.

I pointed out in the second post Julie Clawson’s useful framework for interfacing with other faiths – Reject, Redeem or Root. The first 2 are common Christian  responses:

  • Reject Halloween as pagan and therefore evil … simple, or in South African parlance, “finish and klaar”.
  • Redeem Halloween (31 Oct), as we see in the adjacent traditional celebrations All Saints day (1 Nov) and All Souls Day (2 Nov). In this sense then “Hallow” means holy and “een”, the evening before. As to the question of which came first – the pagan or the christian, see Steve Hayes’ contribution.

But I’d like to consider the third way here – Rooting. Is it possible for a Christian to find a cultural rooting in what is seen as a pagan celebration? But to do so, we will need to take a step back and reconsider the role of nature in the christian tradition, and start to answer some of the questions raised by what is for many a real conceptual disjunct: can we serve and worship Christ via the tools and traditions of the “pagan”?

A big problem

By now most people in the west are aware that we have a very big problem, the size of Planet Earth, on our hands. Al Gore, president elect of Gaia, might be a chief proponent of political action on global warming, but the problem in my view goes deeper than this one specific issue.

For me, this is an issue of “righteousness”. To be righteous is not so much to do with being religious, pious or even sanctified. It is to do with right relationship. This includes relationship with our past, with one another, with our Maker, and with the Earth.

Now, the triune god Progress-Profit-Technology has blessed us with

  • the illusion of being better evolved than ever before such that we are losing our sense of where we come from, with the tacit assumption that latest = greatest.
  • an affluence which has removed us from the process of production, paying for the services required for survival and losing touch with the flow of life itself.
  • an abstraction from each other and the world via technology – houses, cars, urbanisation, privatisation, celebrity, entertainment and the ubiquitous distractions of commodification.

We are in what I call an advanced state of “Artifice”. Our lives are artificial, abstract and anesthetized. We need to eat, but we pay someone else to harvest, kill or manufacture our food. Fewer and fewer people use their hands; those that do are often in production lines doing mind numbingly repetitive tasks.

Our feet are perpetually shod, out of contact with the good earth. Our imaginations no longer see constellations in the sky, we have lost the subtle meanings of the world and all that it contains. We have been made to fear that which is wild and untamed. And our theology merely reinforces this prejudice, fear and chauvinism.

The dual to the death

The Paved over Paradise of the Artifice not only weakens our survival skills dramatically, but weakens our spirits even more. The Incarnational G-d as demonstrated in Jesus has chosen that we know and serve Him via the creation, not despite it. Of course, being G-d means you can circumnavigate natural law in the miraculous, but it is very clear that he who is G-d formed himself into matter, placed himself amongst people in a specific time and place, and communed deeply with the natural world. This is (for me) the core message of Christ. To respond to anything from “Christian” point of view, needs to have this Incarnational G-d at its centre.

Neo-Platonic and Hellenistic thought was very present in the writings of many over the ages but it was Augustine, arguably the most influential post-Pauline theologian of the Church, who embedded its dualism into this inherited culture we know as Christendom.

When combined with the Enlightenment’s emphasis in the mind (individualism), its belief in a rationally defined framework for understanding the cosmos (scientism), and an attitude of conquest and dominion (colonialism and capitalism) we end up almost totally losing touch with and respect for the Earth and by strong implication, G-d.

There are but faint echoes of the sort of wisdom required for this righteousness in non-westernized cultures, but their voice has been so brutally and systematically marginalized, mostly in the name of Christendom and its “civilization”, (although not forgetting communism, and other destructive fundamentalisms as well), it is no wonder we cannot hear the wisdom of Australian Aboriginals, Kalahari Bushmen, North American Natives, European Pagans, or Shamanic voices from around the world.

To be fair, however, I don’t want to idealize these minorities, and nor do I want to exclude many other peoples whose respect for their/our world puts us westerners to utter shame.

But once we acknowledge this shame, we need to find a way of redeeming ourselves. This will involve questioning many if not most of our deep held cultural assumptions; it will involve hard work, pain and humbling. I for one think it is worth it. Wisdom University’s Paul Ray has presented a fascinating case for this type of integrated spirituality in his presentation “Creating a Wisdom Culture“.

Any spirituality that hopes to find a true and appreciable union with its creator needs to hold nature in high regard. Christendom has failed almost completely to do so. The church has too often sided with and bought into individualism, colonialism, capitalism and colluded with progress, profit and technology. The dualisms of Spirit-Matter and Secular-Sacred have rendered the mission of Christ to “Love the world” almost powerless.

Prophetically pagan

If we are to serve G-d truly and fully, we need another way. One such way is hinted at via many of the teachings of the so-called pagans or neo-pagans. Note that in considering this, I am not suggesting taking on a philosophy wholesale or unquestioningly – I do not include the “ism”, only the “pagan”. The Wheel of the Year, based as it is on the seasons, makes a start at reconciling us with the world in which we live, with its seasons and its honoring of the importance of the Sun and Moon.

In the words of St. Francis of Assisi:

All praise be yours, my Lord, through all that you have made, And first my lord Brother Sun, Who brings the day; and light you give to us through him. How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness. All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars; In the heavens you have made them, bright And precious and fair. [The Canticle of Brother Sun]

And Teilhard de Chardin:

For me, my God, all joy and all achievement, the very purpose of my being and all my love of life, all depend on this one basic vision of the union between yourself and the universe … I have no desire, I have no ability, to proclaim anything except the innumerable prolongations of your incarnate Being in the world of matter; I can preach only the mystery of your flesh, you the Soul shining forth through all that surrounds us. [The mass on the world]

I imagine that some people will now be asking question such as these:

  • Is this not “syncretism”, did Christ not say “I have chosen you out of the world”, are you not diluting the Faith, you heretic?
  • Is it not pantheism, the worship of the earth, you idolater?
  • Are you not walking directly into satan’s trap by flirting with witchcraft, you heathen, you wolf in sheep’s clothing?
  • Shouldn’t you be celebrating Beltane not Samhain in the Southern Hemisphere, you poor confused downunder fool?

These are all good questions, and I am prepared to answer them. But for now, I have just wanted to lay a foundation, create a mental space, for approaching the issue of Samhain/Halloween.

Praxis, anyone?

Further to all this mental wrestling, I am involved with a small local group who will be exploring “Halloween – All Saints – All Souls” on Friday 2nd November.

Here, we will be exploring what is in common between Halloween, All Saints and All Souls. We will examine the Celtic idea of the “Thin place” where the world of the dead comes close to the world of the living, the litany of the “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 11, and a few words on African Ancestral traditions from a Xhosa perspective.

I am asking participants to

  • Remember a person who has influenced you. To re-member is to “gather” ones thoughts and memories. This person might be alive, but a dearly departed would more in keeping with the theme. They may be a family member, a writer, a spiritual mentor, a friend, an artist, or any iconic person whose life has passed into yours.
  • How do you hope to be remembered? Here you can express both your actual achievements and your vision for you as-yet-unlived life.

So from me, and in the name of Jesus, Happy Samhain!

Other synchrobloggers are :

  • The Christians and the Pagans Meet for Samhain at Phil Wyman’s Square No More
  • Our Own Private Zombie: Death and the Spirit of Fear by Lainie Petersen
  • Julie Clawson at One Hand Clapping
  • John Morehead at John Morehead’s Musings
  • Vampire Protection by Sonja Andrews
  • What’s So Bad About Halloween? at Igneous Quill
  • H-A-double-L-O-double-U-double-E-N Erin Word
  • Halloween….why all the madness? by Reba Baskett
  • Steve Hayes at Who stole Halloween
  • KW Leslie at The Evening of Kent
  • Hallmark Halloween by John Smulo
  • Mike Bursell at Mike’s Musings
  • Sam Norton at Elizaphanian
  • Removing Christendom from Halloween at On Earth as in Heaven
  • Vampires or Leeches: A conversation about making the Day of the Dead meaningful by David Fisher
  • Encountering hallow-tide creatively by Sally Coleman
  • Kay at Chaotic Spirit
  • Apples and Razorblades at Johnny Beloved
  • Fall Festivals and Scary Masks at The Assembling of the Church
  • Why Christians don’t like Zombies at Hollow Again
  • Peering through the negatives of mission Paul Walker
  • Sea Raven at Gaia Rising
  • Timothy Victor at Tim Victor’s Musings
  • Halloween: My experiences by Lew A
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    “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” [Matthew 6:24]

    “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.” [Carl Jung]

    “… a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.” [2 Pet 2:19]

    Having just read Peter Rollins’ brilliant “How (not) to speak of God“, and learned a little about his community IKON, I have been made aware of a fascinating duality. I speak of idols and icons, more generally put the iconic and the idolotrous. IKON presents itsself as having 5 significant facets: iconic, apocalyptic, heretical, emerging and failing. Regarding the duality we are discussing here, this is how they view it:

    “Idolatry can be understood as the sin of viewing something as that which renders God’s very essence visible to human experience […] either aesthetic (like the Golden Calf mentioned in the book of Exodus) or conceptual. In the later we make God intelligible by constructing a doctrinal image which we view as a manifestation of Gods essence.

    To treat something as an icon is to see it as that which draws us into a deep contemplation of that which cannot be reduced to words, images or experience.”

    So an Idol is a created thing usurping the place of the creator. An Icon is a created thing mediating between created and creator. Although it initially appears clear cut, the line between them is surprisingly hard to define once one starts to explore it.

    One main point in “How (not) to speak of God” is that of the nature of the idol: idols are traditionally thought of as statues or things but can be conceptual. This can mean any ideology, such as Consumerism, Materialism, Unfettered Industrial Progress or Militarism, but as it turns out, is very often Theology. The very thing we think of as sacred, as the opposite of these human, fallen thoughts can turn out to be an idol. What I term “Biblism”, a combination of literalism, superstition and piety, is an example of this close to home.

    Here is the problem: If we refuse to examine this, and therefore tacitly accept our adopted, underlying, and default myths, we can never be sure of what we are worshiping. For example to deny that our theology might be our relativistic view of truth rather than THE absolute truth, opens us to idolatry. Socrates famously said that the unexamined life was not worth living. But more than that, the unexamined life may in fact be our ticket to destruction.

    What we will not countenance will master us. It’s only in facing our deeply held myths that we either “prove” them or dispel them. This is why fundamentalism is so toxic. It prevents the healer from accessing the true problem by denying that the problem exists. If we misdiagnose our ills, they will probably kill us.

    I have been discussing issues of inclusivity in Towards radical inclusion, and I mentioned the paradox “not with me is against me – not against you is for you”; I quote once again here from Luke 11: 

    “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters. When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.”

    Adding to these thoughts, the “exclusion” hinted at in Luke 11:23 is an unwillingness to actively and continuously follow Jesus. Many people come to faith / join a church / theological tradition and then adopt an “arrival” mentality. They feel that they have “crossed the line”, are justified by faith, confession or membership, and become passive. The culture and assumptions of the organisation they find themselves in probably contribute handsomely to this false sense of security, due to its questionable assumptions about what constitutes being included and where the line of salvation is drawn.

    So what happens to the apathetic believer? Jesus suggests that whatever idols / demons / wrong views of G-d and the cosmos were dispelled upon repentance will return sevenfold. The state of an apathetic, conservative, non-thinking orthodoxy is many times worse than the “pre-Christian” one.

    I really detest the macabre Charismatic fear-mongering view that emphasizes the dangers of demonic possession in this text (although I’m not discounting this entirely), because the underlying “dangers” of apostasy (here’s another word that due to be taken to the cleaners) are not simply evil spirits, but anything idolatrous.

    I am aware that the tone of this post is rather negative and critical. But what really excites me is the exploration of the iconic. I want no more to be an idol destroyer than an idol erector. Idols are boring. The desire for life draws me in the direction of icons – questions of mediation, imagemaking, inventive theology, the creation of icons, and new liturgies remain upmost in my mind.

    a pagan conversation

    My last post proposed a calendar for worship based on the “Wheel of the Year”, commonly associated with paganism. It seems obvious that this misunderstood issue needs to be addressed, if Christians are to take the questions of Liturgy any further.

    I will return soon to issues of Worship, Seasons and Dates, but after hooking in to what other people are currently discussing concerning the Pagan.

    A September synchroblog explore(d/s) “Christianity and Paganism”. I have just read through this list of writs to get a feel for how others are approaching the issue. As you might expect, there a wide variety of views, ranging from caution to exaltation, from astrology to literature, but 2 of them stood out as particularly helpful in the light of this investigation.

    The first is Julie Clawson’s “Rejection, Redemption, and Roots” on One Hand Clapping. Here she suggests 3 Christian approaches to “paradigms for how one interacts with other belief systems”, suggesting Rejection, Redemption or Roots. Her preference is the latter, and this really resonates with me.

    Then as studious as ever (does he ever sleep?), Tshwane’s own Steve Hayes gives a superb insight into the pagan influences in 2 of today’s most lauded writers, C.S.Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Furthermore he brings this into a very enlightening cultural context; for example

    “The difference between American neopagans of the 1990s and British ones of the 1970s was that the former were rebelling against a “Judeo-Christian” upbringing, whereas the latter were rebelling against secular materialism, and could therefore more easily find common ground with Christians who were rebelling against the same things.”

    Steve also gives one of the most penetrating analyses I have seen on the Easter myth.

    Also worth mentioning is the tireless Emergent Aussie bastard Matt Stone whose affections for and interest in all matters pagan is irrepressible. Sample his category (all 54 posts) “paganism and magick“. He IS a Christian BTW (AND Australian – isn’t God wonderful?).

    Oh yes and don’t forget Phil Wyman of the Salem Gathering. His ministry of dialog between Pagans and Christians is not simply a matter of theology, but he does have a lot to teach on the subject – as is evident in his study Witches are real people too.

    See this as a primer; and a move towards the idea that “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” More thoughts to follow…

    in search of a calendar

    For most adherents of organised religion, certain days or periods are seen as more important that others. A liturgical calendar of some sort gives structure to the worshipping community. Obvious examples are Christmas, Diwali, Pasach or Ramadan.

    For others, calendars are something of an oddity. They may even stand in opposition to core beliefs (such as in evangelical tradition, and possibly Buddhism) because of an emphasis on the spiritual and de-emphasis on rituals of time and space.

    But if you are interested in liturgy and worship, eventually you come around to the question of special days and calendars. There are many calendars; many saints, many causes, too much to take in. I have had a quick look at several calendars, Catholic, Anglican, Coptic, Orthodox and African, to see what days or causes resonated with me.

    At this stage, only two seem to have any meaning. Firstly, the Jewish; many Christians like to celebrate Pasach and the like, and I can see the appeal of this, especially when approaching the festival from a fresh, new testament angle.

    But even more relevant it seems, especially from a Creation Spirituality point of view, is the pre-christian, Celtic Wheel of the Year. It is used by pagans, Wiccans and Celtic-oriented systems. The strength of this approach is it’s honoring of Nature; and for me by close implication, the Creator.

    Many Christians are skeptical or hostile towards such an approach, seeing it as representing anti-Christian religion. “Pagan” is a word used by orthodoxy to describe non-Christians, hedonists, or savages. However, its meaning is most accurately understood as “of the country”, (from the Latin paganus, “an old country dweller, rustic”). This is distinct from “Of the City”.

    I think it is fair to say that although Jesus spent much of his time with simple folks, country people, that Christianity itself has become a very urban religion. It has deep misgivings about those close to nature, and it can be argued that much of its most distasteful legacy – witch hunts, crusades and the like, were efforts to destroy what it perceived as wild, untamed and uncivilized.

    If we look at modern Christendom, it comes down fairly strongly on the side of industry, with its attendant disregard for the creation. George Bush style “Christianity” typifies the duplicitous approach whereby an appeal to “Fighting for God” hides a deeply invested interest in oil and a flagrant disregard for the effects of consumerism on the planet.

    Traditional Christianity can be seen as urban chauvinism, and most of its legacy in western culture demonstrates alienation, estrangement, suspicion and incompetence when it comes to knowing our place in the cosmos.

    So it seems like this is a good time to reconnect with our aboriginal roots. In a case like mine, that is complex, descendant as I am of colonials. Am I African, or European? I have asked this question hard and as of now, I understand myself as a European in Africa. Whatever, I look to a pre-modern source of connection with nature, as a milieu for the sacred.

    Here is a summary of the 8 sabats of the Wheel of the year, with their “Christianized” equivalent, with thanks to the liturgist Sea Raven, in her thesis “The Wheel of the Year“. I think there is great potential to rethink a calendar for worship based more closely on world as created by G-d.

    Northern Southern Pre-Christian Celtic Festival “Christian” Liturgical Parallel
    1-Aug 1-Feb First Fruits: Lammas/Lughnasadh Abundance; First Fruits of the Spirit
    22-Sep 22-Mar The Fall Equinox: Mabon Harvest
    1-Nov 6-May Samhain (Halloween) Honoring the Ancestors Feast of All Saints
    22-Dec 22-Jun Winter Solstice / Yule Christmas
    2-Feb 1-Aug Imbolc Candlemas; the return of the light; Epiphany
    20-Mar Sep-20 Celebration of Spring Equinox: Ostara Easter; Resurrection; Life, Death, Rebirth
    1-May 1-Nov Now is the Month of Maying: Beltane Communion as a Feast of Love; Pentecost
    22-Jun 22-Dec Summer Solstice Midsummer; Growth, Commitment

    If we take a nature-first approach to the question of calendar, we might use Southern dates. But 3 of them might not shift very easily (Christmas, Easter and Halloween), without considerable weirdness. (Christmas in June anyone?) because of the association of the natural festival with a Christian tradition.

    Still, it’s a start.

    towards radical inclusion

    “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” [Luke 9:50]

    “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.” [Luke 11:23]

    Note – this post follows on from another on Emergent Africa

    I have been exploring the idea of Inclusion for some months now. My starting point has been the end point: how do I envision life ending up? What is the nature of the hereafter: is it a divided or a united state? Those who have read along will see that I lean towards the idea of Universal Restoration, that is, that Love will in the end “draw all”.

    This conviction is based upon :

    1. A particular (my) reading of Scripture, and a particular (my) view of G-d.
    2. A revelation of Grace, and the character of Love.
    3. Tradition, for example that of the Early Church, where the Universalism of Origen held sway.
    4. Logic; the inferences from the above matters of faith.

    It’s worth noting once gain the variety of names for an inclusive eschatolgy (i.e. view of the future): Apokatastais, Radical Grace, Gospel of Inclusion, Universal Restoration, Advaita, the Reintegration of beings. I’ve leaned towards the use of “Inclusion” as it for me has the best implications for the present, and brings eschatology into focus in such as way that it affects us here and now.

    One crucial assertion along the way has been this: How we act now is almost totally dependant upon what be believe about the future. If you believe in a divided finale (eg. most people are going to “hell”), you will live a divided life. If you believe in NO finale (there is no life after death), you will live a life without ultimate meaning. If you believe in a united finale, you will live an inclusive life. The word radical here denotes an understanding or belief that goes far enough to be relevant for all time, as well as beyond time.

    So, my proposition is this: the general tenor of the New Testament, and the Life of Christ, suggests Inclusivity. Exceptions are evident and plentiful (e.g. “I come to bring division and a sword”; “what accord has darkness and light”, “between us and you a great chasm has been fixed”) but my current understanding means that when studied, and not taken simply at face value, what is revealed is a radically Inclusive God.

    I have been puzzling over the Luke texts. Are they contradictions? It’s certainly a logical disjunct, worthy of any Zen koan. Or do they invite/force us to enter the mysteries of the sacred imagination rather than remain in that typical human mode, of logic and reason severed from feeling and imagination? Let’s go there, shall we?

    “He who is not against you is for you”: Here we see the inversion of human categories and hierarchies, the inversion of the old dualism us/them and inclusion as the default state in the Kingdom of G-d.

    “He who is not with me is against me”: Here, instead of justifying exclusivity, I see the risks of exclusivity being demonstrated. One can set up a kingdom with walls, but then one stronger than you may take you by force. But if you have no boundaries, you cannot be invaded.

    This risk amounts to the risk of rejecting G-ds rule; if one does not take an active part in this Kingdom, he will be subject to the laws of survival, to decay, to the second law of thermodynamics (the law of increasing entropy, or disorder). The closing thought in the passage is “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” The only justifiable exclusion I see is the willing self-exclusion of rejecting this Kingdom.

    I’m not saying I hve thie all wrapped up, remember, or that I have a watertight system of Universalism, but I am on a road of discovery. Many things remain unanswered, such as the Anger of God, the mechanism of salvation for the disobedient, or readings suggesting exclusion.

    The “Kingdom of God” is not a human category, subject to human reason, limitation and decay, it is preclusive. To “preclude” means having essential nature, is uncreated, has no cause. For example, essential “holiness” precludes sin; essential oneness precludes all that divides. The Kingdom of Satan (whose strength is the law and the accusation) is created, so cannot stand. The law brings death.

    The apparent exclusion (“Not with me is against me”) Jesus applies to himself (as Judge), but the implicit Inclusion (“Not against you is for you”) he applies to his followers. Elsewhere, the reaper is explicitly commanded NOT to separate wheat and tares.

    So in reponse to the 2 texts from Luke, I see 2 principles at work

    • G-d’s preclusive nature, G-d’s will for ultimate reintegration as demonstrated by Jesus, the gathering of things, Inclusion as default.
    • The tendency of creation to disintegration, death, and the scattering of things. Exclusion is a by-product of the created order, and not, as many would have, a charateristic of G-d.

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