October 29, 2004
I’m going to Hell. This is the sort of thing I hear so often it barely even registers with me anymore. It’s like "Do not open e-mail attachments that are labelled ‘warning-virus’ attached" or "Do not heat the coffee pot while empty". I’ve heard these things so often that I usually do open that attachment, and it turns out to be a program that sends itself to all the people I work with who, fortunately, can’t open it, because they’ve been overcome by toxic fumes from the coffee pot. But I digress. I’ve heard that I’m going to Hell so many times I shouldn’t even bat an eye at it, but since this is a time of year when my office is usually decorated with bats and eyes, I’m reminded on a regular basis that I’m going to Hell.
The reasons vary, but around this time of year it’s because I celebrate Halloween. "Celebrate", in this case, is defined as "dressing up in a silly costume and eating lots of candy". I dress up as a famous person like Groucho Marx or Albert Einstein, or maybe a hideous creature like Henry Ford, and sit in my office and eat candy. According to some Christians Halloween is a pagan holiday and is therefore associated with Hell. And according to modern pagans Halloween is a pagan holiday that was taken over by Christians who mock it by dressing up in silly costumes and handing out candy. Pagans also don’t believe in Hell. The term "pagan", of course, comes from a Latin word meaning "outdoorsy non-soldier" (really – look it up), as opposed to soldiers who didn’t like the outdoors very much because they had to spend so much time sleeping in tents.
How "pagan" acquired its modern meaning is, like the story of how gargoyles went from being fundamental parts of medieval cathedrals to being fundamental parts of Alice Cooper concerts, not funny enough to go into here. But I digress. The truth about Halloween is somewhere in between the two sides. There are records indicating that the Celts, whom most modern pagans I know consider their models, did celebrate certain festivals, especially Samhain, by dressing up in costumes, either to scare away destructive spirits or welcome in good ones. Supposedly they also performed human sacrifices, but that’s only if you believe the Romans who said, "Hey, these Celts are crazy, they perform human sacrifices, while we’re much more civilized and only throw people to half-starved lions while we sit around eating flamingo tongues."
But I digress. And the Romans had a fall festival which included giving out apples and nuts which, as you can tell, is one of their better ideas. I’m not worried so much about going to Hell, especially since most of the Christians I know tell me they’re too concerned with the mote in their own eye to worry about what I or anyone else does on October 31st, but I don’t want to offend the pagans I know. The pagans I know are just like a lot of the Christians I know: they’re nice people who like nature and who hold beliefs about treating others the way that want to be treated that, for me, transcend religion. And technically I’m too old to do celebrate Halloween anyway, but it’s one of the ways I stay young. It’s a good deal, too, since most of my costumes usually cost slightly less than plastic surgery. It’s not intended to mock anyone else’s traditions; it’s a tradition of my own, a celebration of Fall and fun. So if I offend anybody by dressing up like a gargoyle, I can only ask that you do what Christians, pagans, and members of other faiths whose beliefs I don’t necessarily share but still respect do so well and forgive me.