By Brian Friday Bwesigye:
It is the time of the year when Halloween parties and related events are held. They are several pumpkin shells all around, some with candles inside, and very many other scary things. Halloween for the uninitiated like me is an odd thing that leaves one with questions and some curiosity. What makes the process of finding out easy is the fact that the first impression one gets of things related to Halloween is of witchcraft. So, the first lead in the process of finding out is that of the connection of Halloween to witchcraft.
So, looking for books about Halloween, and Signe Pike's 'Samhain: The Origins of Halloween' comes up. Reading up on the book on the Penguin.com page of the book, I find a summary of what the book is about. I will quote;
“Evening chases the light from the hills. Beneath the darkness, winter begins to creep, casting a sleep that will sink deeply into the land. It is the night when the veil between the worlds is thinnest. Away from the huts, sticks and branches lean together in what will become a towering blaze. The bonfire signifies light to guide the way as the people enter the dark half of the year, and it protects them from the spirits that come this night to pay a visit to their world. Tonight the ancestors walk once more among them, protecting those who follow in their footsteps. Empty places are left for them to join the living at the feast table. As the living finish the feast, even the wind though the forest seems to hush as the families gather, solemn in the cold. The only sounds are the leaves that crunch underfoot as hooded figures in dark robes step forward, torches in hand. The Druids have come to light the fire. In a moment, the celebration will begin: it is the eve of the New Year for the Ancient Celts.
You might have heard this time of year also called Samhain, which conjures the image of witches on broomsticks. But Samhain, pronounced Sow-an, is actually an ancient Celtic holiday, celebrated over two days. For centuries the empire of the Celts stretched from Britain to Turkey and from Spain, Germany and France to Czechoslovakia. Samhain was a time of year to honor the dead and request the spiritual protection of ancestors, valiant warriors and wise chieftains alike. It was believed that during these few days of “between” time (when the light months of summer and fall gave way to the darker months of winter), the spirits could visit our world. Masks and costumes were donned to help the living evade recognition from marauding, malevolent beings of the dead.”
So, Halloween is typical worship of the ancestors in European tradition. That the ancestors’ spirits appear as summer ends and the darkness of winter approaches. Do I hear someone say Yipeee, we thought so? Well, I am hearing myself maybe. But that is not a surprise, is it? What did we expect? The first impression this time did not lie. What follows is what is a bit of a surprise, but maybe it should not have been, or should not be. I again visit the Penguin page for the book that traces the origin of Halloween.
“… it was around 1,300 years ago that Pope Gregory III declared October 31st “All Hallows Eve” and November 1st “All Saints Day”— a day to remember saints and martyrs — re-appropriating many of the Celtic pagan practices of Samhain in an effort to gain popular footing for the Catholic Church among a still largely pagan community.”
So, Catholicism, in an attempt to make Christianity more appealing to then Pagan Europe, declared All Saints day as the Christian version of Halloween!!! Of course the history of the breakaway of the Anglican Church from the Catholic Church is a little more known. The Anglican Church inherited many of the things of the Catholic Church including All Saints Day. To conclude that All Saints Day has roots in ancestral worship is not to stretch the logic. To conclude that Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism and other Christian sects that celebrate such days are not about the Bible and message of Christ but about European culture is simply to state what should be obvious from the relationship of Halloween to All Saints day.
What does this mean to me to an African who was told as missionaries and colonialists spread Christianity (Anglicanism, Catholicism and other sheds of Christianity) that African ancestral worship was witchcraft and sinful? Yet ancestral worship was/is central to the belief system of the African which is in turn an aspect among others of African culture and identity?
Without necessarily repeating observations that I make above, the Christianity that was being spread to the African was in fact substantially not about the Bible, or about Christ's teaching. It was about European culture and tradition being hidden in religion, hence European ancestral worship disguised as Christianity was spread and African ancestral worship defined as 'witchcraft'. To use the same nomenclature as the European, European witchcraft of Halloween and All Saints Day was spread to replace African ancestral worship.
Seeing that All Saints Day and Halloween have nothing to do with the Bible and Christianity, why would an African-Christian not worship his/her own ancestors without straying from Christ's teachings and without having to worship someone else’s ancestors? If I must worship ancestors, because I recognize that part of culture, religion and belief systems say a lot about one's identity and being one who believes in the wholesomeness of an individual, I will definitely not worship anyone’s ancestors but mine!
Now, do I need to also spend some words and more time talking about the so called ‘modern’ (but in fact western) culture of Halloween also creeping into African cities? Do I, really? Maybe let me say something about dressing up and going to the shrine and being told by stinking brainwashed Halloween and All Saints Day celebrating African hypocrites saying that I am practicing witchcraft. Does their practicing of European witchcraft make them any different from me? If you must practice witchcraft, then better not be disgraceful of your own self by practicing someone else's.
Perhaps someone is about to tell me, why practice witchcraft at all, African or European? Why religion, why ancestral worship? Someone (Ceris Dien) actually asked me, have the ancestors asked to be worshipped? Religion is an undeniable aspect of culture and culture is a core aspect of one's identity and identity is a larger factor in perceiving life. And as some other people have said, a person without a past does not exist. Our past is what gives meaning to our existence, and our past are our ancestors, worshipping them is worshipping our own existence, and to extend the theory, worshipping the creator who made them and us through them. So, worshipping European ancestors when you are African has everything wrong with it. You can choose to forsake yourself and worship no ancestors, not even your own; you are forsaking your own identity. And there I go, there is such a thing as Afro-Christianity – more on this for another day!
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