The melding of myth and reality in the history of Halloween
that was very enlightening, Brad. Learned a lot that I probably should have known but didn't. Best of all, Alison Crowe's version of Soul Cake, led me on Youtube to Sting's version in Durham cathedral. It's glorious, watch til the end for the fiddles
Folks might also be interested to learn protestants hardened many of the associations mentioned above in their own criticism of the ceremonial rituals of Catholicism. Much of this history was then adopted by another anthropologist and folklorist, Sir James Frazer, in his 1890 book, The Golden Bough.
Sir James Frazer (1854-1941) was a renowned Scottish anthropologist and folklorist. "The Golden Bough" was a comparative analysis of global mythologies, folklore, and religions, aiming to identify universal patterns in human beliefs. He proposed an evolutionary trajectory of human belief systems—from magic to religion and eventually to science. Frazer was a major influence on early 20th-century literature and thought. Writers like T.S. Eliot and James Joyce drew on his conclusions and incorporated them into their own writing.
However, while groundbreaking, the book also faced criticism for its Eurocentric perspective and over-reliance on secondary sources -- perhaps even the work of Keating. As Professor Davis writes, Frazer “isolated within the surviving northern European seasonal customs of late autumn vestiges of an ancient pan-Celtic fire festival integrating the motifs of purification, appeasement of the dead, access to the otherworld and the coming of the New Year.”
Frazer's text was soon adopted and extended by religious conservatives further substantiating claims that Halloween is the work of some pre-Christian devil. The most notable was Margaret Murray. She was a groundbreaking - and ceiling breaking - anthropologist, archeologist, and historian who is also infamously known for inventing a witch-cult theory in her 1921 book, “The Witch-Cult in Western Europe”.
She claimed the witch trials of Early Modern Europe were not targeting fanciful or malicious supernatural practices but were instead persecuting adherents of a pre-Christian, organized, pagan religion.
Murray suggested that this ancient fertility cult revolved around the horned god, which later Christian interpretation conflated with the devil. This theory implied that the women executed in the infamous trials were actually martyrs of a hidden religion. She remained devoted to her theory until her death at 100 years old in 1963.
Take note this Halloween as aggressive hardline Christian Halloween abolitionists are likely echoing Margaret, summoning her ideas from the dead.