Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Did Halloween Originally Mean 'Holy Evening'?

Did Halloween—as Variety section writers would invariably have it—really originally mean 'Holy (or Hallowed) Evening'?

Short answer: no.

'Halloween' is an eroded form of 'All Hallow's Even'. ('Even' here = 'evening, eve.') 'Hallow' is a dialectal form of the Old English word that also became Modern English 'holy.' Anglo-Saxon hælig (pronounced, roughly, HAL-ee) was a fine old pagan word denoting something in a state of radical wholeness: a holy thing or person.

It's the latter usage that gave rise to 'Halloween.' After the Conversion, the word came to denote a 'saint,' a (Christian) holy person. So All Hallows' Eve originally meant 'All Saints' Eve,' the eve of the ecclesiastical feast of All Saints.

('Saint,' of course, was originally a French word from the Latin sanctus, both of which—like hallow in English—mean both 'holy' and 'saint.')

So when modern pagans who eschew 'Samhain' as too culturally specific refer to November Eve as 'Hallows' or 'Hallowmas,' they actually are drawing on an old pagan word after all.

But they're getting it via Christianity.


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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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