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Book Review

Periodically, an author will ask me to read their books a post a review of it.  This is a great honor and it usually means getting a book out of the deal… and I have a hard time saying “no” to a book.

Recently, Brad Berger’s team sent me a copy of  his “Unplug and Play, 50 Games that Don’t Need Charging.”

It really is a simple book with a basic premise/promise… to offer up dozens of different games that people can play together without the need for electronic devices – and in almost every case, not even a board or dice… 90% of these games can be played with nothing more high-tech than a pencil and a piece of scratch paper!

They are grouped into 6 different categories.  Inside of these categories, the games are pretty much different creative versions of a central game concept.

As a fan of families doing stuff together, and of the power of games to make us think, learn and most importantly, learn to think, I really approve of this book.

I think that is the right word, too – approve.  The book isn’t going to win a Pulitzer, (though it is pretty clever in places) but that isn’t its purpose.  You know the game sets that you can buy that have one board and you can play chess, checkers, Chinese checkers, backgammon, etc. all in one box?  This book is like that, except with about 10x the game ideas and 1/10 the preparation needed even for those – and it takes up about 8x5x 0.25 inches.

Families need to be spending time together – reading, watching movies, sure… and playing games.  It helps kid learn to deal with conflict, jealousy issues, how to deal in a healthy way with competition, strategic and tactical thinking, and more.  I think this book would be a handy guide for anyone who wants to play games with friends and family but don’t want to shell out the $30 for a single-dimensional game from the toy store.

Ok, a final note on recommending this book.  Our family has and plays games regularly – cards, dominoes, chess, and all kinds of other things.  We even play some of the games talked about in “Unplug.”  So, let me tell you what I intend to do with this copy now that I have read it and taken some ideas from it – it is going into my “Prep” materials.

Maybe this sounds odd, and, again, I am no prepper by any stretch of the word… but I do like being prepared – planning.  One of the things I have wondered about is the issue of “boredom” in a future that might be a lot different from the present.  Maybe we would work in the light and non-stop and sleep in the dark, but as a dad, I am guessing that even in a world like that, kids will get bored, and their brains would need stimulation.  This book would be a great addition to any prepper’s supply bag – and it carries a lot of bang for its size and weight – dozens of low-tech games in a small book.  Anyway, as I read it, it struck me as having additional value in that role that maybe even the author didn’t plan on.

I hope you enjoy “Unplug” and I especially hope that you will be playing games with you family.  The family that plays together, stays together, after all… or is it “prays”?  I recommend both.

http://www.amazon.com/Unplug-Play-Games-That-Charging-ebook/dp/B00IH5I3U4/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1401721471&sr=1-1&keywords=unplug+and+play

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I took this from various websites, but most appreciated the first two listed below:

I used Wikipedia to help me as a “Cliff’s notes” guide some as well.

Osiris and his son, Horus are two of the most popular of the ancient religious figures linked to the account of Christ… and certainly make the most sense, given that the Hebrew people were closely linked to the Egyptians.   Unless you believe the Egyptians (who deny ever having any slave in their entire history), the Israelites spent 400 years enslaved within their culture.

It would make sense that some of the religious icons and traditions of the Egyptians culture might infect the Jewish faith and thus, eventually, the early Christians… and of course, the account of Jesus’ childhood also includes a trip down toe Egypt-land.

Also, one of the first people to make some of these kind of alleged connections was Gerald Massey, the poet, spiritualist and a non-professional Egyptologist… and his claimed connections were Horus and Christ.

Others have added Osiris into this mix as a potential connection as well, so I went ahead and told his story here as well. 

Osiris

As is typical of Egyptian and Indian myths, there are many versions of his story.

Much of what we have about Osiris was written by Plutarch who lived from AD46-120)

He became the God of the afterlife

Green skinned with Pharaoh beard

Mummy wrapped legs

Son of Geb (Earth god) and Nut (sky goddess)

Horus was his son.

He was the judge of the dead and the keeper of the source for all life.

He was called the Lord of Love and The Lord of Silence

He was killed by his brother, Set.  Being the first living thing to die, he became the god of the dead.

His wife, Isis (and sister), rejoined the broken pieces of Osiris all except the penis (it was eaten by a catfish, apparently), so she fashioned a golden one for him.  She brought him back to life just long enough to be impregnated by him.  She conceived Horus.

The Egyptians believed that the sun spent the night in the underworld and was reincarnated every morning.  Sometimes this was connected to Osiris.  So was the way that plants died and came back each year.

Sometimes, Osiris’ soul was worshipped almost distinctly from him.

He was worshipped as a fertility god, and as lord of the underworld through whom the dead live in the afterlife.  Only those who satisfied him of their goodness could gain admission.  Many prayers and spells have been found in hopes of securing his blessings.

 

Or Horus (His son)…

His story, too, is complicated and variable, as is typical of Egyptian myth.

The symbol for Horus is the Falcon – which has been worshipped in Egypt for a very long time.  He was probably originally thought of as the “Sky god”… His right eye was the sun and the left the moon and his wings the sky.

He was most often portrayed as a man with the head of a falcon.

He also became seen as the god of the East… the King was reborn each day as the sun again.  This was a common teaching about sun gods… or more often, the sun itself.

Later, another version of Horus arose, as the eye of Horus.

Horus is the son of Osiris and Isis – two gods.  One report is that he was born on the 31st day of the Egyptian month of Khoiak.

Horus had a consort, Hathor, and they had a son, Harsomptus.

Horus also had an uncle – Set.  The two vied for the throne of Osiris (see more about Osiris above) after Osiris’ death at the hands of Set (transformed into a monster)…

Set challenged Horus to a contest.  Set cheated in each event, but his mother, Isis, caught him in cheating.  Mercifully, Isis let him live.  Horus got angry with his mother, which motivated the other gods to set up one more challenge – a boat race.

Set foolishly made his boat of stone and it sank.  He turned himself into a hippo and attacked Horus, who fought him off.

The other gods sought insight from the dead Osiris, who said that Horus should be the rightful king since Set had become king through murder.  Finally the gods decided that Horus should be king.

 

http://www.laits.utexas.edu/cairo/teachers/osiris.pdf

http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/horus.htm

http://www.tektonics.org/lp/massjc.php

 

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Rebekah Rains, Paul McKenzie and I put together this prayer for our church this Mother’s Day.

We know that though Mother’s Day is a wonderful time for so many, there are also hundreds of thousands who dread church on Mother’s Day – so many have pain and hurt connected to that day and are so afraid of how the church might recognize mothers.

Who is a mother?  Who counts?  My wife and I have had 3 miscarriages, 3 biological kids, 1 adopted child, and 2 foster children, some specially claimed spiritual children and, I hope, hundreds of others impacted by us as parents for them… so how many do we have?

I remember at one of our churches, we did the “all the mothers stand up…” and the pastor would count up and mothers would sit when the number surpassed the number of children they had.

Later, my wife and I discussed how long she should have kept standing.  And we kind of decided that church needed to be more aware of real life.

Anyway,  here is the prayer and the introduction.

Intro:

Perhaps for you today is a day that is nothing but a joy to recall and celebrate.

Perhaps today is hard; maybe your relationship the very concept of “mom” is difficult at best.

Perhaps you celebrate, as your definition of what a mom is has been broadened to include those who have blessed you with the examples of God’s maternal traits, and you have learned to pass those along as well.

Perhaps every year there is an aspect of grief over a loss in your family.

Or perhaps today is simply the day you do not have to choose where to go out to eat…or you do get to, for a change.

Any woman representing the maternal aspects of the character of God is a mother.  His strong, nurturing, sacrificial, warm and compassionate traits are the cosmic standard of mothering.

All of us have at least one mom, who took the role of giving birth to us.  Most of us have hundreds or thousands of women who have been moms to us, representing those aspects of God.

We want to take advantage of the fact that our culture celebrates moms today by praying for them in a special way here…

So, Lord, we ask that you pour out your special blessings to those who represent you maternal aspects today:

God, thank you for your gift of mothers (James 1:17).

Thank you that you give us spiritual life like a mother gives us physical life (Isaiah 46:3-4).

Thank you that you won’t forget us like a mother who won’t forget the child she cares for (Isaiah 49:14-15).

Thank you that you give peace and comfort like a mother comforts a little one (Isaiah 66:12-13).

And thank you that we, like the apostle Paul, can claim spiritual mothers in our lives. (Romans 16:13).

And thank you for the all the mothers who display such truths to us (Proverbs 6:20).

And thank you for providing many moms of the gospel whom we count as a blessing from you (Mark 10:29-30).

May you bless them and keep them, make your face shine upon them, and give them your peace (Numbers 6:24-26).

We ask your special blessing on all mothers:

We thank you for mothers… In the trenches, seeking to create Christ followers by rocking, changing diapers, Band-Aids… giving medicine, listening, loving, hoping, giving keys and curfews, planning weddings, holding grandchildren and great grandchildren – theirs and others – and praying and praying and praying.

So we pray for them too…

We lift up today the

Birth mothers who gave up their children,

Mothers whose children have died,

Mothers who have had miscarriages or adoptions that fell through,

Mothers of aborted babies,

Future mothers in the midst of the challenges of infertility,

Pregnant mothers,

Mothers waiting for adoption,

Moms of many and moms of one,

Foster moms,

Step moms,

Spiritual moms,

Single moms,

Moms who have broken relationships with their children…

Our mothers.  My mothers… my mother.

In Jesus’ name… Amen

 

 

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There is childcare available – very inexpensive, for those who register… including for special needs kids!  Check out www.hopefor100.org.

 

East Texas Family Conference

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I want to evaluate these books that are considered “Post Apocalyptic” literature… from more than one angle.  From one angle as a book… good read, etc… From the other angle, as a guidebook for being prepared for catastrophe in our society.  I have found over the years that fiction and narrative can be great trainers for us!  Sometimes, fiction can offer more insight into human psychology than non-fiction can, and I think this topic is largely a psychological one.  These are in no particular order.

The Stand – Stephen King.

Great examination of the effect on mankind when a military grade disease is released, killing 98% of the world’s population.  The first 1/3 of the book  is great… as the disease spreads and people have to deal with that. As with most of his books, though, the Deus Ex Machina is pretty rampant by the end.  Not much of a guidebook.

Book: B+, Handbook: B

The Postman – David Brin

In a post-government world, what happens when someone finds a postman’s uniform? (the movie is a poor replacement for the book, even though the book has an ending that stretches any sense of believability.)  With the exception of that ending, I really liked this book.  Had some guidebook value, but not tons.

Book: B, Handbook: B+

The World without Us – Alan Weisman

What would the process of nature reclaiming the world of man look like?  This is a great book about biology and fascinating about engineering, but not really about a post apocalyptic situation… but would be a vital read for anyone writing one!  Only guidebook value is as prep for what is going to happen in cities if electricity and intervention cease.

Book: B+, Handbook A-

World War Z – Max Brooks

The best Zombie war book I have ever read.  This is overall, an amazing read.  Told from the perspective of an investigative reporter.  Some great stuff in this one.  Some rough language… not for kids.  A fast read too.

Book A, Handbook C+

Lucifer’s Hammer – Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven

This book examines the West coast after a comet has struck.  I think this, among most of the rest, offers one of the best insights in preparing for this kind of disaster.  I felt like it was of the most realistic and painful to read.  It is odd to think we are so close, always, to essentially living in a medieval world again.

Book: B+, Handbook: A+

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

Fast paced, urgent, and addictive.  Interesting commentary on society’s addiction to entertainment, as well.  Nothing redemptive in this book, though, and you have to be ready for a brutally violent book.  It isn’t the typical post-A book either – more of a commentary on what society could become someday, but no help as a prep book.

Book: A-, Handbook: D

77 Days – Ray Gorham

A man must walk from Houston to Montana to be reunited with his family after a sudden EMP attack.  Great stuff in this book.  The protagonist seems to be a little hesitant to defend himself to me, but otherwise this books feels believable… a decent guide book too.  High scores.

Book: B+, Handbook: A

I am Legend – Richard Matheson

A novelette that takes a new look at vampirism.  It has a creative ending and a realistic look at the psychology of being alone in the world… but it skips past the process of an epidemic taking over.  The movie bears little resemblance to the book, but I think is good in its own right.

Book: B+, Handbook: C-

The Strain Trilogy – Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

Vampire books.  The first one is fascinating from both a vampire and post-apocalyptic disease perspective… I liked it a lot.  However, after book one, book two is weaker from both perspectives.  Book three is a waste.  I was pretty disappointed.

Book (Book 1: A, Book 3: F), Handbook: C

The Walk – Lee Goldberg

A man must walk across LA after the big one, to reach his underappreciated family… I feel like this is more of a coming-of-age book for a middle aged male to become a man than a true post-A book.  The language is really rough – way over-done… I don’t really recommend it.

Book: F, Handbook: D

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

This book is badly out of date about a lot of things, but at the same time that is one of the more shocking aspects of it – seeing how things have changed.  Though I think a full blown nuclear war btw the US and Russia are unlikely at this point (that is the plot in this one).  However, some great survival ideas and concepts are found here.. and it is well written – I recommend.  It makes you want to stock up on salt, that is for sure!

Book: A-, Handbook: A

Survivors – James Wesley Rawles

This book is written by an overtly Christian author setting a scenario of total financial collapse in the USA.  The author is also the host of the survivalblog.com website that offers what the media calls “preppers” all kinds of information and ideas for how to survive similar circumstances.  As an advice book, this is one of the best.  I learned about the silver in pre-1965 quarters from this book, for example.

Book: B, Handbook: A+

One Second After – William R Forstchen

This is another book that examines the results of an EMP burst.  In many ways, this one is almost a “preppers” handbook.  However, I enjoyed the character development as well… and found it believable.  Read it… High marks for this one.

Book: B+, Handbook: A+

The Day After Tomorrow – Allan Folsom

This is one of the more frightening books in that it feels real and like a potential.  It is based on a theory that weather systems stretch like a rubber band and then suddenly snap back… warmer and warmer, then snap into an ice age.  Not much prep advice beyond don’t live in the north.  It is more of a scientific treatise.

Book: A, Handbook: (for this specific event) B

Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton

This is a great conversation about the effect of a military virus run loose.  It is a great book – Crichton’s best, in my opinion… but the societal impact is less the focus of the book than the scientific response.

Book: A, Handbook: C

The Restoration Novels – Terri Blackstock

I didn’t get to read these, but my wife did, and she loved them… and started her thinking of the possibility of needing to be prepared in case of a cataclysm of some kind, when something like an EMP pulse happens.  It certainly has some good guidebook ideas as well.

Book: ?  Handbook: A-

The Jakarta Pandemic – Steven Konkoly

This one is scary bc it feels so real.  The language is pretty rough, but otherwise, this is a great book.  Oddly, like so many post-Apoc books, it ends with a kind of mano-y- mano scenario, but until then, the narrative creates a realistic sense of what might happen in a deadly flu pandemic.  Good ideas.

Book: B+, Handbook: A

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I checked various websites – including the CDC – and compiled a list of preparation materials.

Preparation List

Be prepared to take kids out of school… and to be prepared to have another option in case childcare or schools are shut down.

Be prepared for banking and credit services to be down… so you may need to use cash as things escalate into crisis.

Public places may quickly become unsafe, especially in large cities.  Even being just a few days ahead of the masses can be huge… but if you have to go into public places, be cautious, especially if it is an epidemic.  Have an option other than public transportation.

Create a Family communication plan.  The chances of being all together when you realize the time has come to act is unlikely.  Cell service may be interrupted.  Know where you will meet.  Know where you will leave notes in case you get separated.

Stock at least two weeks of water and non-perishable food items.

Water:  According to ready.gov you need about a gallon of water per person per day.  You can survive on less for a long time, but that is best.  That is quite a bit!  In my family of 7, it’s 35 gallons a week.  Though, if you have access to another source of water, you can purchase or make some pretty good filters for that water.  Further, bleach, purification tablets, and boiling (a rolling boil for 2 minutes) can also make water much more safe.  Very little natural source water is safe without purification in the US.

Food:   if you knew for sure that you were going to need food for the next two weeks, starting today, this might be easy.  Dry cereal, canned foods, peanut butter, cans of juice, dried fruit, etc are all good choices.  However, most of even these expire in weeks, or in the case of canned good – about a year.  Another option to consider is MRE’s (meals ready to eat) which typically last about 5 years safely.  Maybe best of all is Freeze dried food, which can last for as long as 25 years.  And, honey lasts essentially forever ;-)

You will need to take into account preparation of the food – you will need a way to heat most foods… avoid eating raw meats in particular.

And you may need to stock up on some salt for multiple purposes.

Other supplies:

Medical needs: (obviously all prescription meds that are life-and-death – I would think at least two months of these would be a good idea if you can convince your doctor to do it.)  medicine for fevers, pain relief, anti-diarrheal etc.

Heat – if you live in an area that has cold conditions, or if you think conditions might change, you should keep in mind fire, blankets, sleeping bags, etc.

Others:  can opener (manual) garbage bags, vitamins, thermometer, cleansing supplies, soap, alcohol cleansers,  fire starters, gas for grills, batteries, flashlights, portable radio (hand cranked or solar powered are good), good knives and tools.

Next levels would include firearms, ammo, a generator… and then things can go on as far as you want to be taken…  but that is beyond my interests…

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Epidemic/Pandemic

And epidemic is what you get when the number of people infected by a disease rises well beyond what is expected and impacts all levels of a community.  When that epidemic covers a much larger geographical area, or becomes worldwide, it is called a pandemic.

Pandemics were essentially impossible for most of human history, since rarely would an infected person be able to travel.  However, now,  people traavel outside of their immediate community fast enough to spread a disease.  It was hard to find a great and certain answer to this, but the most convincing answers were that 1.73 million passengers on domestic flights in the US every day in 2010, and some estimate 4.5 million per day around the world.  One site claims that 3 million leave the US each day, but did not mention how many come in…  In 2012, TSA claimed 1.88 million people a day in the US go through security checks.

This means that any disease (particularly a virus) that gains a foothold in a foreign country can be transported here, or anywhere else before the infected person might even show symptoms.

flu virus

If the nation where the infection begins is a fairly closed news outlet, like China, or many of the Muslim Theocracies, the infection could be ingrained and spreading before anyone knew to respond.  This has happened in the recent past… like with the Avian flu and H1N1.

Influenza is a particularly dangerous virus because it is almost always good at spreading from person to person.

Fortunately, especially in 1st world nations, though the flu spread to vast numbers of people, none of the recent strains have been very lethal where treatment was possible.

There have been about 3 influenza pandemics in each century for the last 300 years.  In about the last 100 years, one of the scary ones to look back on was the flu of the late 1890s and into the early 1900’s… called “The Spanish Flu”.  In those years, an estimated 30-50 million apparently died… 675,000 of which were Americans! (about the same as died in the entire Civil War).

images-1

Those are some scary numbers, for sure and fortunately, we have not had another outbreak like that since then, at least not here.  However, outbreaks have not been rare and deaths in the millions worldwide.  Recent outbreaks that have hit since the Spanish flu include:

1956 1-4 million deaths worldwide

1968  1 million deaths worldwide (33k in the US)

2009 (H1N1) 280k deaths worldwide.

The CDC estimates (http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/estimates_2009_h1n1.htm) that in the year of April 2009 – April 2010, there were between 43 million and 89 million cases of H1N1 in the US… 195k-403k hospitalizations, and between 8,870-18,300 deaths!  H1N1 was apparently fairly good and transferring from person to person, but not particularly lethal.

Though there are effective anti-viral treatments, they are easily overwhelmed in cases like this.   In the case of another major outbreak… or even just an impressive one… likely much commerce and retail would either sell out or shut down.  What happens when people are encouraged by the CDC to “stock up” for a few weeks in the case an a pandemic?

I know that here in Tyler, when we know we are having a cold snap (anything below 32 degrees F), the grocery stores sell out of things!  I would assume that most stores would be packed with people (some of whom could be carrying the virus, incidentally) and sold out in hours.

Most stores today run with scientific efficiency.  They “store” little at the “stores” beyond what they can expect to sell in the immediate future.  Even one or two days of delayed shipments and they could be almost empty, even with normal shopping numbers… imagine the effect of that in a crisis when people need to hunker down and stay home for a week or two – so they try to stock up!  Combine those and get a mess.  Especially if the truckers are trying to stay home to avoid getting sick.  Have a scary enough outbreak and I assume they would.

Conclusion?  Here is another motivation to have some supplies on hand.  Enough to provide for you family (and maybe some neighbors) for a few weeks.  Most likely, by then, the pandemic will have largely passed (even if it leaves a path of death behind it) and your family will have helped reduce rather than help encourage the panic and consequences of the epidemic.

Once again, though the chances of this kind of pandemic in the US is debated, and very unlikely any given year, it has happened before and our society is in many ways less vulnerable to the flu, but more vulnerable to the shut downs it could create… less vulnerable to the disease itself, but more able to spread it quickly.

Planning, not panic.  Preparedness, not paranoia.

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Ok, so this one is one of the more scary ones.  There just isn’t a lot we can do about it… but it is very real.  It has happened before.

The sun is a little over 8 minutes away, as the light flies.  It is 865,000 miles across, and a million times the volume of Earth.

It is a huge ball of fusion explosions… and the massive quantities of radioactive materials that bombard our planet.  Providentially there is an amazing magnetic shield that deflect most of this lethal bath, otherwise, no life could exist here.

400px-Magnetosphere_rendition

However, there are times when the     explosions are more than the field can      completely handle… this happens from time to time… and most of the time, they may damage some satellites, or disrupt some   systems.  But, listen to this…

One day in 1859, skies all over planet Earth erupted in red, green, and purple auroras so brilliant that newspapers could be read as easily as in daylight. Indeed, stunning auroras that are looked for in Alaska, were pulsated even at near tropical latitudes over Cuba, the Bahamas, Jamaica, El Salvador, and Hawaii.

Even more disconcerting, telegraph systems worldwide went haywire. Spark discharges shocked telegraph operators and set the telegraph paper on fire. Even when telegraphers disconnected the batteries powering the lines, aurora-induced electric currents in the wires still allowed messages to be transmitted!

The explosion produced not only a surge of visible light but also a mammoth cloud of charged particles and detached magnetic loops—a “CME”—and hurled that cloud directly toward Earth. The next morning when the CME arrived, it crashed into Earth’s magnetic field, causing the global bubble of magnetism that surrounds our planet to shake and quiver. Researchers call this a “geomagnetic storm.” Rapidly moving fields induced enormous electric currents that surged through telegraph lines and disrupted communications.

Again in 1989, another series of large solar flares hit.  Auroras could be seen as far south as Texas…  and blocked weather satellites communications… but was much less powerful than in 1859.  Power was lost in Quebec power networks… in some cases for 9 hours.

The same level of flares in 1859 could potentially seriously disrupt or outright destroy unprotected electrical systems.  That was annoying in 1859… but what about now?

Some more protection of extremely vital lines has been put into place… but apparently not most.  Could we potentially lose most electricity?  The internet?  Satellites?  Phone, cell, GPS, weather reporting, credit cards, refrigeration, gas pumps, etc?  All of these are potential consequences of a major solar flare.

Could you live for a month without electricity and the things that it brings?  Who knows how long it would take for the system to reset?

Not trying to be science fiction here… this unlikely to happen again anytime soon, but it has happened before naturally.  Further, as nuclear bombs are more common, a small scale nuke detonated at the right altitude can create the same effect in a more localized way. This is considered the most pressing threat against the well-being of the USA by some.   Prepared for this eventuality?  I will probably talk more about terrorism in a later article.

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As Halloween is right around the corner again, I thought I would re-release the two articles about Halloween with some new thoughts inserted in places.  Maybe those of you new to this website would enjoy the material here… 

This has consistently been one of my most popular articles.

This is much longer and more in depth than many readers might want, but I would rather be thorough here for those who do want it.

A Historical Understanding of Halloween

This is an in-depth look at the history of Halloween, and the timing of the other major Christian Holidays.   There will be a follow-up article about what I think the appropriate Christian response to these issues are.

Before recorded history, people have used the length of days to divide out the year, and celebrated the coming and past events.  The winter solstice is the shorted day of the year, and the longest night.  The summer solstice is the opposite.  Also, in between each of them is the equinox, fall and spring, which are the days when the night and day are essentially the same length.  Before official calendars and clocks, these were important for measuring years and seasons.

As I recently read, clocks weren’t common in Europe, for example, until after  the 1300’s.  Before that, the precision of a few bells throughout the day was enough.  (Chasing Francis by Ian Cron)

I want to show you how these play into our celebrations today and how I think we should respond.  This may be longer than the typical blog, but I think you will appreciate it.  If the history and background is just of no interest to you at all, skip down…

The pagan religions tended to focus special or “Holy” days (whence we get the words “holiday”) on obvious changes like these, and how they linked to the events of that time of the year. Remember, before grocery stores and before integrated heating, the three main events for most the those cultures, up through the 1800s were winter (and its hardships), and planting and harvest seasons.  Life was pretty much utterly dependent on these.

An example many Christians can relate to here is the Jewish pattern of making use of the moon and its cycles to determine when events and Holidays (Feasts and Sabbaths) were to be held.

Let’s start looking at these in the order they tended to.  For the pagans in Briton, for example, the new year started at the end of harvest… they had gathered in the crops that were supposed to keep them alive until next harvest.  This would have been a time for preparation (for winter) and celebration (for the harvest).  It was already starting to get cold… winter represented death, so part of the celebration would have been to seek to appease/interact with/pacify the evil spirits that killed people in the cold winter.

Winter

In modern times we have a hard time identifying with what winter must have meant.  Imagine living in the same depth of cold as we experience today… or worse… but imagine no way to completely weatherproof your home, imagine the diseases and death that came with cramped conditions of a family huddling together, usually with the animals, in the deep cold, with little or no concept of hygiene, and sleeping with the vermin and their parasites, for months.

When the winter solstice approached, the religious leaders would call everyone out.  Again, there were two parts to the event.  First, recognize who was dead.  Who hadn’t made it?  The mortality rates were probably staggering.  We know that later, even in early colonial times in North America, it wasn’t uncommon for half of the population to die every winter!  In Jamestown, for example, 440 of the original 500 settlers died in the first three years (Kelso and Hancock).  What then?  Well, you redistributed the goods.  People who had more than they needed gave it to those who were running low.  There was likely a new series of weddings – new widows and widowers married to one another and moving their families together into the best holding and combining their resources.   You would have acknowledged death, but celebrated life in the midst of it.  “Well, I made it this far through the winter” was something worth celebrating.  So, you got your biggest best log for the fire to prepare for the longest night of the year, you gathered around the evergreen tree as the symbol for life that perseveres in the midst of death, you hang the Holly branch as another example of it… what else are you going to hang in the homes of all the newly weds to encourage fertility?  There aren’t any flowers or garlands.  You share the excess, you bid each other goodnight, and then you hunker back to try and survive the second half of winter death.

Maybe, after a few months, you check to see if the animals, especially the burrowing sleepers, have started to emerge, or if they hide back as if they were afraid of their shadows.  That’s right, Woodchuck Chuckers…

Spring

Then, spring begins to arrive.  What do you naturally celebrate then?  New life.  For humans, the long winter is almost over and many of them, in addition to surviving winter themselves… while bored and trying to stay warm, got pregnant many months ago, and are now very pregnant – celebration!    The stores of food are thinning, but berries, fish, deer, birds, etc.  are back.  Domesticated animals begin to experience the abundance of green and being to have offspring, some in amazing numbers!  So, what would be your symbols of the Spring Equinox?  Symbols of fertility… Rabbits (what do things reproduce like?  Rabbits!), eggs, bright colors, flowers, lambs… new life.  Gods and goddesses of fertility and rain are the focus of attention.

Soon, though, it is a busy time – planting season – sowing.  Harrowing, plowing, tilling, planting, watering, fertilizing, tending, keeping out animals, chasing off dangers, pulling diseased plants… this is a busy time, not to mention calving seasons, new born lambs, piglets, rabbits, etc.  There are some celebrations, but mostly people are too busy to play much.

Summer

The busiest seasons of all – the reason we still have summer break really probably hearkens back to the days when the children were needed at home for harvest.  During the summer, different plants – vegetables, grains, fruits, ripen and must be taken off of the vine or they rot and are lost for the whole year.   There is little room for error – seeds must be taken and preserved for next year, and everything is harvested.  Celebrations here are minimal… the rest of the year is dependent on how things go in just a few short weeks!

Fall

Harvest season is wrapping up, people are slaughtering or hunting meat, and salting, smoking or drying it.  When all of this is done, in time to prepare for winter, as the Fall Equinox approaches, it is time to party.  The people need to gather together, and trade out stores for the winter.  People whose crops failed need people to give them enough to survive the winter.  They might go house to house and ask for what they need.  Celebrations are held to celebrate the bountiful harvest… baskets are filled with the fresh good things of harvest – vegetables, dried fruits, gourds, meats – in such an abundance and variety that today we would call it a “cornucopia”.  However, we mustn’t forget the dark side of this holiday.  Just as mid-winter accepts death and looks forward to the hope of life, fall accepts life but looks forward to the imminence of death.  The mysterious sources of sudden illness and death, “spirits”, must be dealt with.  They are prepared to run free throughout winter, they are coming out of their realms to prepare to assault the people.  So, we hang out gourds, carved to scare away even evil spirits, we light huge bonfires (made up of the dried sheaves of threshed wheat, probably) to scare them away, etc.  Children, taking advantage of the scary mindsets, dress themselves in scary costumes, and the adults (who of course, are just indulging their children) pretend to be scared of these little evil spirits, and bribe the evil spirits with little treats to stay away from their homes this winter.  The air of fear of death, while celebrating harvest, must have been an odd mixture.   Pacify the evil spirits, and also try to scare them away.

In the British Isles, this was called the season of “Samhuinn”.  This was literally just their name for the month we call November.  The last day of the month before November was called “Oidhche Shamhna” – roughly, “November Night.”  And apparently this was treated as the beginning of the year for the early Britons.  The celebrations connected to this time were linked to the pagan groups, like the Druids. (Beltane, wikipedia’s citation)

So, how does this play out in regards to Christians holidays?

When the early Christian, mostly the medieval Roman Catholic Church, came to the far Western World (there were allegedly already some Christian influences there, possibly lending credence to the legend that the Apostle Thomas may have visited the British Isles before the turn of the first century), they began to interact with the local peasants and seek to convince them to convert from their pagan ways (Coffman).

There are only a few major events in the Christian calendar, and we are only really aware of the dates on one of those – Easter.  Thanks to the Jews, and their faithful adherence to the lunar calendar and the clarity of the New Testament connection to the death and resurrection of Jesus to the Passover, we know pretty nearly when Jesus died and rose…

And the supposition I am about to present still fits really well with this one too…

Otherwise, the Christian leadership apparently decided to compete with the pagan festivals by setting their (our) holidays (remember, “Holy Days”).  For example, we really have virtually no idea what time of the year Jesus was born in… though there are some pretty good arguments based on the time when Zacharias’ family was in the temple, and the times of the year that shepherds stayed out all night with their flocks, etc., we really don’t know (Sheifler).  However, it was almost certainly NOT late December.

It seems likely that the Christians decided to essentially, throw a bigger and better party on or near the pagan ones!  Ok, remember what was being celebrated by the pagans at the Winter Solstice?  The hopes for life to come – salvation from the death of winter that is near… so, what a perfect place to (otherwise arbitrarily) celebrate the birth of New Life!  So, my assumption is that the mostly illiterate farm families just began to integrate both celebrations!  After all, if your typical life is scraped together with death always around the corner, wouldn’t it make sense to go to both parties?

It is easy to see, then why, to this day, we celebrate Christmas with evergreen trees, holly bushes, yule logs (the big log meant to last out the entirety of the longest night of the year, remember)… as well as giving gifts (spreading the wealth).  Of course, many of these fit nicely in with the Nativity story as well – the birth of the Savior, the gifts of the Magi, the later charitable works of Nicolas  (Saint Nicolas… or Santa ‘Colas… Santa Claus).  Instead, we celebrate the Christ’s Mass (the name for the main Catholic worship services)… “Christmas”.

With Easter (though for years, it was taught that the name came from the name of a fertility goddess, but that seems to be under debate…it might be connected, but some seem to say it that before the goddess, it came from the word for “East” – and that literally meant “rising”… or even that the goddess connection was error (since that is where the sun comes up))  is also easy to see the integration, and what a natural integration it is! (unknown article *, Harper) If the spring equinox was about new life, a new degree of abundance, then what better connection that  the True New Life – Resurrection, and the purchase and the eternal defeat of sin and death, the victory of the Lamb of God!  Today, we still celebrate His work, we have fun with colorful eggs, bunnies, lambs, and lilies.

Summer, if you recall, is too busy for anyone to do much celebration… so, for the sake of what is already a long article, we move along…

So, what about the end of Harvest?  The people were “celebrating” Death and the preparation for death and winter.  So, the Church came along and decided to celebrate what else?  Martyrs.  The Church had this celebration already, called “All Saints Day” sometimes celebrated by some at different time of the year, but in the mid-700’s, it was moved by Pope Gregory III to Nov 1st officially (Brittanica and Christianity History Timeline).  Again, it was a great fit.  Recognize in faith those who died in the name of Christ when the pagans are preaching fear of the spirits of the dead.  The “eve” before All Saints Day was Holy (or “Hallowed”) Day Eve… which over time was shortened to “Hallowed ‘Eve”… Hallowe’en”.  Still, they were mixed… the pagan “Fall Festival” or “Harvest Festival” mixed with the Christian “Halloween”.  (How ironic that most churches have fled from the word “Halloween” and moved to “Fall Festival”)… we party, we have bonfires, pumpkins, and costumes.

So, with all of these main celebrations being celebrated in a way that integrates all kinds of natural links, agriculturally obvious connections, pagan aspects of worship, and Christian teaching, what is the right response of the modern believer?

For my thoughts on that question, please check out the other, much shorter article about that!

Citations

American Catholic.Org http://www.americancatholic.org/features/default.aspx?id=23

Beltane. http://www.beltane.org/festivals/samhuinn

Choi, Hanel.  National Institute of American History and Democracy, http://niahd.wm.edu/index.php?browse=entry&id=172

Coffman, Elesha.  http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/news/2000/dec08.html

Cohn, Emily.  National Institute of American History and Democracy, http://niahd.wm.edu/index.php?browse=entry&id=146

Harper, Douglas. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=Easter

History Channel. http://www.history.com/topics/halloween

Kelso, Dr. William and Hancock, Dr. Franklin. PBS http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/previous_seasons/case_jamestown/about.html

* Unknown currently… This article does a good job of gathering and articulating the arguments I found in other places… I am trying to find out who the author is and what his credentials are or his sources… http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/190170

Myra, Harold.  “Is Halloween a Witches Brew?”  http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2000/octoberweb-only/42.0.html

Sheifler, Michael.  http://biblelight.net/sukkoth.htm.  Again, I do not know

All Saints Day material.  http://www.britannica.com/facts/5/22039/Saint-Gregory-III-as-discussed-in-All-Saints%E2%80%99-Day-Christianity

http://www.christianhistorytimeline.com/DAILYF/2003/11/daily-11-01-2003.shtml

As well as information from the www.Wikipedia.org information for Samhain and All Saints Day.

Note:  Anytime I use information I find on Wiki, I try to use phrases like “apparently” or “some think” in an effort to designate that information gathered here may or may not come from trustworthy information.  However, I think that much of what we find here is pretty well policed and at least created a good start for further research.  However,Wikipedia cites

Chadwick, Nora The Celts London, Penguin. p. 181: “Samhain (1 November) was the beginning of the Celtic year, at which time any barriers between man and the supernatural were lowered”.

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