In the Roman Catholic calendar, today is All Saints Day, tomorrow, All Souls Day. The following slightly edited paragraphs are from my book Pagan Every Day (RedWheel/Weiser, 2006), which is obviously not just about Pagan topics. (I couldn’t find goddesses for every day of the year, so I widened my view.)
November 1: All Saints Day
During the persecutions of Diocletian (245–313), the number of martyrs became so great that separate days could not be assigned to honor them. They were given common memorial days. All Saints’ Day, the Catholic Encyclopedia informs us, was instituted in the fourth century when dioceses began to divide up and exchange the relics of martyr-saints. At first, only martyrs and St. John the Baptist were recognized, but in 609 Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon to the Blessed Virgin and all martyr-saints. The vigil for All Saints’ is Hallows Eve, which was also first celebrated in the fourth century. By the 13th century, All Saints’ Day was solemnly celebrated to honor “all saints known and unknown” and to remedy any deficiencies by the faithful in remembering the saints on their proper days. In other words, it became a sacerdotal catch-up day. If a saint was neglected on his assigned day, he could be honored today.
Why do Pagans need to know about All Saints’ Day? We have records of our own martyrs, some of whom were actually witches, many of whom were women, most of whom were found to be disobedient to the Church. Today is the one day of the year, I think, when we should think about the mythical nine million burned witches and say, “Never again.” (Even one person burned at the stake is too many.) More important, we can acknowledge people today who have come out as witches and lost jobs or custody of their children or suffered mockery (or worse). We can send them healing energy from our circles and covens.
Pagans can celebrate All Saints’ Day not by elevating anyone to sainthood but by remembering that every single one of us is a holy being. We’re neither martyrs nor sinners, just ordinary people getting along in the world. Reader, if that’s not cause for celebration, what is?
November 2: All Souls Day
To commemorate “the faithful departed,” the Catholic Encyclopedia tells us, the priest recites the Office of the Dead and celebrates a Requiem Mass. The theological basis for All Souls’ Day is the doctrine that “souls that have not been perfectly cleansed from venial sin are debarred from the Beatific Vision.” With prayers, the living can help the dead pass through purgatory.
Pagans seem to think that the word “soul” is the private property of the standard-brand religions. For a thousand years, however, “soul,” which comes from the Teutonic sáwl and the Gothic saiwala, has meant “the spiritual part of man” (women were believed not to have souls), “the principle of life in man or animals.” “Soul” is not a Latin word. Linguists tell us that in English the most basic words are the Anglo-Saxon words; “soul” is thus an idea basic to our knowledge of ourselves.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes in Women Who Run with the Wolves (published in 1996) about the “unquestioned status quo, the ‘behave yourself; don’t make waves; don’t think too hard’” value system of our modern society. The point of “running with wolves” is that women should reclaim their wild souls, their true selves, which have been polluted or stolen or subjugated.
Isn’t this true for all people? We’re reading all the time that our children’s souls are being hijacked by video games or leached away by schools that don’t teach them anything. We’re seeing TV shows about women who subject themselves to “extreme makeovers” so they match some impossible (soulless?) image. We’re hearing about men who sell their souls to corporations so they can build gazillion dollar houses.
On All Souls Day, let us talk about our souls, about soul itself. Let us examine our Neopagan values with renewed respect. Reader, I’ve heard it said that we’re the wave of the future. What do you think?
Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic. Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations. When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the Neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.