During fall, the energy of the plant world returns to the Earth. Winter brings a kind of death that people of many cultures bring comfort to by celebrating the abundance of the harvest and connecting with relatives that have passed to the world of Spirit. Often before the fall feasts people would fast. This can be cleansing and bring balance.
Some of these feasts include; Thanksgiving in America; Jewish people celebrate Rosh Hashana; the Sikhs—Vaisakhi; in Asia Mid-Autumn festival is on a full moon; Lammas, in the pagan tradition is on the fall equinox.
We recognize a veil--as tenuous as our breath, between this world and the next, through the Day of the Dead, observed in most Spanish speaking countries. Through this tradition the blessings of our ancestors are acknowledged. Another ancient ritual of paying respect to ancestors, friends and pets who have died—is Samhain.
Though some holidays (abbreviated from holy days) bring us balance, reconnect us with family, community and help us understand the cycles of Nature, other celebrations seem to encourage violence and oppression. The two fall holidays I think of in this category would be Halloween and Columbus Day.
There is a wave of millions of people in the United States who have realized that celebrating the life of the self-admitted rapist, slave trader and genocidal murderer, Christopher Columbus, does not demonstrate good ethics. What’s more; Columbus never set foot on our continent. The torture, pillage and murder he carried out was in the Caribbean, particularly the islands of Juana (Cuba) and Hispaniola (Santo Domingo), before returning to Spain. Over the course of three more voyages, he visited the Greater and Lesser Antilles, as well as the Caribbean coast of Venezuela and Central America claiming all of this already inhabited land, for the Crown of Castile.
The Los Angeles City Council voted in August of 2017 to officially mark the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day. The day will remain a paid holiday for city employees, the Los Angeles Times reported. Wisconsin, back in 2007, instituted Indigenous People’s Day, doing away with Columbus Day entirely. In 1992, Berkeley, California, decided to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day instead of Columbus Day. In South Dakota, the entire state twenty-seven years ago, renamed Columbus Day as Native American Day. Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon, and Vermont do not recognize Columbus Day at all.
Columbus Day is a relatively new holiday passed into law in some states in 1937. In Maryland, Columbus Day didn’t become a national holiday until 1971. Up until that time, the enslavement and rape of a specific cultural group was not considered to be cause for a holiday. Columbus’ voyages of ineptitude and poor navigation weren’t officially recognized until 1937, nor did anyone think to celebrate his barbaric, inhumane acts until then.
The First Witch
Hypatia was a Greek philosopher in ancient Egypt. As the head of the Platonist school at Alexandria, she taught philosophy and astronomy. Known also as a great inventor, she is given credit for the astrolabe and the hydrometer. She wrote The Astronomical Cannon and made significant contributions to the understanding of geometry. Her works were lost with many others in the devastating fire of the library of Alexandria.
In the year 415 AD, a mob of Christian zealots led by Peter the Lector attacked her as she left the school. They dragged her from her carriage and into a church, where they stripped her then beat her to death with roofing tiles. They then tore her body apart and burned it. This ferocious act is said to have been planned by the Christian Patriarch, Cyril, who attributed the great respect Hypatia inspired, to witchcraft. He also blamed her for tensions between the Church and state that actually arose from Cyril's own harshness towards heretics and Jews.
Sometime after this mob violence against an educated and powerful woman, Pope Gregory IX established the Inquisitional Courts. Pope Innocent IV in 1252 authorized the use of torture during inquisitional trials. Pope Clement IV reaffirmed the use of torture. Christian theologians started to write articles and books which "proved" the existence of witches. Widespread witch hunts began in 1450 in many western European countries. The Catholic Church said that pagans who worshiped Goddesses were evil witches who kidnapped babies, killed and ate their victims, sold their soul to Satan, were in league with demons, flew through the air, met in the middle of the night, caused male impotence and infertility, caused male genitals to disappear, etc. Historians have speculated that this religiously inspired genocide was motivated by a desire by the Church to attain a complete religious monopoly.
Today the fear of powerful women seems to continue as one aspect of Halloween. I am reminded each fall of how the stereotypes of the witch are reinforced through this holiday and of how our society condones the continuing theft of land and murder of Native peoples by celebrating the Indian killer—Christopher Columbus.
Instead of continuing with festivals that engender fear or aggression, we can heal our society and ourselves by choosing to honor people and celebrations that manifest respect to all people.
Athena Wolf is the founder of the Escuela de Curanderismo and practices Ayurveda in Mimbres. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
These images were made at the time of the Conquest by a European artist named Theodor de Bry. The images were drawn from descriptions of the "Conquest" given by Spanish Priests.