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It's Fitting the Tory Convention Starts on Halloween This Year...

10/31/2013 05:34 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

It's scarier than Charlie Brown's Pumpkin Patch on Parliament Hill these days. For Conservatives, this year Halloween is a great excuse to get the heck out of Dodge (Ottawa) and head to their Calgary stronghold to lick their wounds and perhaps do a bit of trick or treating.

The Conservative convention actually opens on Halloween this year (October 31-November 2), and no one could forgive Stephen Harper if he didn't take the opportunity to dress up like someone -- anyone -- else after the pummelling Tom Mulcair has given him in Question Period lately.

All of which started me thinking about the origins of Halloween and the concept of syncretism. Stay with me on this one. Many of us know that the origins of Halloween are with Samhain, an ancient Celtic festival that was known as the Feast of the Dead and the night where the veil between the living and the dead was at its thinnest. It was also a festival to note the "death" of summer and the advent of winter. When Christian missionaries were active in converting many of the pagan Celts to Christianity, they fell back on a tried and true strategy -- syncretism.

Syncretism can be defined as "the attempt to reconcile contrary beliefs, often while melding practices of various schools of thought." The Christian Church used this strategy to co-opt the pagan festival of Samhain and rename it All Hallows' Eve. Priests were instructed not to destroy traditional customs and places of worship, but instead to use them in their conversion efforts. The theory went that if you save pagan places of worship and simply consecrate them to Christianity, the conversion process would be easier.

This turned out to be a brilliant strategy and was used for the timing of Christmas (winter solstice and the Roman festival Saturnalia) as well. It did result in diminishing Celtic traditions, but some were particularly hard to shake. The underworld and the veil between the living and the dead stays with us still in the form of Hallowe'en.

The Romans too had been fans of syncretism. They co-opted many of the Greek gods and goddesses and even a few of the Celtic and Norse ones too. As Romans were a polytheistic people, adding new or similar gods would not cause much societal or religious disruption. In the far-flung Roman Empire, no one was going to mind if a local deity retained its popularity and it could be easily integrated into both Roman customs and their world view.

So if we go back to the Conservatives, perhaps they are trying to do a little bit of magical syncretism here. They are certainly trying to "reconcile contrary beliefs" about what happened with Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallen and Patrick Brazeau. And they seem to be melding practices by throwing various people under the bus, à la Liberal Party practices during Adscam (think Alfonso Gagliano and Michel Vennat).

The other two days of the Conservative convention fall on equally interesting days in the Christian calendar. November 1 is All Saints' Day and November 2 is All Souls' Day. All Saints' Day is just that -- an opportunity to pray to all saints of the Church -- possibly something the Conservatives should add to their agenda.

All Souls' Day is commonly celebrated by people going to cemeteries and leaving offerings of food for their departed loved ones, such as the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. Many of these celebrations for the dead actually span the entire three-day period of Conservative convention. I'm sure the Prime Minister would have happily celebrated the death of the Senate scandal, but it seems he won't have that opportunity.

So there you have it. The Conservative convention is being held on some very interesting days - Hallowe'en, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. It's tempting to think that they may take the opportunity to try and convert many of their base to the party line, whatever that happens to be on the day. Will it be scary? Most probably. Will they all be cast as saints? Probably not, but they may want to try praying to all these saints to intercede on their behalf.

One thing we can be sure of is that all souls attending the convention will be looking hard at the party leadership for some honest answers to their questions.

Lee Tunstall is an adjunct assistant professor in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Calgary and holds a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge.