Do you feel a change in the air all around you? The breezes are changing from the warmth of summer to a crisper, sharper rush against your face. Summer has ended and autumn has arrived. The days are getting shorter and the nights becoming colder, darker and longer. It is growing closer to October 31st when we will celebrate Halloween; the day when the veil between the spirit world and ours, the living, is the thinnest — so they say. Our shops are filled with costumes for the little ones to dress up as something frightening, fun or bizarre and go house-to-house trick or treating. Some of us adults dress up too, and have our own Halloween parties. We watch scary movies and indulge in tricks or treats of the adult persuasion. Pagans, Occult and Satanic believers have claimed this as their “most important holiday”.
What is Halloween really about? Why do certain religions take it so seriously while most Americans see it as just another multi-million dollar retail industry and a night for trick or treating? Let’s hop on the magic broom and take a trip back in time to understand a little more of the mystery and history of Halloween. oooooweeeeeaaaawwww!
About 2000 years ago, 5th century B.C.. in what is present day Ireland, England and France, a people called the Celts lived and ruled. Can you imagine what life was like for those people? 2000 years ago, there was no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no phones or computers, no cars, no grocery stores? Life for these people was hard and they depended on Nature, as volatile as she can be, she is all they had and all they knew. So, the ending of summer was likened to the ending of human life. The bright, sunny, bountiful days of life and fun ended on October 31, and the onset of autumn, days shortened to long, dark nights of cold and scarcity of food began. What is now Halloween was originally called Samhain (sow-in) the Celtic new year.
The Celts believed on the day of Samhain the veil between the spirit world and the living world was the thinnest. They believed that the laws of time and space were suspended for a short period, allowing the spirit world to mingle with the living. It was believed that the spirits of the those who had died the previous year were in limbo and that they would come back on this night to possess the bodies of living people for the next year. Their belief was that by possessing another living, human was their only hope for an afterlife. Of course, the living did not want to be possessed and who would? So, they would extinguish their home fires, which would leave their homes cold and uninviting to roaming spirits. Then they would don various masks and costumes of the ghoulish and frightening type to parade around in and be as destructive as possible to scare away spirits looking for living bodies to possess.
Another tale revolving around the extinguishing of home fires was so that everyone could go and light a fire in unity — the Druidic Fire, which would be kept burning continuously in Usinach as a common source of protection. This night of Samhain was also believed the easiest of evenings for the Druids or Celtic Priests to make predictions about the future because of the close presence of the otherworldly spirits. For the Celts, a people in a land and time that depended so much on the laws of Mother Nature, these prophecies were most important in providing direction and comfort for the long, cold, dark winter ahead.
For a person thought already to be possessed by evil spirits, this night is when the Celts would burn these people at the stake. Hmmm, now that is a scary thought! This was thought to teach the spirits a lesson about what would happen to them should they decide to possess a living person.
Around 43 A.D., the Romans conquered the Celts, adopted Samhain and then meshed Samhain with their two holidays in October. Feralia, the passing of the dead; and Pomona, to honor the goddess of fruit and trees. The apple, being the symbol for Pomona, is thought to be the reason for the tradition of ‘bobbing for apples” or “apple paring fortune telling”.
The word Halloween comes from the Catholic church and is the corruption of All Hallows Eve, November 1, and All Hallows Day or All Saints Day, for the observance of all the saints in heaven. During the rule of the Romans, spirit possession belief on Halloween declined and the holiday became more of a ceremonial day with dressing up still included.
Early American settlers, who were mainly of the Protestant faith, did not condone Halloween very much. It was more celebrated in the southern New England colonies such as Maryland, where beliefs and customs from various European cultures and the American Indians meshed, and a distinct version of Halloween began to emerge. Halloween was then celebrated by “play parties,” which were community events, to celebrate harvest time with ghost stories, fortune telling and song and dance.
Trick or treating was not part of the Celtic traditions, but rather from 9th century Europeans, originally called “souling”. November 2, All Souls Day, was a day on which early Christians would go from village to village, door to door, begging for “soul cakes,” which were squares of bread and currant berries. The more soul cakes a beggar received, the more prayers they would pray for the donors’ deceased loved ones. The belief being that a soul walked in limbo immediately after death and all prayers, even from strangers, would help the soul into heaven.
The lighting and carving of pumpkins, or jack-o-lantern’s, originated from an Irish folk tale. The tale says a man named Jack, who was a drunkard and trickster, one day tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Once Satan was high in the tree, Jack carved the holy cross on the tree trunk, trapping Satan. He then made a deal with Satan that he would let Satan down if he promised to never tempt him again. Then, when Jack grew old and died, he was not allowed into heaven due to his evil ways, nor was he let into hell because of his trick on Satan. Instead, the devil gave him an ember to light his way in the cold dark. The ember was placed in a hollowed out turnip so that it would burn longer. The Irish used turnips for many years as their jack-o-lanterns. When the Irish began coming to America because of the potato famine in Ireland, they found that pumpkins were more bountiful in the new land than turnips. Thus began the use of hollowed out pumpkins as their jack-o-lanterns, which are still popular today.
Throughout the early 1800′s, American’s celebrated Halloween with singing, dancing, dressing up and parlor games. Young, single women at this time believed that on Halloween they could foretell their future husband’s name and appearance through tricks with yarn, apple parings or mirrors. Now that is an interesting way to find a man! Compared to online dating and blind dates, there can’t be much more of a margin of error! Something I might have to check out myself this Halloween!
By the late 1800′s, parents were encouraged to remove any ghoulish or frightening Halloween tales that were of superstitious or religious basis. Halloween had its own American ways now. Through the 1920′s and 1930′s, Halloween became a community celebration with parades and local parties; and vandalism started to become the rage instead of pranks. The baby boom during the 1950′s revived trick or treating. Because of the large number of children, this was a way to involve the community with each other. Town leaders got vandalism down to a limit and the holiday became a “children’s” holiday. In theory, tricks or pranks being played on families could be avoided by providing little treats for neighborhood children. A new American tradition was born and continues to grow today. Americans spend about $6.9 million dollars on the Halloween holiday, making it the 2nd largest American holiday.
So there it is the histor and mystery of Halloween. It is not a holiday born out of evil practices. It is not an evil day. It came from the Celtic celebration for New Year’s Day and medieval prayer rituals of the Europeans. The day, like any other, is only as good or evil as one makes it out to be.