Friday, October 31, 2008

A History of Halloween

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays, even as a kid. For me though it was not about the candy, but getting to dress up and be something else. I do not remember ever buying a costume. When I was youger my mom would help me make a costume and when I got older I came up with my ideas myself. This year I am the Wiked Witch of the West per my sons request. He loves when I do her voice. "I'll get you my pretty, and your little dog too!"

Growing up in the south, in the bible belt, there were always people who did not celebrate Halloween because it was "satanic." Or those who would only let their kids wear "happy" costumes. As I got older I did a lot of reading about the origins of Halloween and I though I would share some of what I learned. I know there will always be the people who think like that, but I would like to think that I did something to attempt to change their minds.

Halloween does have its origins in pagan beliefs. The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in what is now Ireland, the UK, and northern France, celebrated their New Year on Nov 1. This day marked the end of the harvest and the coming of winter. Winter for them was a very dark cold period, and was a pretty scary part of the year for them, as it was most often associated with death. The Celts believed that on Oct 31 the boundaries between the spirit world and the world of the living became thin. Oct 31 was known to them as Samhain (pronounced sow-in or sah ween). The Celts believd that the spirits could cross over into the world of the living and wreak havoc on crops and cause all kinds of other mischief. They also believed that the presence of those spirtis made it easier for their priests, the Druids, to make predictions about the future.

To celebrate this event the Celts would create bonfires and perform animal sacrifices tp their gods while dressed in costumes which were usually animal skins and heads. Hence the tradition of dressing up on Halloween.

By the early 40 A.D.'s, the Romans had conquered most of the Celtic territories. The Romans had 2 holidays that were celebrated around the same time as Samhain. Ferelia which was a day that the Romans celebrated the dead and the second was a day to celebrate Pomona, goddess of the trees and fruit. Pomonas symbol was an apple and it is generally thought that is where the tradition of "bobbing for apples" comes from.

With the spread of Christianity, came a move to try and replace the pagan holidays with chuch sanctioned ones. Hence All Saints Day which is Nov 1. The holiday was also known as All Hallows or All Hallowmas. The night before which was Samhain became All Hallows Eve which became Hallow Evening which later became Halloween.

The name might have changed but much of the same traditions were kept. The tradition of dressing up in costume and going from house to house seeking treats can be traced back to the Celts. The Celts would put out offerings of food and drink to appease the spirits, fairies and demons that were wandering the earth on Samhain. Over the years people started to dress like the spirits that were said to be wandering the earth and would do tricks to gain food and drink. This was called mumming and is where we get trick or treating today from.

We also get the jack o lantern from the ancient Irish myth of Stingy Jack. Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him and being true to his name did not want to pay for the drink. He convinced the devil to trun himself into a coin that Jack could use to pay for the drinks in return for Jacks soul. When the devil had done so JAck placed the coin into his pocket with a silver cross which prevented the devil from retaking his true form. Jack eventually freed the devil after making him promise to leave him alone for a year. After the years time was up the devil again came for JAck and JAck tricked him into climbing into a tree to pick an apple. While the devil was in the tree, Jack carved a cross onto the trunk, again trapping the devil. He made the devil promise to leave him alone for 10 years before he would let him down. Not long after Jack died and being the type of person he was God did not want to let him into heaven so he sent him down to the devil. The devil would have nothing to do with Jack after all the times he had tricked him and told him to go back where he came from. JAck asked for a light to light his way home with and the devil gave him a piece of coal from the fires of hell. Jack carved out a turnip and stuck the coal inside to use as a light and he has been roaming the earth ever since. The Irish began to refer to the ghostly figure as Jack of the Lantern which became Jack O Lantern. The people of Ireland soon began to use turnips, potatoes and other vegetables to make their own to frighten away the spirits. When people immigrated to the Americas they brought their traditions with them and discovered that pumpkins, which were native to America, were perfect to make their Jack O Lanterns with.

This is just a brief look at the history/traditions of Halloween. There are a lot more out there and this is nowhere near being the complete history. It is just a little bit of knowledge I thought I would share.


Shadows of the goddess designs said...

Very nice !!! have a magickal Samhain!!

Shadows of the goddess designs said...

great article !! The "witches brew" was so good!!!!!!!!!!!