Curiosities And Origins Of Halloween

The celebration of Halloween is of Celtic origins, and has more than 2,500 years. It's original name was Samhain, and was celebrated, like nowadays, in October 31th, the last day of the harvest time and the beginning of winter.

The Christian tradition joined the celebration of Samhain with November 1st, the day of All Saints, and the name of Halloween was born ("All Hallows' Eve").

The night of Samhain was considered as the most magical night. The Druids lit numerous fires, and made sacrifices both of animals as human sacrifices. These sacrifices were done in honor of the God of Sun and the God of Death. The people wore terrifying customes made with animal skins, willing to be mistaken with the evil spirits that came to the world of the living in this ceremony.

In that day, divination was practiced, and people jumped through a bonfire, and danced around it to frighten away the evil spirits.

The use of masks was not only practiced in these date. Masks were also used each time that some natural disaster happened, or a flooding or drought, with the will to scare the evil spirits.

The Celts believed that the dead returned in that day to visit their families and come back to their homes where they had lived. This was the day in which the world of the dead joined with the world of the living.

To avoid that the dead ones could disturb their familiars, a candle was lit in each window. A candle for each one of the deceased persons in the family.

October 31 is one of the 4 big rituals of witchcraft of the year. The first one is on February 2nd (Imbolc), that is the day of the healing, of wisdom and of lore.
The second one is on 1st of May (Beltane), when some rituals to stimulate the growing of the harvest were done.
The third is Lughnasa, in August. The festival of Lugus, the God-King, when the matrimony of Lugus with the Earth was celebrated.

Albeit nowadays one of the most representative elements of Halloween is the pumpkin, it's not a symbol of the ancient Samhain. The Irish did not had knowledge of the existence of pumpkins until the first colonizers arrived to America. The pumpkin is an element that belongs to an ancient Irish legend.
The legend says that a man called Jack couldn't go to Heaven when he died but not to Hell either. So Jack started to lurk though the land with no direction. He put a burning charcoal inside a turnip to be able to walk at night. He was called Jack of the Lantern (Jack O'Lantern).
Some time later, it was a candle inside a pumpkin, and symbolizes the souls of those damned to lurk without direction.

The candies have a very ancient origin. The Celts put food and candies to keep the spirits away from the houses. It was a kind of treat ("trick or treat") with the spirits: food in exchange of not frightening the mortals with their presence.

The consumption of apples in this date is also very ancient. Apples were the symbol of good fortune. Apple peelings were used for centuries for divination. There's a game that consists in getting to take an apple with the teeth, and who gets that, it is said that will be very fortunate in love with the person that he/she chooses.
Hazelnuts were also used for divination methods for romance issues.

Other symbols of Halloween are:

  • The owl, that is said to scare the powers of darkness with its sound. Its image is the symbol of good luck.

  • Bats, that were supposed to be able to communicate with the dead.

  • The half-moon, symbol of the magic. To know more about the moon, read this article.

  • The brooms, that symbolize the liberation of energies.

  • Black cats. They were worshiped as gods in the ancient pagan cultures. But later, they were used in black magic.

  • Witches: they're the most "modern" depiction of the ancient druids. A nexus of the union of the magical and the mundane.

  • The pentagram with a circle around it. It is a symbol of protection that was used in magical rituals as a secure place that marks the limit between the world of Magic and the world of the living.
But although many symbols have arrived to our days, they have little to do with the ancient celebration of the magical day when the circle of the living and the dead opens. Only a day of fun remains, where people make jokes with the paranormal and laugh about all that frightens them, or they simply ignore.

Images (in order): Masks, by Tallkev; Alleycat Bonfire, by Britt Selvitelle; spooOOooky Halloween, by Striatic; Halloween, by Kasia/flickr.

-Emma Alvarez-

© 2008 by Emma Alvarez. Link to this post without copying the text.

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Sheri said...

Love this article. So many are misguided as to the origins of Halloween. As a Roman Catholic, as you mentioned, we consider it All Saints Day. But it really has become a night of fun for most people. It amazes me that there are some who take it so serious in this day and age. There are some people that will have non-Halloween parties just to keep children from going trick or treating. This is ridiculous! Most people who are afraid of the holiday no nothing of the history of it and usually have no interest in finding out.

Emma Alvarez said...

I agree Sheri Halloween can be so fun...

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