When asked to mention your favourite time of the year to dress up and go to parties in disguise the first occasion that would come to mind is Halloween.
What is the meaning behind the day though?
It is in fact not as sinister as everyone makes it out to be and has no ties to satanic rituals.
Halloween is an ancient festival which originates in the Northern Hemisphere.
If we go back to Bible times however, in the book of Exodus (23:16) the people of Israel are informed that they shall hold a harvest festival called the ingathering festival, when all of the ripe fruits are harvested at the end of summer.
In the Liturgical Year (The Christian year) it is triduum of Hallowtide which is the time of the year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers.
Did you know that the name “Halloween” is a shortened version for “Hallowed Evening” and should rightly be spelled as “Hallowe’en”, because this festival was considered hallowed (holy)?
Today’s Halloween customs are thought to have been influenced by folk customs and beliefs from the Celtic-speaking countries, some of which have pagan roots, and others which may be rooted in Celtic Christianity.
Some folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia, it is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain, which comes from the Old Irish for “summer’s end”. Some repetition it would seem here but in mentioning Samhain – we can mention its likeness to Beltane which was seen as a liminal time, when the spirits or fairies (the Aos Sí) could more easily come into our world and were particularly active. The souls of the dead were also said to revisit their homes. Places were set at the dinner table or by the fire to welcome them. It was believed that on this night they could come home to visit, bringing with them knowledge of traditions which they re-awaken in the living. It makes one realise that todays – shall we say “Hollywood appeal” on Halloween – is not as accurate as it is made out to be. So many of us say we wish heaven had a telephone – Halloween would be that night of the year where we could connect once more with those we cherished in life and after their death. A way of honouring their memory.
This belief makes perfect sense if you are sitting in the Northern Hemisphere at this time of year. Samhain is considered the start of the new year because it is the end of summer, the beginning of the dying season for the natural world around us. This is significant because a new year is associated with new beginnings, the birth of new things. However the end of summer sees the slaughter of surplus cattle (for food through winter) and the last harvesting. This is because the Celts believed that they came from death. From death they came and would one day return (from dust to dust). Seen in this light we can understand how the dying season was considered the beginning of things new. In the grip of winter new seeds are forced open by the cold, although it appears that the earth is asleep and dormant, unseen new life is beginning. This is why Samhain embodies both death and rebirth and traditionally this quarter of the year is set aside for reflection and introspection. Hence we can understand where our modern imagery of death at Hallowe’en comes from.
I bet you’re wondering where the Halloween traditions come from?
The American tradition of carving pumpkins was first recorded in 1837 and is a Celtic one related to the festival of Samhain (Hallowe’en). It was known as the Celtic “Adoration of the Head”. Originally turnips and squash were used, intended to ward off any evil that may be circulating on this night without order. One turnip or squash to represent each member of the household would be placed in the window for all passing spirits (not belonging to your family or circle of friends) to see. This head symbolism also pertained to “The Noble Head” of Bran the Blessed whose head lays beneath the tower of London to protect the land from invasion. The illuminated turnips were placed in the window to protect the family in the same way. In some regions this tradition included the placing of squash or turnips around the garden to keep all unwanted supernatural beings outside of this circle of protection.
In modern Ireland, Scotland, Mann and Wales, the festival included mumming and guising, the latter of which goes back at least as far as the 16th century. This involved people going house-to-house in costume (or in disguise), usually reciting verses or songs in exchange for food.
The tradition of trick-or-treating was originally known as soul caking. The children of the village would go around to the houses in the village to say prayers for the departed souls in that family in return for cakes. Each household whom received a prayer from a young innocent child would show their appreciation and thanks by rewarding the children with sweet treats.
So this year instead of interpreting your most ghoulish attire, you could instead dress as delicate and beautiful as a faerie and remember your loved ones who have passed on – remember them fondly – as you share the sweet gifts bestowed on your children.
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