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Halloween History and Tradition in Tradition

Halloween

Halloween is very much ingrained in our collective unconscious, and has a very long history. It was basically the Celtic New Year (Samhain). Like the Norse legend of the world being born of ice, they see winter as the first season, not the last (or rather they did). Halloween is more like the traditional Thanksgiving. This is why they had an act of remembrance, and would set places at the dinner table for their recent dead who in that day and age very likely helped with last years crop, anyway.

There is a lot of symbolism connected to Halloween, and a lot of pagan concepts are linked to Halloween. The Christian notions are sort of late comers to the holiday, though the name for the holiday itself is of Christian origin. The Celts believed that all souls who passed regardless of moral virtue, passed into the underworld which wasn’t hell. It was more like the Native American concept of the happy hunting grounds. A spiritual existence much like life though not as impoverished necessarily, but they weren’t the only things that dwelled in the underworld. The fae, also called sith, were native to that realm too, and at Halloween (which they saw as the end of the year) the barrier separating the underworld from the living world was weak enough to allow passage. The concept of the underworld came from the observation of recurrent plants blooming, and hibernating animals returning from who knew where back then. So the underworld was both where we buried the dead, and where new life came from.

Many of the practices that get blamed on modern culture actually started earlier than now, though they weren’t blown out of proportion. The practice that we now call “trick or treating”, actually, was more like the modern practice of Christmas carolling. The concept of guising (costuming yourself) was to avert the malicious attention of restless dead or fairies. The children would go out costumed as scary things, but rather than threatening to trick unless they got a treat, they would entertain (sing or what not). The children would entertain to earn food, not to coerce it. It was the harvest festival, so it was the time when the neighbours actually had anything to share. If not food, then money which would be spent on food.

SEE ALSO:  Carolling and Processions

There was another holiday that got confused with this, but it was more like April fools. It was Mischief Night, and was November first since this was the start of the year. Nobody performed mischief on Halloween in the old days, as it would be considered bad luck. Mischief Night arose among Catholic cultures. They could do penance after, similar to the concept of a black mass. The cultures who had converted weren’t necessarily happy about it.

On Halloween, they would costume themselves to “blend in”. They had observed back then that more death occurred around Halloween as things began getting cold, believing that illness or crop blight were from malice of the spirits. This is also why gargoyles were created, and some of the more macabre art on crypts and tomb stones was crafted. Not to appease the spirits, but often to scare them. It was believed (modern parapsychology has seemed to back this up) that the dead are easily confused and can behave in “malicious” ways not necessarily from anger or hate, but because their life and properties are no longer there’s. They really thought they could take it with them as there were too many stories of people trying. So they mistake lands and live stock, sometimes even people, as being from when they were alive. A grim reaper image in the graveyard was to remind them they were dead.

Also, like many cultures that practiced (and some who still practice) ancestral piety (respect and honouring of their dead), it was believed that the underworld and the events there affected our world. This is why dreams were believed to be prophetic. Sleep was considered a little death, and your mind, or soul (psyche in Greek actually means soul) journeyed to the underworld while you slept. So during Halloween, they had many forms of divination they practiced, believing that they were more likely to receive answers from the other side then, and could anticipate the coming year.

Witches, before they became really outcast, weren’t limited to activity during Halloween, but were consulted reliably by everyone during that festival, and were not excluded from “trick-or treating” as they often had been paid a lot. They were grandmotherly types so tended to be actually fond of children. The concept of baby eating, etc. emerged with Christianity.

SEE ALSO:  Communal Glue

The concept of the jack-o-lantern actually originated not with pumpkins, but with turnips. They would carve them into heads, because that, like skulls, were seen as the seat of spiritual power so they formed aversive amulets. They were used as candle holders. Cheap and readily available though not necessarily easy to carve. I don’t know if anyone has tried to hold a candle with their bare hands, but it is a sure recipe for getting hurt. So the skull, with a candle art you might see, actually would have been a turnip.

But the reason we call those jack-o-lanterns comes from an old Irish tale. A man called Greedy Jack, a really immoral man. On that night when he was destined to die, Satan came for him. He tricked Satan up a tree and trapped him there by carving a cross in his trunk. So, in his anger, Satan cursed Jack to forever wander the world with the only light he had. One of those turnip candle holders.

Also, why we associate other things with Halloween, like black cats, is they were viewed as potential omens at any time of year, but on Halloween it was viewed as being much more likely to run afoul of one. More likely, because the spirits stirred, and cats, especially black ones, were considered to exist between this world and the underworld. Likely because they seem to sleep so much, and in the case of black cats seemed to disappear at night.

For myself, I’m always much more comfortable during this time of year, but it isn’t from the theatrics we have come to associate with Halloween. Seasonal Affective Disorder (s.a.d.) tends to kick in. Subconscious material emerges more in people, and could be said to explain ghost sighting in part at least. For me with my nerve issues, the change in peoples demeanours tends to let me relax more. People slow down and seem more thoughtful, if also moody.

A good way to celebrate Halloween is in celebrating the bounty the earth still gives us. If you are Christian, thanking God for what you have.

Your thoughts are welcome. Happy Halloween friends.

Travis Saunders
Dragon Intuitive
~science,mysticism,spirituality~

(Bold, italicized text is input from One World class participants. Thank you!)

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Your Insights on “Halloween History and Tradition”

  1. Jenny Fletcher

    How could you miss out the Celtic name for this festival in the article? For pagans of all paths it is called Samhain.

    Blessed Be

    • Jeanna

      What the heck does it matter? Don’t split hairs.

  2. Jenny Fletcher

    Please don’t think I am dissing a very good and interesting article, just filling in a little gap for those who don’t know and may like to do more research for themselves.

    IMO it isn’t logical to talk about ‘Halloween’ being a pagan festival then only to give the name of the Christian feast that replaced Samhain.

    You illustrated very well how the elements and significances of the original event have been translated and changed.

    The naming of this festival matters VERY much to people of my beliefs because it is evidence of the way that all the festivals Old Religion were ‘Christianized’ and virtually removed from British history and culture.

    This happened even to the extent of nonsensically changing the timeline of Jesus’ life such that he was supposedly born at the time of Yule, the Winter solstice which was widely celebrated across Europe while historical evidence places his birth in the spring, and his death and resurrection then replaced the spring Equinox and Beltane which were fertility festivals and, as such deeply unpopular with the church.

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