“I think if human beings had genuine courage, they’d wear their costumes every day of the year, not just on Halloween. Wouldn’t life be more interesting that way? And now that I think about it, why the heck don’t they? Who made the rule that everybody has to dress like sheep 364 days of the year? Think of all the people you’d meet if they were in costume every day. People would be so much easier to talk to—like talking to dogs. ” ~ Douglas Coupland, from The Gum Thief
Some early Halloween silliness for you, including some monsters from Dr. Who, a clip from The Daily Show, and a nice bit of history:
For those who are interested in more of the history of Halloween, I came cross a really nice write-up on Intelliblog, which is hosted by Nicholas V. (reprinted here under a creative commons license):
Tomorrow is Halloween, which is the last night of the Celtic year and is the night associated with witchcraft, fairies, elves and wicked spirits. In countries where the Celtic influence is strong, customs surrounding Halloween are still current and relate to pagan rituals celebrating the beginning of the Winter cycle. Tales of witches and ghosts are told, bonfires are lit, fortune-telling and mumming are practiced. Masquerading is the order of the night, making of jack-o-lanterns and the playing of games pass the hours pleasantly. Bobbing for apples in a tub of water is an age-old custom. These pagan practices have been incorporated into the Christian tradition through association with All Saints’ Day on November the first.
The seasonal association of the apple with Halloween goes back even to Roman times. November 1st was the time when the Romans celebrated Pomona’s festival. She was the goddess of orchards and ripe maturity. Her festival was the time to rejoice in the fruits of the season and also the time to open up the Summer stores for Winter use. In Celtic tradition the apple was the fruit of the Silver Bough of the Otherworld and symbolised love, fertility, wisdom and divination. The hazel was a sacred Celtic tree and the hazelnut symbolised wisdom, peace and love. A hazel tree grew by the sacred pool of Avalon and was described as the Tree of Life.
As Halloween is the night when witches and evil spirits, the souls of the dead and wicked fairy folk roam the earth, numerous superstitions surround the night and have as a characteristic and apotropaic or protective function. The fire on the household hearth should on no account be left to die on this night, else evil spirits will descend down the chimney. Bonfires were lit on hilltops to drive off witches. Purification by fire ordained that people jumped over the flames, in some parts even cattle driven through the embers. In some parts many an unfortunate old woman was burnt in these fires because she was suspected to be a witch. The fires of purification were called Samhnagan. Often, food offerings were left out for the fairies on this night. Travelling was to be avoided at all costs as one could be led astray by the spirits and fairies. If one had to go out, pieces of iron or cold steel were carried on one’s person as a repellent against witchcraft.
Hey how for Hallow E’en
A’ the witches tae be seen
Some in black and some in green
Hey how for Hallow E’en.
Other traditions surrounding Samhain (i.e. November 1st and beginning of Winter),involved the reversal of order and normal values, the reign of chaos. This involved deriding figures of authority, hurling abuse and cabbages at notable people, playing tricks and practical jokes on friends and relatives. Parties of “guisers” went around from house to house collecting apples, nuts or money while riding a hobby horse or carrying a horse’s head. The association of the horse with this festival may go back to the ancient Roman festival of the October Horse, the last of the harvest feasts. Such customs are still very active in some countries, especially the USA, where Halloween has been revived with vigour, no doubt because of its appeal but also because of commercial potential.
It was customary at this time of dying vegetation and the fall of the year to decorate houses with evergreens such as holly, fir or mistletoe. This harks back to druidic tradition, which ritualised Autumn’s passage into Winter, the evergreen being a reminder that all was not lost, and life went on, ever vigilant of the return of Spring. Pliny records a Druidic ritual where the mistletoe was cut with a golden sickle, to fall onto a white cloak and not allowed to touch the ground. Two white bulls were sacrificed and a feast held. The ritual sacrifice and slaughter of animals at this time was also seen in Gaul and Teutonic lands. It was as much a Winter feast and laying in of Winter stores as it was also a killing of animals to conserve the meagre fodder during the harsh Winter months.
In even older times, human sacrifice was practised and this was to appease the Winter gods and to ensure the return of Spring and bring fertility. The Welsh festival of the Black Sow held at this time is a vestige of the human sacrifice rituals. The whole village ran down a hillside as fast as each could, shouting all the while: “Black Sow take the hindermost!”. The last person down the hill was the victim to be claimed by the Black Sow, the spirit of evil, cold and death.
Samhain was also a time of peace and all forms of violence, warring and fighting being suspended. No divorces were allowed, making it therefore a time for celebrating marriages. This also made it a time of the year when all sorts of love oracles were performed. A form of love divination was practised in Scotland and Northern England with hazelnuts on this night. A group of young unmarried women gathered around the fire and each took a hazelnut and threw it into the flames, saying:
If you love me, pop and fly,
If you don’t lie and die.
She then started to recite the names of possible suitors, her husband being indicated by the popping of the nut in the flames. A variation on this practised in Wales was the throwing into the flames of apple pips by two lovers. The same rhyme as above was recited and if the two pips popped simultaneously the lovers would marry happily. If the two pips exploded at different times, the two lovers would part.
Another divination involved a young woman taking a candle and going alone into a dark room with an apple. The candle was placed in front of the mirror and the apple was consumed while the woman combed her hair, looking into the mirror all the while. The face of the woman’s future lover (or of the Devil!) would then appear over her shoulder.