Halloween Past Revisited from History.com
From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties . . . ~ Scottish Saying
Goblins and gremlins and ghosties and ghouls . . . oh my. Happy All Hallow’s Eve everyone. Or to be more precise, Happy Samhain.
Samhain (pronounced sow-in), is an ancient Celtic festival. The Celts lived between 2000 to 2700 years ago, predominantly in the area that is now Ireland and the United Kingdom; although at one time, their tribes were spread through Western Europe from France (Gaul) to the Danube to Rome. The Celts celebrated their new year on November 1, which marked the end of the summer and the harvest and the beginning of winter. Unlike their portrayals in movies as a primitive barbaric society, in reality, the Celts were organized into three groups: the royal clans, who led the various tribes, the warrior aristocracy, and the common people.
Ancient Celtic religion was the mainstay of every aspect of everyday life. Their religion, which worshipped nature and all things in nature, was polytheistic, recognizing many levels of supernatural beings and divinities, female as well as male. The Celts believed that the course of nature was controlled by the will of their gods.
Druids, who served as Celtic scholars and priests, underwent rigorous training, sometimes lasting as long as 20 years. Druids passed on their knowledge of traditional lore about nature, the seasons, astronomy, and death. Along with the Druids, Celts venerated their Bards—singers who passed on history through the oral tradition—and their Vates, who were the soothsayers.
The Celts were a superstitious people, and they believed that on the night of October 31 the ghosts of the dead returned to wander the earth. These ancient people celebrated Samhain with huge bonfires where the people gathered to burn crops and make sacrifices to the gods. The Celts wore costumes, usually representing animals; these costumes, which were made from animal skins and bones, were used to hide the faces of the living from the dead who had returned. In addition, the clan’s priests, or Druids, would make predictions about the future. The flames from the dying bonfires were used to light the hearth fires, which would burn for the duration of the long winters.
“When witches go riding, and black cats are seen/the moon laughs and whispers, ‘tis near Halloween.” ~ 19th century Halloween postcard
Eventually, the Celtic tradition of Samhain was blended with Roman traditions after the spread of the Roman Empire overran the once powerful Celts. The Roman day of the dead, Feralia, fell in October, and the Romans celebrated the feast of Pomona in October. Pomona was the goddess of the fruit and trees, and her symbol was the apple. By 800 AD, Christianity had overtaken most of Europe, and November 1 was designated as All Saints’ Day (Alholomesse), the day to honor saints and martyrs. This day replaced the Celtic festival of the dead. October 31 became All Hallow’s Eve.
The modern idea of asking for treats may originate from the Christian tradition of All Soul’s Day (November 2), on which beggars would receive pastries called Soul Cakes from the more well-to-do citizenry. In return, the poor would offer to say a blessing for the wealthy family’s departed members.
History is a bit vague as to when the idea of costumes and Trick or Treats first came to the U.S., with most historians pointing to the influx of immigrants in the second half of the 19th century as the time during which the traditions of Halloween first began to infiltrate society. But the mass-marketing bonanza known today as Halloween is a relatively new advent: Orange lights, huge inflatable pumpkins in the yard—Halloween has become big business, with estimates that Americans spend $7 billion on the holidays, making it the country’s second largest commercial holiday.
Personally, I like the idea of celebrating fall and the harvest, but then again, I am no longer a kid getting sacks full of candy.
“My candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open . . .” ~ Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
While Corey and I were out today picking up a few groceries we saw all kinds of bizarre costumes, but not that many children. Purple fishnets, pink hair. Ah, the rich pageantry that is Wal Mart on a Saturday . . .
I remember when the kids were younger, and we would carve a pumpkin for Halloween. I only did the carving myself one year as I don’t particularly like to put my hands in squishy pumpkin guts. Besides, kids love to put their hands into squishy pumpkin guts. It’s part of the fun. What is not fun is carving the pumpkin, putting it out on the porch, and having some jerk come by and throw the creation into the street, which happened more than once. Some trick that was.
I once worked with a graphic designer who would carve the most incredible Jack O Lanterns at Halloween. I know that he won a few local competitions for his carving. I love to see the really artistic pumpkins, the ones with complete scenes or recognizable faces.
As with all things, the history of Jack O Lanterns comes from a folktale about some guy named Stingy Jack who kept making deals with the devil and then breaking them. As a result, he wasn’t allowed into heaven, nor did the devil want him. Poor old Jack had to roam the earth with a burning coal to light his way. The coal was inserted into a carved out turnip.
In Ireland, people made their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes. These lanterns were placed into windows and near doors to frighten away wandering evil spirits, like Jack. Americans use pumpkins for their lanterns; the pumpkin is a fruit native to America.
Anyway, it’s past 9 p.m., and all little goblins have been taken home to sort through their various treats, completely unaware that they just participated in an ancient ritual.
Music from Halloween, the original. This music still scares the hell out of me . . .
More later. Peace.
Community Jack-o-Lanterns, Boylan Heights, Raleigh, NC