Monday, October 29, 2007

Halloween, An Innocent Tradition?

picture provided by allposters.com


For a long time, I was not aware of the significance of Halloween. Just so you are aware, below is some research on the subject.

The following excerpt taken from http://www.halloweenishere.com/history.html

Trick for Treat
The custom of trick or treating probably has several origins. During Samhain, the Druids believed that the dead would play tricks on mankind and cause panic and destruction. They had to be appeased, so country folk would give the Druids food as they visited their homes.

An old Irish peasant practice called for going door to door to collect money, breadcake, cheese, eggs, butter, apples, etc., in preparation for the festival of St. Columb Kill.

Also a ninth-century European custom called souling. On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for "soul cakes" made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. At the time, it was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by strangers, could expedite a soul's passage to heaven.

Bobbing for Apples:
When the Celts were absorbed by the Roman Empire, many rituals of Roman origin began. Among them was the worship of Pomona, goddess of the harvest, often portrayed sitting on a basket of fruits and flowers. Apples were the sacred fruit of the goddess, and many games of divination involving them entered the Samhain customs.

The Witch's Broomstick:
The witch is a central symbol of Halloween. The name comes from the Saxon wica, meaning wise one. When setting out for a Sabbath, witches rubbed a sacred ointment onto their skin. This gave them a feeling of flying, and if they had been fasting they felt even giddier. Some witches rode on horseback, but poor witches went on foot and carried a broom or a pole to aid in vaulting over streams. In England when new witches were initiated they were often blindfolded, smeared with flying ointment and placed on a broomstick. The ointment would confuse the mind, speed up the pulse and numb the feet. When they were told "You are flying over land and sea," the witch took their word for it.

Jack-O-Lanterns:
Irish children used to carve out potatoes or turnips and light them for their Halloween gatherings. They commemorated Jack, a shifty Irish villain so wicked that neither God nor the Devil wanted him. Rejected by both the sacred and profane, he wandered the world endlessly looking for a place to rest, his only warmth a glittering candle in a rotten turnip. Read about Jack in the 'Legend of the Jack-O-Lantern' short story.

Halloween Masquerade Mask:
From earliest times people wore masks when droughts or other disasters struck. They believed that the demons who had brought their misfortune upon them would become frightened off by the hideous masks. Even after the festival of Samhain had merged with Halloween, Europeans felt uneasy at this time of the year. Food was stored in preparation for the winter and the house was snug and warm. The cold, envious ghosts were outside, and people who went out after dark often wore masks to keep from being recognised.

The following taken from http://www.samhain.com/samhain.shtml

Samhain is the winter season of the ancient Celts. The Celts divided the year into four quarters: Samhain (winter), Imbolc (spring), Beltane (summer), and Lughnasadh autumn). The Celtic year began in November, with Samhain. The Celts were influenced principally by the lunar and stellar cycles which governed the agricultural year - beginning and ending in autumn when the crops have been harvested and the soil is prepared for the winter. Pronunciation differs radically between different groups of Celtic language speakers.

Samhain Eve, in Erse, Oidhche Shamhna, is one of the principal festivals of the Celtic calendar, and is thought to fall on or around the 31st of October. It represents the final harvest. In modern Ireland, the name by which Halloween is known in the Irish language is still "OĆ­che Shamhna".

Bonfires played a large part in the festivities. Villagers cast the bones of the slaughtered cattle upon the flames. (the word bonfire is thought to derive from these "bone fires.") With the bonfire ablaze, the villagers extinguished all other fires. Each family then solemnly lit their hearth from the common flame, thus bonding the families of the village together.

Like most Celtic festivals, it was celebrated on a number of levels. Materially speaking it was the time of gathering food for the long winter months ahead, bringing people and their livestock in to their winter quarters. To be alone and missing at this dangerous time was to expose yourself and your spirit to the perils of imminent winter. In present times the importance of this part of the festival has diminished for most people. From the point of view of a tribal people for whom a bad season meant facing a long winter of famine in which many would not survive to the spring, it was paramount.

Samhain was also a time for contemplation. Death was never very far away, yet to die was not the tragedy it is in modern times. Of signal importance to the Celts people was to die with honour and to live in the memory of the tribe and be honoured at the great feast (in Ireland this would have been the Fleadh nan Mairbh (Feast of the Dead)) which took place on Samhain Eve.

This was the most magical time of the year; Samhain was the day which did not exist. During the night the great shield of Skathach was lowered, allowing the barriers between the worlds to fade and the forces of chaos to invade the realms of order, the material world conjoining with the world of the dead. At this time the spirits of the dead and those yet to be born walked amongst the living. The dead could return to the places where they had lived and food and entertainment were provided in their honour. In this way the tribes were at one with its past, present and future. This aspect of the festival was never totally subdued by Christianity.

On the level of cosmic event, the rising of Pleiades, the winter stars, heralds the supremacy of night over day, the dark half ruled by the realms of the moon.

In the three days preceding the Samhain month the Sun God, Lugh, maimed at Lughnassadh, dies by the hand of his Tanist (his other self), the Lord of Misrule. Lugh traverses the boundaries of the worlds on the first day of Samhain. His Tanist is a miser and though he shines brightly in the winter skies he gives no warmth. and does not temper the breath of the Crone, Cailleach Bheare, the north wind. In this may be discerned the ageless battle between the light and dark and the cyclic nature of life and the seasons.

In parts of western Brittany Samhain is still heralded by the baking of kornigou. Kornigou are cakes baked in the shape of antlers to commemorate the god of winter shedding his "cuckold" horns as he returns to his kingdom in the Otherworld.

When the Romans made contact with the Celts, they added their feast of the dead to Samhain. The Christians subverted the recognition of Samhain to honor the saints, as All Saint's Day on November 1st and named October 31 as All Hallow's Eve. This latter became a secular holiday by the name of Hallowe'en. Although using different nomenclatures, all of these festivals and feasts are celebrating the accessibility, veneration, awe, and respect of the dead. Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

My Comments: I believe that the majority of the above on Samhain was a paraphrase of Wikipedia. To see more on my opinion of Halloween visit the comments section on http://cultivatinghome.blogspot.com/ under the topic "Halloween."


3 comments:

Davene said...

Very interesting.

By the way, I commented back to you on my blog about the comment you left there. :)

melanie said...

i just went and read your comment at cultivating home. i totally agree with you. you said it really well. we don't celebrate halloween either, and while our kids are really too young to notice at this stage, i know there is coming a day when we will have to defend our stance and articulate it to others.
i'm glad there are others out there who think the same way. sometimes i can start to feel like a wacko. heh. :)
thanks for this post. good stuff.!

New Mom said...

Yep, I'm pretty much wacko ;)