lore tells of the Fairy Gates opening, and the Lands of the
Sidhe (pronounced "shee") becoming accessible. Irish
heroes long dead are said to make gallant raids into the Otherworld,
however, they must return to their proper resting places by
the first cock crow or risk being lost forever to roam the land
of living with no hope of finding rest or peace.
all Celtic festivals, Samhain hosted a time of family reunion
and reaffirming ties of friendship and social bonds. Also, in
the agricultural communities, this was the time to bring in
all the live stock from the hills and slaughter those animals
that would not survive pasture for the Winter. Consequently,
spirits often return on this night to visit their kin and friends
during the celebrations should they wish to do so; many customs
revolve around the return of spirits, as you will see. It was
a natural thought that the approach of winter should drive the
poor, shivering, hungry ghosts from the bare fields and the
leafless woodlands to the shelter of the cottage with its familiar
Origins of Halloween
ancient Celtic peoples who inhabited England, Wales, Scotland,
Ireland and Brittany celebrated their New Year's Day on what
would be November 1st on our calendar. The period prior to the
New Year, as the year wound down, was a time to consider the
mystery of human death.
was believed that on the last night of the year the lord of
death allowed the souls of the dead to return to their homes.
Souls that had died in sin, and in Celtic belief imprisoned
in the bodies of animals, could be released through gifts to
the lord of death, including human sacrifices.
was also thought that evil spirits, demons, ghosts; witches
were also free to roam around this night and could be placated
by a feast. They would also leave you alone if you dressed like
them and thus appeared to be one of them.
would also extinguish their hearth fires on this evening to
be re-lit from a common New Year's bonfire built on the hilltops,
which was meant to symbolize the driving away of darkness and
evil with the coming of the New Year. The jack-o-lantern as
a means of scaring away evil and providing light may be a vestige
of this custom.
Jack o' Lantern
Ireland, where many Halloween traditions and stories began,
the first jack-o'-lanterns weren't made of pumpkins. They were
made out of rutabagas, potatoes, turnips, or even beets. There
is an old Irish legend about a man named Stingy Jack who was
too mean to get into heaven and had played too many tricks on
the devil to go to hell. When he died, he had to walk the earth,
carrying a lantern made out of a turnip with a burning coal
Jack became known as "Jack of the Lantern," or "Jack-o'-lantern."
From this legend came the Irish tradition of placing jack-o'-lanterns
made of turnips and other vegetables in windows or by doors
on Halloween. They were meant to scare away Stingy Jack and
all the other spirits that are said to walk the earth on that
wasn't until the tradition was brought to the United States
by immigrants that pumpkins were used for jack-o'-lanterns.
earliest times people wore masks when droughts or other disasters
struck. They believed that the demons that had brought their
misfortune upon them would become frightened off by the hideous
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 recognized.
very recently children would dress up as ghosts and goblins
to scare the neighbors, but there was no trick or treating.
Around 40 years ago people began to offer treats to their costumed
principle of costumes has been altered from ancient times. It
was previously common for people to cross dress, especially
in Scotland and some regions of Ireland. Today, the children
compete to see how scary or cute they can be and there is no
real sense of fear (except about the weirdoes that we all seek
to avoid.) The reason for this odd attire can only be guessed
at by using folklore and oral tradition as a basis. Within the
classic tales you will find a consistent pattern of malignant
spirits and ghostly hunters. I belief costumes go along with
the purpose of the Jack O' Lantern, as a means of confusing
and hiding from evil spirits; they wouldn't think to look for
their male enemy in a dress!
was very popular in Victorian times, and people would often
throw magnificent parties to celebrate the spirit of the season.
Costume contests, and apple divinations were everywhere, and
people delighted in having fun during this dreary time of year.
Rome had many, many leaders, and in 314, Constantine the Great
declared that Rome was a Christian nation. But what has that
to do with Halloween? Well, around November 1st, the Festival
of Pomona was held. Pomona was the Goddess of Orchards and the
Harvest. With the conquest of most of the known world by the
Roman Empire, the Festival of Pomona was blended with many different
harvest festivals, some of which created traditions that survive
even today (like Trick or Treating!)
Activities of Olde
this day people would gather early in the day since there were
so many things going on. In olden times the affair would last
for two or three days. Crafting included brewing Mead for the
day’s festivities as well as for the winter season to
come. They carved Jack-o-Lanterns to discourage negative spirits
from bothering the people at the gathering. Candles were blessed
for use throughout the winter, as well as blending oils for
magical uses. Simples were brewed to make sure each person had
a good tonic to see them through the hard days of winter.
that was braided was thought to be lucky since it was binding
things together and by doing that bringing the community closer
together. Quilts were gathered to be finished and ladies shared
their recipes for simples and for dying cloth. The men of the
clan hunted for days before the gathering to insure food for
everyone. Children would be sent on “Nutting” parties
and they would produce that bounty to be shared by everyone.
of strength and chance were played by young and old alike. This
was also a great time for storytelling and in this way the patterns
of life were passed down from one generation to another year
after year. At this time of the year we are reminded of the
tribal beginnings that we have all come from and it is appropriate
that we still use the basic instruments of drum and gourd, cymbal,
and horns. We chant together into the night and recreate the
bid farewell to the God as he departs and prepares for rebirth
at Yule. They understand that the God sacrifices himself to
ensure the people's continued existence. Everything must die
to be reborn, and so does this noble God. Death, however, is
one factor that cannot be controlled by man, and Wiccans use
this time to look back and be sure all is in order before they
continue on into the New Year. If something is not well, it
is lovingly sacrificed that prosperity in the New Year may be
Sun God, who was maimed by the Dark God at Lughnasadh, dies
on this day, and the God of Misrule, or dark half, takes the
throne. He is sometimes seen as a cruel King who shines through
the Winter months but offers no warmth or comfort to the planet.
The lack of warmth, combined with the breath of Cailleach Bheare,
the Crone, make for the hard Winter months and the balance of
as Samhain ends the old year, it must begin the new. Reflection
should continue during this dark time, but a growing sense of
the changes to be made and the light to be sought should accompany
symbolizes both the past and the future, illuminated by the
cycle of the seasons, forever linked as steps on the journey
we must all make.
must look inside ourselves for self-knowledge and for the spirit
that will sustain us in life's trials. Silence is one of the
keys to seeking truth, for we cannot hear the answers in the
midst of this noisy world in which we walk every day, nor in
the noise of holiday celebrations however joyous.
is also said to be the time when the veil between the living
and the dead is thinnest, allowing us some communication with
those who have departed. How befitting this is for such a time
of endings and beginnings.
on death can be as instructive as the self-examinations just
mentioned. When we think of those who have died, it reminds
us of time passing by and of things we could have or should
have done. This reminder, coupled with our lists of past and
future actions, encourages us to take our New Year's resolutions
far more seriously.
know our time is limited, and most of us have much to do in
our allotted time. Most of us have to make a living somehow,
but death reminds us that we had better spend some of that time
in pursuit of our other dreams lest they be lost in the struggle
merely to survive.
Source Unknown ~~