With the weather changing and the days getting shorter, we can certainly feel that autumn is surrounding us and winter will soon be on its way. There are many celebrations around this time of year but of course, Halloween, or Hallowe’en, is one of the most popular celebrations for Wiccans, and Pagans in general. Still, many people are unsure of its origins, what it means, and what it’s truly all about.
The Halloween that is celebrated today by the costume companies, greeting card companies, and film industry is really a mixture of ancient Celtic practices, European folk traditions, and even some Christian beliefs. They are all continuously combined with modern pop culture, of course. You might have even noticed that the Halloween that you celebrated as a child is a little different than the Halloween that is celebrated today. That’s because it’s a holiday that tends to change with the times-and almost always has!
Halloween is tied to the Celtic festival of Samhain the most. Samhain loosely translates into “summer’s end.” The Celts themselves lived around 2,000 years ago in what is now Northern France, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. They celebrated Samhain, and you pronounce it “sow-in,” as their New Year holiday and it fell on November 1st. It was a natural time of the year to celebrate the coming of a new year because the summer had definitely ended, the harvest was being completed, and the weather was getting colder.
Because the weather was getting colder and vegetables were being harvested, it was also associated with death. The actual holiday was November 1st, so in fact, Halloween was really Hallow’s Eve, or the night before the big day. On this day, it was thought that the line between the worlds that held the dead and living became a little more transparent. It was even possible for the dead to come back to life on this night!
When the spirits came back on this evening, they were thought to cause mischief, such as damaging crops, but they could also come back as relatives or loved ones that had passed on and these were welcomed spirits. In addition, the blurry line between the worlds made it simpler for the Druids to cast predictions about future developments. The prophecies were important, of course, especially since the weather was starting to get colder and the nights were getting longer. Large fires were often built and there were sacrifices made to the different deities. During these ceremonies, costumes were worn more often than not. Sometimes, evil looking costumes were worn in order to ward off evil spirits.
Once the Romans arrived, Samhain was merged with two other Roman festivals-Feralia and Pomona. Feralia was already a celebration in October and during this time the Romans observed the dead’s passing. Pomona, on the other hand, was the Roman goddess of trees and fruit. In fact, the apple is Pomona’s symbol and might even be where we got the idea for bobbing from apples from.
Once Christianity came around in the 800’s, November 1st was declared All Saints’ Day by the Pope. Some people believe that the Pope was trying to keep the original Celtic Festival of honoring the dead but replacing it with a holiday that was sanctioned by the church. It was at this time that the day was called All Hallow’s which is from the Middle Eastern term “Alholowmesse” which means “All Saints’ Day.” The night before it, or October 31st was called All Hallow’s Eve and late shortened to “Halloween.”
In 1000 AD November 2nd was designated as All Souls’ Day. On this day, the dead were also honored and it was often celebrated with costumes, large fires, and parades. When they were combined together, the three days were sometimes referred to as “Hallowmas.”
So what about those jack-o-lanterns?
Candle lanterns were sometimes carved from vegetables such as turnips and later pumpkins. These were designed in order to help observe the souls that were trapped in purgatory. It might have changed from turnips to pumpkins simply because pumpkins were larger and easier to carve.
Today, you can find that many countries celebrate Halloween differently. In the United States, for example, there is a mix of the various European ethnic groups and their interpretation of the holiday, combined with rituals and ceremonies that the Native Americans recognized.
Of course, we’re only human and therefore products of our own culture so the way that we celebrate has a lot to do with the way that we were raised and what we were brought up around, although many people find that as they get older they are able to discover the rituals and ceremonies that are more appropriate and rewarding for their own belief systems.
Here is hoping that your Halloween, or Samhain, is full of wonder, excitement, and love.
Your Warm and Caring “Resident Witch In Charge”