Topic Tuesday #15 2012/10/30 "All Hallows Eve"

Topic Tuesday #15 2012/10/30 "All Hallows Eve"

Where did the holiday Halloween come from? Many people fantasize wildly on the topic and many popular beliefs label it a satanic and pagan ritual. Well, they have part of it right. Let's take a stroll through history.

Peter Tokofsky, an assistant professor in the department of folklore and mythology at UCLA states, "The earliest trace (of Halloween) is the Celtic festival, Samhain, which was the Celtic New Year. It was the day of the dead, and they believed the souls of the deceased would be available"  Samhain (pronounced sah-win or sow-in) means "summer's end" by the Celts.

This day marked the end of summer (and the harvest) and the beginning of the dark, cold winter; a time of year that was often associated with human death. For this reason Druids (Celtic pagans) believed that the spirits of those who died the preceding year roamed the earth the night of Samhain.
The Druids celebrated with a great fire festival (to encourage the dimming Sun not to vanish) and danced round bonfires to keep evil spirits away. With all that they would leave their doors open in hopes that benevolent spirits of loved ones might join them around their hearths. Divination was thought to be more effective during this time, so methods were derived to ascertain who might marry, what great person might be born, who might rise to prominence, or who might die. The Celts would also wear costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. Crops were burned (to prepare the fields for the next planting) and animals were sacrificed (and eaten by the villages as part of the festival, with plenty of ritual too). The spirits were believed to be either "entertained by the living", or to "find a body to possess for the incoming year". This all gives reason as to why "dressing up like witches, ghosts and goblins, villagers could avoid being possessed".

By 43 AD, Romans occupied the majority of Celtic territory. Over the 400 years of occupation, two Roman festivals were melded within the culture:
First, a celebration for Pomona (the Roman goddess of plenty or "she who cares for fruits") which followed the August fruit and nut storage with a opening of those stores near November first. Bobbing for apples if most often attributed to Pomona's role.
Second, Feralia, celebrating the Manes (Roman spirits of the dead, particularly the souls of deceased individuals). Faralia, while practiced later, in February, may have also been subjugated in the land of Celts during this time due to climate and local traditions.

Fast forwarding to the Middle Ages, Pope Gregory IV wanted to substitute Samhain with All Saints' Day in 835, but All Souls' Day (Nov. 2nd) which is closer in resemblance to Samhain and Halloween today was instituted in a French Monastery in 998 and spread throughout Europe. In the 16th century, Christian village children celebrated the vigil of All Saints' by doing the "Danse Macabre". The Seven Brethren whose grisly death is described in the seventh chapter of the deuterocanonical book of Second Maccabees is also said to have resulted in children dressing up in grizzly costumes to signify these deaths. Also During this time the belief developed that witches traveled on broomsticks to the black Sabbaths to worship demonic forces and devils. It is said that, witches were guided by spirits in the form of black cats. Lending credence to this were the old Druid traditions of "revering or worshiping" cats, believing them to be reincarnated souls.

All Saints Day became All Hallows Day. Hallow means holy or sacred. October 31 is the evening before All Hallows Day and came to be called in the western world all hallows evening and then all hallows een. Een is an abbreviation for evening. Finally, the word was reduced to the way we have it today, Halloween.
Halloween came to the United States when European immigrants brought their varied Halloween customs with them. In the second half of the nineteenth century, America was flooded with new immigrants including the Irish fleeing from the potato famine in Ireland in 1846. By combining Irish (Celtic) and English (Roman Catholic/Anglican) traditions, Americans began the "trick-or-treat" tradition. In the later 1800's the holiday became more centered on community and in the 1920's and 1930's Halloween became a secular, but community-centered holiday. In the 1950's leaders changed Halloween as a holiday aimed at the young to limit vandalism. This all led to what Halloween actually is like today. There continues to be controversy over the implications of the holiday among the very pious, considering the entire thing to be sinful and direct devil worship. In my neck of the woods, it's a harvest festival that was twisted through the years with superstition and has become a fun holiday to celebrate the things that go bump in the night so we don't have to be afraid, all the time, just on halloween, and because we like to be scared...Well a little.

Special thanks to the following sources:
The Origins of Halloween
A Reminder of Death. Navarro, Michelle. Oct. 1997. UCLA. 12 Oct. 2002.
Halloween FAQ. Thomas, Patrick. 4 Nov. 1993. Rutgers University. 12 Oct. 2002.
History Channel Exhibits: The History of Halloween. 2002. The History Channel. 12. Oct. 2002.
History of Halloween 29 Feb. 2001. Indiana University. 12 Oct. 2002.
MSN Learning & Research- Halloween. MSN Encarta. 12. Oct. 2002.
The Origin of Halloween Comes Out of the Sky. Chamberlain, Von Del. State University of Utah. 12. Oct. 2002.
Halloween Traditions around the World. Flowers, MaDonna. 28. June. 2011. Halloween Costumes Blog.
An evangelical site dedicated to stamping out Halloween as Satanic (turn your speakers off...)