Halloween, Where and How Did It Start?
|Written by magickspells.co.uk|
What exactly is Halloween?
Halloween has its origins in an ancient Celtic festival known as ‘Samhain’, which is the Irish word for ‘summer’s end’, celebrated on October 31. The Irish Celts believed the spirits of the dead returned to their old homes and walked the streets at this time of year; for the Celts the time of Samhain was when all magical spells and incantations would be at their most powerful and effective potency. In the Wiccan (witchcraft) belief system, death is an essential part of the natural cycle and Samhain celebrates this time of death that represents nothing to fear but rather a doorway to another existence. Wiccans commonly offer prayers to Cernunnos, the Celtic god of the afterlife, on Samhain; leaving a fire burning and offerings of food and wine also honour the spirit world.
The festival developed when the Romans adopted Samhain into their own celebrations, which took place in October, including the day to honour Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. This is not the end of the story for Halloween though, in Italy Samhain survived the fall of the Roman Empire and was changed into a Christian festival by Pope Gregory III around the eighth century; knowing that if the Romans couldn’t wipe out the pagan festival it was unlikely the Catholic church would succeed, he decided to Christianize Halloween by moving All Saints Day to November 1. The power of the Pope’s influence was universal across the Catholic countries and November 1 became known as All Hallows’ in Britain and since Samhain was held on October 31 the night before, it became known as All Hallows’ Even or Hallowe’en.
The original festival of Samhain involved getting dressed up in scary costumes and frightening local householders; Pope Gregory III didn’t think this appropriate and introduced the idea of honouring the saints, going from door-to-door begging for soul cakes in exchange for prayers aimed at householders’ relatives that had passed away. The trick-or-treat part is an American idea, a bit like the original scary costume part with the later religious bit removed.
The lanterns made from pumpkins have their origin in Irish folklore. A guy called Jack tricked the Devil and saved himself from going to Hell, but he was nevertheless barred from entering heaven because of his sinful life and condemned to wandering the limbo in between for eternity, lighting his way with a glowing ember given him by Satan. The Irish made jack-o’-lanterns in his memory out of hollowed out turnips with candles burning inside on Halloween; when Irish emigrants took Halloween to America in the 19th Century they discovered that pumpkins were much more plentiful than turnips and made ideal lanterns.
Some folks still play games on Halloween that have their routes in ancient tradition, such as bobbing for apples in water; in this they are re-enacting the Celtic tradition where you had to cross the water to the underworld. The apple was the fruit of many female deities, regarded as a kind of pass that let you into the world of the dead.
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